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Diet Sodas

Guest Karen Collins

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Guest Karen Collins

Q: Is it true that diet soda makes weight loss harder?


A: No. In fact, diet soda may help. Sugar consumption has steadily increased in the United States, and the largest source of added sugars is nondiet soft drinks.


Research at Purdue University shows that we do not seem to exercise more to compensate for those extra calories that lead to weight gain. A Danish study similarly reports that when overweight adults were given about 600 calories a day of extra sugar (equal to about four 12-ounce cans of regular soda), total calorie intake increased and participants gained about 3.5 pounds in less than three months.


Another group given a sugar substitute decreased overall sugar consumption and dropped about 2 pounds in the same time span. While more research is needed, replacing sugar with low-calorie sweeteners may reduce calorie consumption and aid weight reduction and maintenance.


Q: I want to eat more fish, but I'm concerned about toxic amounts of mercury. What should I do?


A: Mercury from pollution ends up in lakes and oceans. Microbes transform it to methylmercury. Smaller fish eat it, and then it becomes concentrated in larger predatory fish that eat the smaller ones.


In humans, methylmercury is a toxin to the brain and poses the most risk to the fetus, infants and young children.


The Food and Drug Administration warns that young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women should not eat four types of fish that may contain high levels of methylmercury: swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish.


The advisory also states that women who are pregnant or who could become pregnant can safely eat 12 ounces per week of other kinds of cooked fish.


Tuna is another fish under extra consideration right now. The FDA classified it as safe. But some independent groups suggest that both fresh and canned varieties may contain levels of methylmercury that are unsafe for unborn babies and young children.


For most adults, trace amounts of methylmercury in most seafood are not considered a risk. For them, the health advantages, especially of fish high in omega-3 fats, like salmon or trout, are much more important.


Q: What's the difference between wheat germ and wheat bran?


A: Both are parts of the whole-grain wheat kernel. Both are removed when wheat is refined to make white flour.


When referred to as food, wheat germ is the embryo or nucleus of the wheat kernel. It is an excellent source of vitamin E, zinc and the B vitamin folate. A quarter-cup supplies more fiber than a slice of most whole-wheat bread.


Because of its polyunsaturated fat content, it can quickly become rancid once the container has been opened. To prevent that, store it in the refrigerator.


Wheat bran is the rough outer shell of whole wheat.


It has an extremely high fiber content, and is also an excellent source of magnesium and iron.


KAREN COLLINS is a registered dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. Questions for this column may be sent to Nutrition-Wise, 1759 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.

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