The Daily Iowan:1996

C.R. tests chips with fake fat

By Kevin Ho The Daily Iowan

A health advocacy group's claims the fat substitute Olestra causes cramping, diarrhea and possibly even cancer didn't stop Des Moines resident Kathy Garza from picking up five bags of chips that contain the product Tuesday afternoon at a Cedar Rapids Hy-Vee.

"When the office heard that I would be in Cedar Rapids today they requested me to buy some for them," Garza said. "I'll buy them three bags, and l'll buy two for myself. "Everyone has allergic reactions to this food or the other; this is probably no different. If it's good for your heart than its worth some discomfort."

Garza's purchase came on the same day the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) held a press conference in Cedar Rapids warning of the substitute's side effects. Frito Lay has been test marketing their Olestra potato chips, known as Frito Lay "Max" chips, in Cedar Rapids for several months.

"Ceder Rapids is rapidly becoming the diarrhea capital of America," said Michael Jacobson, executive director for CSPI. "These chips give a new meaning to the term 'snack attack.' " CSPI, a 750,000 member organization, pushed for the nutritional fact labels that adorn prepackaged foods, and has made claims to the potentially unhealthy effects of movie theater popcorn and Chinese food.

Jacobson said Olestra could lead to increased cancer rates, heart disease and blindness by reducing nutrients such as beta carotene in the body. "Olestra is the first fat-substitute that can be fried," Jacobson said. "It seemed like a miracle substance 10 years ago, now it is anything but miraculous." Jacobson urged Cedar Rapids consumers to stop eating chips that contain Olestra. "I hope the people of Cedar Rapids send a strong signal to Frito Lay -- stop using us as guinea pigs, and stop selling us your sickening potato chips," he said.

According to CSPI, there have been 50 reported cases of gastrointestinal problems in the three test markets. "If I were a college student I would not consume these chips the day before a final exam," he said. Garza said she will eat the chips for the fat-free benefits and doesn't see them as a threat to the chip-eating population, even though they contain a label warning of possible stomach cramps and loose stools.

"I think some diets will affect you the same way," she said. "It's no different than lactose intolerance." L.J. Filer, a professor emeritus in the UI Hospitals and Clinics department of pediatrics who has had a long-time interest in Olestra, said the substance is not only safe but could be healthy. "It has the potential of health benefits and reducing fat intake," he said.

"Anything we can do as a national population to reduce our fat intake is a health plus. "The FDA reviewed the data. I've read 90 percent of the research and the clinical trials as well. (CSPI) can make those claims, but unless they can support their claims, I don't see how they make their case. "Yes, I've tied them. and no, I haven't had any problems."

UI students, however, said news of digestive risks outweigh the appeal of the fat-free label. "I wouldn't go out of my way to get them," UI senior Krista Larson said. "I'd rather have the real thing than die, because in 10 years they might say that it's harmful."

UI senior Carolina Nowak agreed. "In this case, I'd rather cut back on fatty foods," she said. "That vs. putting that stuff in my system -- the health risks aren't worth the dietary benefits."

Jim Lingo, store director at Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids, said the "Max" chips have sold well despite the negative findings by the CSPI. "They've been selling very good," Lingo said. "They're 20 percent of the Frito Lay sales. I haven't had any complaints at all. You know Cedar Rapids is the second or third in chip consumption in the U.S. -- that's why they're testing the chips here. I think the final decision will be up to the consumer."

If Olestra products ever came to the UI, they would be treated like any other new product, said Jim Kindhart, manager of UI Vending Operations.

"It would depend on the price if we tried them," he said. "It would be on a trail basis; that's the normal way to do things. It would depend on the the price and the value to the customer. If there were a demand for them we would sell them." Kindhart said reports of side effects would play a role in deciding whether or not to sell them. "It could be a factor," he said.

"I think if it is produced and marketed we would let the consumer make that choice."

Title: C.R. tests chips with fake fat

By: Kevin Ho

Page: 1A

Date: 6/13/96