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Weekly Alibi Speed Eater

JULY 27, 1998:  Wouldn't it be great if somebody could make a great-tasting low-fat chip that didn't make you bust black soup into your underpants? Well, hold on to your seats, folks, because Frito-Lay has decided that two out of three ain't bad.

Frito-Lay's new Wow! chips are made with Olean, the trade name for Olestra, a fat substitute that takes a quick tour of the human body then sneaks out the fire exit. Olestra is made by combining oil and sugar molecules into huge, indigestible mutant molecules that can pass through your business without signing a W-9. From the bag to the bowl, the chip's molecular structure and physical appearance remains essentially unaltered. Fiber does the same thing, but it tastes like Bran Buds, and the chips did poorly in taste tests. Olestra, on the other hand, tastes like fat, the favorite flavor of people and Eskimos alike. So why all the fuss over a potential boon to mankind?

Well, there are some places that fat, or para-fat, is just not meant to be. The last 3 feet of your lower intestine, for example, is where your body absorbs most of the water from waste, allowing it to become the classic turd most of us are accustomed to. There's something about the Olestra molecule that impedes the absorption of those liquids, so the waste remains a putrid, watery mass, and your body shuffles it to its next destination: your puckered anus. Only the trained and hardened reflexes of a circus star can quell the raging flow of slough while waddling, comically, to the potty. The same thing happens, scientists maintain, when you drink a magic potion.

After nine years of deliberating over 20 years of scientific studies, the FDA concluded that "olestra is safe for consumption in salty snacks." Here, here. It probably doesn't cause any permanent physical harm, so you can relax. Don't relax all the way, though.

A year ago last January, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a report finding that more than 80 percent of test subjects exhibited symptoms of severe abdominal cramps or diarrhea one to four hours after consuming chips containing olestra. Other symptoms included fecal urgency, incontinence, gas and vomiting. Several subjects had to be hospitalized, and "several people did not make it to the bathroom on time."

Speaking from personal experience, I credit Wow! chips with getting me out of an afternoon of yard work. Those familiar with the peculiar workings of my personal physiology (i.e., anyone within earshot) might well question what logical step leads me to point a dripping, brown finger at olestra. Let me just say that its causal linkage to that particular leakage was obvious. The cramps were painful as well.

It may very well be that there are people who experience none of the adverse effects associated with the substance, or some who may not mind the ones they do experience. The CSPI speculates that some test subjects may have been too bashful to report their symptoms, not being professional journalists and all. I'm not particularly squeamish about the grotesqueries of the digestive process, and yet I find myself strangely unwilling to continue my experiments with Wow! chips. Take that for whatever it's worth.

They tasted good, anyway, in the way that chips taste good. Sometimes you eat chips, and they're about the best thing you ever had. Then you eat chips the next night and don't see why you thought they were so great. Chips are like that. If they didn't make you fat, they still wouldn't make you rich.

Wow! chips come in a small assortment of familiar chip varieties including Nacho Cheese Doritos, Regular and Mesquite Barbecue Lay's and Ruffles. They're available at every ho-hum slop-hop on the turnpike as well as Subway, vanguard of the diet movement no matter what the cost.

This summer, look for me by the pool with Olestra, Viagra and my white Speedo.


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