Chips, cheese, muffins, and mayonnaise. If these are a few of your favorite things, then you're probably one of millions of Americans trying to keep a little indulgence in your diet by using food products made with fat substitutes.

Fat substitutes, or fat replacers, as they are known in the food industry, are used to make reduced-fat baked goods, dairy products, bread spreads, salad dressings, snacks, gravies, chocolate chips and even lunch meats. There are several different types of fat substitutes. Some look like fat, feel like fat and taste like fat. Some actually are fat, in a form that's been modified to contribute fewer calories to your diet and, sometimes, fewer substances that can harm your health.

The type of fat substitute a food manufacturer chooses to use depends on the type of food that is being modified. One fat substitute may help keep potato chips crispy while another will work better for baked goods like muffins and cakes, where fat normally contributes to tenderness and a soft texture.

Protein-based fat substitutes such as Simplesse are made with proteins from egg whites, milk and whey. These substitutes can withstand heat in foods such as cream soups, baked goods and pasteurized products.  Protein-based fat replacers are not suitable for mimicking fried foods. 

Carbohydrate-based fat substitutes are listed on product ingredient labels as cellulose, gelatin, maltodextrin, polydextrose, gums, starches, gels and fibers. You'll find these fat simulators in baked goods, dairy products like sour cream, yogurt and pudding, mayonnaise, salad dressings and frozen desserts. Some carb-based fat substitutes, such as Z-Trim, a gel made from the hulls of corn, oats and other grains, reduce fat and calories and also add fiber to your diet.

Fat-based substitutes such as Olestra (also known as Olean and BakeLean), used to make crisp, salty snacks such as potato chips and tortilla chips and Salatrim, which is used to make reduced-fat chocolate chips, baked goods, are fats that have been chemically altered to reduce or remove calories and to pass through the body without being absorbed. In 1996, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Olestra in salty snacks (potato chips and tortilla chips) with a mandated warning of side effects such as cramps or diarrhea included on package labels. FDA reviewed Olestra again and removed the warning label requirement in 2003, based on a decision that if side effects occurred, they were rare and mild.

All fat substitutes on the market are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration and, according to the American Heart Association, products made with fat substitutes are generally helpful for people who are trying to stick to a low-fat diet while meeting all their other nutritional needs. But keep in mind that foods made with fat substitutes are not necessarily low in calories and are often used in food products that are otherwise low in nutritional value.




IFIC: Uses and Nutritional Impact of Fat Reducers (PDF)


Calorie Control Council: Overview


AHA: Fat substitutes do help some people:


Olestra (Olean) web site


Pub Med: Olestra's Second Wind

Z Trim


Z Trim


Salatrim (Benefat)


University of Iowa: health updates: fake fats