The NutraSweet Co. announced Thursday that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its low-calorie substitute for fat in frozen desserts. Nutrition experts said the substitute, called Simplesse, could open the door to a new generation of diet foods. Simplesse, the first all-natural, low-calorie fat substitute to receive FDA approval, is manufactured from protein extracted from egg whites and milk. Its manufacturer, which also makes NutraSweet low-calorie sweetener, said the product has the taste and texture, or "mouth feel," of fat but fewer than one-fourth the calories.
NutraSweet, a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., immediately introduced a frozen dairy dessert called Simple Pleasures containing Simplesse.
Simple Pleasures Strawberry contains 120 calories and one gram of fat per four-ounce serving, the company said, compared to 250 calories and 15 grams of fat for the same amount of a leading brand of ice cream.
The FDA action, to be formally announced today, affirmed that the product can be "generally recognized as safe."
FDA spokesman Chris Lecos said the approval applies only to use in frozen foods. The company must return with additional petitions if it wishes to use the substance in other products such as mayonnaise, salad dressing, sour cream or frozen yogurt.
Simplesse is being introduced in an age of dieting and health-consciousness that has seen products like oat bran and spring water gain big markets. Analysts said Simplesse could bring in $500-million to $1-billion in annual sales for NutraSweet.
Robert Shapiro, NutraSweet's chairman and chief executive, asserted that Simple Pleasures could resolve the conflict felt by many people between eating healthy foods and indulging in what tastes good. Americans reduced the amount of fat in their diets by 3 percent from 1982 to 1988 but still ate an average 5 gallons of ice cream per person last year, according to NutraSweet.
"Simplesse is in our view nothing less than a historical breakthrough in food technology, in the never-ending conflict between health and indulgence," Shapiro said. "Simplesse means we can now enjoy all the rich, creamy taste of foods .
. without the fat, without the calories, without the worry and without the guilt."
But Cornell University nutrition researcher Christina Stark said efforts to offer buyers the best of both worlds "will not be a new miracle food ingredient or anything like that."
She said that although artificial sweeteners have proliferated in the last decade, per capita consumption of sugar in the United States has not declined.
"We seem to overlay these new products onto our existing habits," she said. "Maybe we "reward' ourselves for using them by using more of old products. You had a diet Coke, so you treat yourself to an extra serving of ice cream.
"Now, maybe people will substitute this for ice cream and give themselves a brownie."
Two other fat substitutes are being reviewed by the FDA. A Kraft product similar to Simplesse is also manufactured from egg whites and milk and would be used only in frozen desserts.
A non-caloric polyester-based fat substitute developed by Procter & Gamble Co. is also under consideration, the FDA's Lecos said. It would be used in baked goods and other foods if approved.
Unlike the NutraSweet and Kraft products, Procter and Gamble's product would pass through the body undigested and thereby reduce caloric intake even more.
Information from AP was used in this report.