Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

The Dietary Dilemma

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

The Dietary Dilemma

Article excerpt

Q: I try to get enough fiber in my diet, but when I can't, I need a laxative. All the reports about laxatives being carcinogenic are making me nervous, but the alternative is severe discomfort. What can I do?

A: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has designated the drug phenolphthalein as not safe for consumer use. Though it has not yet been found to cause cancer in humans, laboratory studies have shown that it is carcinogenic in animals. Consequently, it is considered to be a "relevant carcinogenic risk" for humans. As of September 1997, drug companies are no longer allowed to use phenolphthalein in laxatives.

If you feel that you must use an over-the-counter laxative, look at the active ingredient. If the product contains phenolphthalein, throw it away. Several laxatives that were produced before the December 1995 National Toxicology Program review of phenolphthalein may contain the drug. Although most companies reformulated their products, others have not. Therefore, you may also want to examine the date of manufacture on any products in your medicine chest, especially if the label does not mention the active ingredient. You should always be vigilant about not keeping medicines whose expiration dates have passed, and in this case be especially careful.

The active ingredient of many of the laxatives that do not use phenolphthalein is bisocodyl. You may expect to see bisocodyl become the predominant ingredient in most nonprescription remedies for constipation.

The ideal way to maintain regularity is to consume sufficient fiber. Typically, you will very rarely suffer from constipation after adopting a vegetarian lifestyle because of the amount of fiber naturally present in the diet. Nonetheless, even vegetarians still have "off days." If you do not like prunes, nature's best laxative, try other kinds of dried fruit. Another very potent natural laxative is wheat bran. You can buy it as is, to be sprinkled over your morning oatmeal or fruit. Most other brans work as well. If you do not like plain whole bran but are a white bread fan, perhaps it is time to switch to a whole grain kind: one that includes the bran.

Q: I recently heard that butter is actually better for you than margarine. Please explain how that can possibly be.

A: Butter and margarine are both poor health choices. Butter is loaded with saturated fat, and margarine is loaded with lipids called transfatty acids. Trans-fatty acids are found in deep-fried foods and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Ironically, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are found in the same margarine that most people have used to replace butter in order to prevent heart disease.

We already knew that eating deep-fried food was a terrible health choice, but many people believe that it is solely the fat content that makes it bad. According to a study at Brandeis University, transfatty acids are as bad, if not worse, for blood cholesterol levels than saturated fatty acids.

The study was conducted in Malaysia in conjunction with the University of Malaya and the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia. In a double-blind study, healthy Malaysian volunteers ate a fairly low-fat Malaysian diet in which two thirds of the fat was replaced with four oil blends containing specific fatty acid profiles, each oil for a 4-week period. The subjects were then given regular blood tests to check the lipid, or fat, levels in their blood. Saturated fat can alter the balance of beneficial high-densitylipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels and detrimental low-densitylipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, causing a higher likelihood of clogged arteries. …

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