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Fat replacers, also called fat substitutes, are substances that take the place of all or some of the fat in a food and yet give the food a taste, texture, and mouth feel similar to the original full-fat food.


Fat replacers serve two purposes. They reduce the amount of fat in food, and they usually reduce the calorie content of the food.


Fat is not a single substance, but a collection of different compounds that are all made of a glycerol molecule and three varying fatty acids. Fat is a necessary part of a healthy diet. It provides essential fatty acids, helps regulate cholesterol metabolism, carries fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids throughout the body, contains the building blocks for prostaglandins, and provides nine calories of energy per gram.

Although there is no official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for fat, the American Heart Association strongly recommends that fats provide no more than 30% of one’ total daily calories. The average American gets about 34% of his or her calories from fat (down from about 41% in the 1950s).

As of 2000, there were more than 5,000 reduced-fat foods on the market. New reduced- and low-fat foods were being introduced at the rate of about 1,000 per year. Concern about heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and their relationship to diet has turned processed foods containing fat replacers into a multi-billion dollar industry.

To be labeled ‘low fat’ a product must contain 3 g of fat or less per serving. To be labeled ‘reduced fat’ or ‘reduced calorie,’ a product must contain 25% less fat or 25% fewer calories than the regular version of the product. ‘Light’ foods contain half the fat or one-third the calories of the regular product. ‘Fat-free’ means the food has less than 0.5 g of fat per serving. Fat enhances food flavor, adds volume, and gives food a particular texture and mouth feel. Removing fat from food usually results in unappealing, unmarketable products. To achieve fat and calorie reduction, processors have turned to fat replacers.

Types of fat replacers

Fat replacers are either carbohydrate-based, protein-based, or fat-based. Most foods use several different fat replacers that come from different sources. Many are substances that have been found in foods for years, but are now being used in different ways.

Carbohydrate-based fat substitutes include guar gum, polydextrose (Litess), gum Arabic, xanthum gum, carrageenan (an extract from seaweed), dried plum paste, modified food starches, oat fiber, and wheat fiber Carbohydrate-based fat replacers have the creaminess of fat. They absorb water, add volume, thicken, and stabilize foods. They are used in baked goods, frozen desserts, yogurts, cheeses, sour cream, low-fat puddings, processed meats, salad dressings, sauces, and spreads. Because fat contains nine calories

Carbohydrate-based fat replacersBrand namesFoods
CelluloseAvicel® cellulose gel, MethocelTM, Solka-Floc®Dairy-type products, sauces, frozen desserts, salad dressings
DextrinsAmylum, N-Oil®Salad dressings, puddings, spreads, dairy-type products, frozen desserts
FiberOpta™, Oat Fiber, Snowite, UltracelTM, Z-TrimBaked goods, meats, spreads, extruded products
GumsKELCOGEL®, KELTROL®, SlendidTMReduced-calorie and fat-free salad dressings, other formulated foods, including desserts, processed meats
InulinRaftiline®, Fruitafit®, Fibruline®Yogurt, cheese, frozen desserts, baked goods, icings, fillings, whipped cream, dairy products, fiber supplements, processed meats
MaltodextrinsCrystaLean®, Lorelite, Lycadex®, MALTRIN®, Paselli®D-LITE, Paselli®EXCEL, Paselli®SA2, STAR-DRI®Baked goods, dairy products, salad dressings, spreads, sauces, frostings, fillings, processed meat, frozen desserts, extruded products, beverages
Nu-Trim Baked goods, milk, cheese, ice cream
Oatrim (hydrolyzed oat flour)Beta-Trim™, TrimChoiceBaked goods, fillings and frostings, frozen desserts, dairy beverages, cheese, salad dressings, processed meats, confections
PolydextroseLitesse®, Sta-LiteTMBaked goods, chewing gums, confections, salad dressings, frozen dairy desserts, gelatins, puddings
Polyolsmany brands availableReduced-fat and fat-free products
Starch and Modified Food StarchAmalean®I & II, FairnexTMVA15, & VA20, Instant Stellar™, N-Lite, OptaGrade®, Perfectamyl™AC, AX-1, & AX-2, PURE-GEL®, STA-SLIM™Processed meats, salad dressings, baked goods, fillings and frostings, sauces,condiments, frozen desserts, dairy products
Z-Trim Baked goods, burgers, hot dogs, cheese, ice cream, yogurt

SOURCE: Calorie Control Council.

