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Agriculture Department Creates Zero-Calorie Fat Substitute

August 25, 1996

PEORIA, Ill. (AP) _ The makers of ``guilt-free″ goodies are getting another fake fat to cook with, and its developer says this one won’t give you any unpleasant side effects.

Z-trim is made of fiber from the hulls of oats, corn or soybeans. It’s intended for use by food manufacturers in trimming fat and calories from products such as cheese, chocolate and pancakes.

The U.S. Agriculture Department researcher who developed Z-trim promises it will not produce any side effects such as the cramps and diarrhea sometimes caused by olestra, the first zero-calorie fat substitute.

``This has been processed in such a way as to be very comfortable to the body,″ said George Inglett. ``There’s no way that anybody would overdose on this.″

Nutrition experts welcomed the new fat substitute.

``I think it’s terrific to see this kind of innovation,″ said Margo Wootan, senior scientist for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a private association in Washington, D.C., that has campaigned against olestra and fatty restaurant food.

The Agriculture Department has not yet disclosed technical details, but Wootan said she still believes the fat substitute is likely to perform as promised.

Olestra is a synthetic chemical made of sugar and vegetable oil that looks like regular fat but has molecules so large and tightly packed that it passes through the human digestive tract without being taken in by the body. Critics say it absorbs and takes away some vitamins.

In Z-trim, insoluble natural fiber is broken down so that it can be combined with water to create a substance that mimics the smooth feel of fat without actually having any fat molecules.

``Insoluble fiber is something that Americans need to eat more of,″ Wootan said.

And the body does not get any calories from Z-trim, Inglett said.

Because Z-trim is made from ingredients that are generally regarded as safe _ GRAS, in the industry terminology _ Inglett said it will not require exhaustive testing for Food and Drug Administration approval.

The FDA so far tends to agree although it has not seen the product, said Judith Foulke, a department public affairs specialist in Washington.

The Agriculture Department developed Z-trim in cooperation with Mountain Lake Manufacturing of Mountain Lake, Minn., its partner on another oat-based fat substitute, Oatrim. The company gets first crack at marketing Z-trim, although if it is accepted it will become public domain, Inglett said.

Products using Z-trim could be on store shelves next year, he said.

Inglett also was involved with developing Oatrim, made of oat flour, which is being used by one company to make a fat-free milk.

Unlike most fat substitutes, Z-trim can be used in cooking. Unlike olestra, however, it cannot be used in deep frying. It is aimed primarily at commercial food makers, not the home market.

Inglett, a member of the Agricultural Research Service for 30 years, formally presents his product Monday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Orlando, Fla., but he explained it to reporters Friday and provided samples.

A Z-trim chocolate bar was sweet and chewy, with no unusual aftertaste. On the other hand, a cheese spread tasted like most low-fat spreads: flat and a bit gluey.

Don’t expect products containing Z-trim to have zero calories or fat. Most fat substitutes are combined with a little real fat to provide a balance between nutrition and flavor, Inglett said.

Typical cheese spreads contain 70 or 80 calories per ounce and fat-free spreads contain about 33 calories. Inglett said his Z-trim spread contained only 22 calories.

Such products do not guarantee people will lose weight, said Barbara Rolls, a nutrition scientist at Pennsylvania State University.

``The key is, how is it going to affect food choices?″ Rolls said. ``Are they going to reduce their (overall) calorie intake or will they later compensate?″

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