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New Fat Substitute On The Table

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A new no-calorie fat substitute is being tested in several food laboratories, and the product's maker hopes it could eventually be used to slash calories in everything from cookies to burgers.

Z-Trim, an insoluble fiber that goes through the body without being digested, was invented by a government scientist. It's intended to replace some of the fat, including unhealthy trans fat, found in processed foods.

It can be used in the manufacturing process to cut calories and fat by up to half in many different foods. The list includes cream cheese, salad dressings, cookies, crackers, mayonnaise and hamburgers, says Greg Halpern, head of Fiber Gel Technologies Inc., which is marketing the substance.

Several companies have gotten samples of Z-Trim and are experimenting with it in their products, Halpern says. One company might come out with a cookie made with it early next year, he says. Fiber Gel has plans to introduce a product that could be used for baking.

Because it doesn't contain any calories, Z-Trim could help ease the nation's obesity problem, says its inventor, George Inglett, a scientist at a U.S. Department of Agriculture research center in Peoria, Ill. ''It's not going to solve all the problems, but it's an important tool whose time has come.''

The USDA receives royalties on Z-Trim because it owns the patent.

Inglett says the product will add needed fiber to Americans' diets. It can aid in digestion and won't upset the digestive system if it's eaten in normal quantities, he says.

Z-Trim is made by extracting insoluble fiber from corn bran, an agricultural byproduct, then washing away plant pigments and other impurities, says Triveni Shukla, the company's vice president of technology development.

It can be sold to food companies in gel or powder form.

It differs from Procter & Gamble's fake fat olestra, which is used to make a variety of chips and other salty snacks. Olestra is a food additive that glides through the body without adding fat and calories; it works like a cooking oil and is used for frying and baking.

Z-Trim can't be used for frying, but it can replace up to half the fat in many prepared foods. It's an insoluble fiber similar to what is found in beans, cereals and popcorn, and the fiber is not absorbed by the body, so it doesn't add calories, Shukla says.

There are already many products out there that replace fat, including gums and modified starches that contain soluble fiber, but there is always room for something new, says Lyn Nabors of the Calorie Control Council, an association representing the low-calorie and reduced-fat food and beverage industry.

Inglett says the difference between other fat replacements already on the market and Z-Trim is that the latter has no calories.

''With the obesity epidemic, companies are interested in reducing the calories,'' Nabors says.

The key will be figuring how out much fat can be removed before taste is affected. If you replace more than 50%, the product won't taste as good, Halpern says.

Nabors has tasted cookies made with Z-Trim and says they were ''pretty good.''

Ultimately, consumers will decide whether the substance will be a success, and that decision will be ''based on the taste,'' she says.

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© Copyright 2003 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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