Fat replacers are ingredients that substitute fat in many foods and beverages. Most fat replacers are reformulations of existing food ingredients (e.g., starches, gums, cellulose). Additionally, the food industry has formulated a variety of new fat replacer ingredients. Fat replacers generally fall into one of three categories: carbohydrate-based, protein-based, or fat-based (Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale).

per gram and carbohydrates contain only four calories per gram, every gram of fat replaced with a gram of a carbohydrate-based fat substitute reduces the calorie content of the food by five calories as well as reducing the fat content. Carbohydrate-based fat replacers cannot be used in frying.

Protein-based fat replacers (e.g., Simplesse) are made from milk protein and/or egg white protein These proteins are heated and then whirled violently in blenders to produce very tiny particles in a process called microparticulation. These microparticles give protein-based fat replacers the same mouth feel as fats. Like carbohydrate-based substitutes, protein provides four calories per gram so they reduce the calorie content of food by five calories per gram of fat replaced. Protein-based fat replacers are used in butter, cheese, frozen dairy desserts, mayonnaise, soups, salad dressings, and sour cream. They do not work well in baked goods and cannot be used for frying.

Fat-based fat replacers (e.g., Caprenin, Benefat, Olean) are made of fat molecules that are modified so that they cannot be absorbed (Olean) or can be only partially absorbed (Caprenin, Benefat) in the intestine. Olestra, now marketed under the name Olean, is the best known of these products. Olestra is made of six to eight fatty acids bound to a sucrose (sugar) molecule. Normal fats have only three fatty acids. Adding the extra fatty acids makes the olestra molecule too large to be absorbed, so it simply passes through the intestine and is eliminated as waste. In this way, it adds no calories to food. Proctor & Gamble spent 25 years and more than $200 million developing this fat replacement.

Olestra has all the properties of regular fat and can be used in frying. It is used mainly in crunchy snack foods such as potato chips. Other fat-based fat replacers such as Caprenin and Benefat are partially absorbed by the body and contain about five calories per gram. Emulsifiers can also be used as fat replacers. They contain the same number of calories per gram as fat, but fewer grams of emulsifier are needed to achieve the same taste, texture, and mouth feel as fat.

Health considerations

All fat replacers on the market are on the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) list approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When olestra was first introduced for use in snack foods in 1996, it was required by the FDA to

Protein and fat-based fat replacers

Protein-based fat replacersBrand namesFoods
Microparticulated ProteinSimplesse®Dairy products (ice cream, butter, sour cream, cheese, yogurt), salad dressing, margarine- and mayonnaise-type products, baked goods, coffee creamer, soups, sauces
Modified Whey Protein concentrateDairy-Lo®Milk/dairy products (cheese, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream), baked goods, frostings, salad dressing, mayonnaise-type products
OtherK-Blazer®, ULTRA- BAKETM, ULTRA-FREEZETM, Lita®Frozen desserts and baked goods
Fat-based fat replacers  
EmulsifiersDur-Lo®, ECTM-25Cake mixes, cookies, icing, dairy products
SalatrimBenefat™Confections, baked goods, dairy, other applications
Lipid (Fat/Oil) analogs
Esterified Propoxylated Consumer and commercial applications, including formulated products,
Glycerol (EPG) baking, frying.
OlestraOlean®Salty snacks and crackers
Sorbestrin Fried foods, salad dressing, mayonnaise, baked goods

SOURCE: Calorie Control Council.

