DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am interested in adding more fiber to my cereal and thought bran flakes would be a good choice -- a key reason being the economy of them when purchased in large quantities. We now add the bran to cereal and baked goods, and even to gravies. Do you see any problems here? Also, how many grams of fiber are in one tablespoon of bran? -- F.S., via email
DEAR F.S.: Fiber comes as part of the package with whole plant foods, but bran is an excellent way of adding fiber to any diet. There are other options, as well. I have been adding hemp hearts to my morning cereal, enjoying the nutty taste it adds to the meal. One issue with purchasing bran in large quantities is that it contains vitamins and essential oils. This means it should be stored in airtight containers and kept in a cool place.
With any addition of fiber, start out slowly. Don't add too much too soon, or you risk irritating your system -- a development that will reveal itself with cramps, bloating and increased gas. You are also advised to have sufficient intake of fluids at any meal where bran has been added.
Regarding your measurement question, a tablespoon is a unit of volume, and grams are units of weight. Different types of brans have different weights per unit volume, so the grams in a tablespoon will depend on the type of bran you have. One tablespoon of wheat bran weighs 3.6 grams; one tablespoon of corn bran weighs 4.8 grams; one tablespoon of oat bran weighs 5.9 grams; and one tablespoon of rice bran will weigh 7.4 grams.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: What are the main differences between regular table salt and salt substitutes? -- M.Q., St. Louis
DEAR M.Q.: Table salt, whether plain or iodized, is made from sodium chloride. There also may be very small amounts of compounds to help prevent the salt from caking. There are a variety of salt substitutes made up of combinations of a number of compounds; the only thing they share is that they're designed to serve as a culinary substitute for table salt. Some salt substitutes contain lesser amounts of sodium chloride mixed with powdery fillers, such as maltodextrin. Others rely exclusively on herbs and spices.
One of the first salt substitutes was based on potassium chloride, a compound that has a "salty" flavor, but unlike sodium chloride, it has a slightly bitter and metallic taste. Newer brands have been formulated to eliminate that bad taste. Potassium chloride, however, should be used with caution, especially by those having kidney problems, or by those taking diuretic medications that prevent potassium from being eliminated through the urine.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.