Pregnancy: Is Olestra safe for your baby-to-be?

I am in my 25th week of pregnancy. I recently tried the no-fat potato chips with Olestra. Is Olestra safe for my baby-to-be?


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Olean, also known as Olestra, is a fairly new fat substitute that is a synthetic mixture of sugar and vegetable oil that passes through the body undigested. The molecule was designed so that digestive enzymes could not find a way to break it down, so it passes through your digestive system without releasing any fat or calories. Because it passes right through, it is not absorbed and does not enter the bloodstream and so will not reach your baby.

Olestra was approved for use in potato chips, tortilla chips and crackers. The only sound research being done on the product is by Proctor and Gamble, the company that produces it. Therefore, any results should be viewed with some caution.

There seem to be a few negative effects from eating Olestera. One is that when it is eaten with any carotenoid-containing foods, the carotenoids (such as beta carotene from carrots or lycopene from tomatoes) are poorly absorbed. Olestra has also been shown to deplete the body of vitamins A, D, E and K (the fat-soluable vitamins) and so will be fortified with those vitamins in the future. Other side effects of eating Olestra are diarrhea, greasy stools and gastrointestinal discomfort.

Because pregnancy is a time when you need more vitamins and minerals, it doesn't make sense to eat a food that may rob you of them. Although the Olestra itself may not harm you or your baby, the marginal nutritional deficiencies it may cause could. Also, pregnancy comes with its own set of digestive problems. There is no need to compound them with a synthetic food substance with no nutritional value.

The argument for producing Olestra originates from America's high incidence of obesity and the health problems associated with it. The diseases that are associated with being overweight appear to be far more dangerous then the problems associated with Olestra. In my mind, however, obesity, in many cases, stems from eating behaviors that are inappropriate and not in accordance with good health, such as eating potato chips and tortilla chips. There is little room in a healthful diet for potato chips or other fatty snack foods that make little or no nutritional contribution.

Making them less fattening treats only a symptom and not a cause. Do we want to promote the eating of potato chips and other snack foods by making them with artificial fat? There is also evidence that people eating snacks made with Olestera do not reduce their overall caloric intake; they compensate by eating other foods. If those foods are more carbohydrate and less fat, that is good, but unless total calorie intake is reduced, weight loss won't happen.

During your pregnancy, your diet should not contain foods that do not provide nutritional value, and that includes potato chips and salty snacks either with or without Olestra. Along with more vitamins and minerals, you also need extra calories and energy during pregnancy, not less, so reducing your caloric intake by eating too many low-calorie foods may not be conducive to the health of your baby.

Therefore, I suggest that although Olestra in small amounts probably will not harm you, you should be making smarter snack choices while you are pregnant.

Thank you for your question and all the best to you for a healthy and happy pregnancy!

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