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Z Trim: Is the USDA-Developed Z Trim the Miracle Fat Substitute We've All Been Waiting For?

For 10 months now, kids in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania school district have been enjoying a ranch salad dressing at lunchtime that, unbeknownst to them, has been enriched with a plant-based fat substitute called Z Trim.

Though the salad dressing has fewer calories and less fat than before, the flavor remains the same. The students, who were just informed of the fat substitute this month, couldn't even tell a difference.

z trim baking cookies

With Z Trim, you can make cookies, candy and other baked goods with half the fat while preserving all the same taste and texture, its maker's claim.

"I think it tastes the same as it did before," one student said.

"A True Plant Fiber"

Z Trim was invented in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Made from low-cost agricultural byproducts like hulls of oats, soybeans peas and rice, or corn and wheat bran, the fat substitute has zero calories and, because it's made from natural dietary fibers, reportedly does not cause stomach upset.

According to the USDA, Z Trim is made by processing hulls into microscopic fragments that are then purified, dried and milled into a powder. When water is added, the fragments swell and provide a "smooth mouth feel."

In 1998, FiberGel Technologies acquired the license for Z Trim and is now marketing it to food manufacturers and consumers in gel or powder form. Consumers can now buy:

  • Z Trim to use at home

  • Z Trim as an appetite suppressant

  • Cookies, mayonaise and salad dressing made with Z Trim

Manufacturers, meanwhile, can use Z Trim to replace about 50 percent of the fat in their recipes, without changing either the taste or texture of the product. The makers advertise it as ideal for everything from baked goods and dairy products to meats, gravies and candies -- it's only limitation being that it can't be fried.

"This is a true plant fiber. It's something people have been eating," said Rick Harris, FiberGel's vice president for sales and marketing. "If anyone's had popcorn, they've had Z Trim. That's basically what it is."

Miracle Fat Substitute, or Too-Good-to-be-True Fad?

Z Trim can even be used to cut the fat and calories in hamburgers, sausages, salad dressings and gravies.

On the surface, at least, Z Trim claims to be the perfect fat replacement. It's calorie-free, has no side effects, tastes great and even increases the fiber content of foods. Moreover, consumers can use it right in their own homes.

"A consumer who normally eats 3,500 calories a day could cut as many as 700 calories by eating the same kinds of food in the same volume, but adding about half an ounce of Z-Trim to replace fat," said former USDA Secretary Dan Glickman.

Unlike the fat substitute olestra, which can sometimes cause diarrhea and stomach cramps, Z Trim is safe for the digestive system when eaten in normal amounts. To date, FiberGel says that Z Trim is side-effect-free, and even The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, said they did not have any safety concerns about Z Trim.

"Z Trim is a natural food made of dietary fiber. There are, therefore, no chemical tastes or unpleasant digestive side effects," says the maker's Web site.

Consumers can dapple with the few Z Trim offerings on the market, or try it in their own recipes at home. But the company has bigger plans; they feel Z Trim is poised to make a major dent in the global obesity epidemic.

It looks like this one may be true to its promise, which would of course be great news ... but then as with new products like these, only time will really tell.

Recommended Reading

What Exactly Does it Mean When Foods are Hydrogenated, and What Risks Can it Pose?

All the Health Risks of Processed Foods -- In Just a Few Quick, Convenient Bites


MSNBC January 18, 2007

United States Department of Agriculture

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