An instant on the lips, an eternity on the hips—that is the familiar dilemma for lovers of such fattening treats as ice cream and mayonnaise. But late last month U.S. researchers announced that weightand health-conscious consumers may soon be able to indulge more freely in those foods. According to officials at The NutraSweet Co. in Skokie, 111., the company has developed a fat substitute, which it plans to have on the U.S. market within 18 months. The officials say that their product, called Simplesse, has the creamy texture of fat but contains no fat or cholesterol and that it has about 80 per cent fewer calories than naturally occurring fat. NutraSweet food scientist Norman Singer—who did pioneering work on the substance in 1979 in London, Ont.—added that his colleagues are developing low-calorie versions of cheesecake and icing containing Simplesse and the company’s artificial sweetener, aspartame.
Still, U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials say that Simplesse must first undergo their scrutiny, a procedure that may delay the product’s appearance. And in Ottawa, federal health and welfare department spokesmen said that NutraSweet’s Canadian office had not yet submitted the product for appraisal. Meanwhile, the FDA is already examining another fat substitute, a synthetic product called olestra, which Procter & Gamble Inc. unveiled last May. But the FDA is reviewing olestra—a substance that cannot be digested or absorbed into the body—as a food additive.
By contrast, Simplesse consists only of water and protein derived from such sources as egg whites and milk. NutraSweet officials say that the company has devised a process that spins such proteins into minute particles. Then researchers reshape those particles into the smooth, bead-like consistency of a fat globule. That molecular rearrangement, said Singer, resembles “winding them up like spaghetti on a fork.” Added Singer: “It’s like changing flour into linguine. We have changed the form, not the molecular identity.” As a result, NutraSweet officials say that they are confident that the FDA review will proceed smoothly. If that is the case, food lovers will soon be able to enjoy rich-tasting foods without the usual cost in calories.
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