Fat replacers are ingredients that substitute fat in many foods and beverages. Most fat replacers are reformulations of existing food ingredients (e.g., starches, gums, cellulose). Additionally, the food industry has formulated a variety of new fat replacer ingredients. Fat replacers generally fall into one of three categories: carbohydrate-based, protein-based, or fat-based (Illustration by GGS Information Services/Thomson Gale).

carry the following warning: ‘This Product Contains Olestra. Olestra may cause abdominal cramping and loose stools. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and other nutrients. Vitamins A, D, E, and K have been added.‘ In 2003, after additional controlled studies and consumer education, the FDA allowed the warning to be removed from olestra-containing foods. The FDA requires small amounts (far less than the RDA) of vitamins A, D, E, and K be added to foods containing Olestra. This helps compensate for the small amount of these fat-soluble vitamins that dissolve in Olestra and is carried out of the body rather than being absorbed. Other vitamins are not affected.

A diet too high in fat can increase levels of blood lipids and increase risk of plaque build up on the walls of arteries and result in the development of cardiovascular disease. Reducing the amount of fat intake along with other lifestyle changes can help reduce this risk. In addition, obesity increases the risk of developing diabetes and other health problems. Studies have shown reduced-fat foods can be part of an effective weight-loss program that combines a healthy diet, reduced calorie intake, and exercise. The American Heart Association states, ‘Within the context of a healthy dietary pattern, fat substitutes, when used judiciously, may provide some flexibility in dietary planning, although additional research is needed to fully determine the longer-term health effects.’.


People who have disorders that interfere with the absorption of nutrients from the intestine, such as celiac disease, Crohn’ disease, or inflammatory bowel disease, should consider avoiding foods containing Olestra.

Fat replacers are often found in high-calorie foods. These foods may contain extra sugar to compensate for the absence of fat. Many reduced-fat products contain as many or almost as many calories as the full-fat equivalent. Consumers concerned about calorie intake should read the label and not assume that reduced-fat implies a reduced-calorie product.


Olestra reduces the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and carotenoids. Olestra-containing products have extra fat-soluble vitamins, but not carotenoids, added to compensate for this.


Large amounts of Olestra and the carbohydrate-based fat replacer polydextrose can cause loose stools and diarrhea in some people. Individuals should start with a small amount of foods containing these substances and see how they are affected.


Carotenoids—Fat-soluble plant pigments, some of which are important to human health.

Fat-soluble vitamin—A vitamin that dissolves in and can be stored in body fat or the liver.

Fatty acids —Complex molecules found in fats and oils. Essential fatty acids are fatty acids that the body needs but cannot synthesize. Essential fatty acids are made by plants and must be present in the diet to maintain health.

Prostaglandins—A group of biologically important molecules that have hormone-like actions. They help regulate expansion of the blood vessels and the airways, control inflammation, are found in semen, and cause the uterus to contract. They are made from fatty acids.

Parental concerns

Reduced-fat foods may appear healthy, but they may contain as many calories and more sugar than the equivalent full-fat product. Parents should encourage their children to eat a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fats and not rely on fat substitutes to control fat and calorie intake.


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American Dietetic Association. 120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000, Chicago, IL 60606-6995. Telephone: (800) 877-1600. Website: <>

International Food Information Council. 1100 Connecticut Avenue, NW Suite 430, Washington, DC 20036. Telephone: (202) 296-6540. Fax: (202) 296-6547. Website: <>


‘Dietary Fats & Fat Replacers.’ 2007–2009 IFIC Foundation Media Guide on Food Safety and Nutrition International Food Information Council. November 2006. [cited May 6, 2007]. <>

‘Fat Replacers Gain Popularity.’ Andrews University, Nutrition Department. 2004. [cited May 6, 2007]. <>

‘Fat Substitutes.’ University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. March 2003. [cited May 6, 2007]. <>

‘Questions and Answers About Fat Replacers.’ International Food Information Council Foundation. April 2000. [cited May 6, 2007]. <>

Tish Davidson, A.M.