DEAR DR. BLONZ: I made the shift to high-fiber, organic, whole-grain cereal with fruit for breakfast. But after a couple of days of eating the new cereal, I became violent, moody and so depressed I could hardly pick myself up and get on with the day. Things have settled down a bit, but the breakfast change is the only new dietary thing I can recall. Could my new breakfast have caused this reaction? -- B.C., San Jose, California
DEAR B.C.: Health, mood and well-being can be affected by a single element or a complex interaction of many. A coincidence of unrelated factors can give rise to fingers being pointed in the wrong direction.
When you do suspect that a certain food is the cause, the first thing to do, of course, is to stop consuming any suspect item(s). If the problem abates, you may think you have your answer -- and that may indeed be the case -- but that's not necessarily so; it could simply be that the problem was of short duration.
I recommend you contact a physician specializing in allergies and immunology. Seeking assistance makes sense, as it is never a good idea to experiment on oneself, especially when missteps might evoke the type of reactions you describe. Working with the health professional, you can decide whether it is appropriate to retry the suspect food, do some additional types of testing or to look elsewhere for clues.
Uncovering suspected food allergies is a bit of a detective game, and a knowledgeable approach is key. I have heard from many individuals who have written foods or nutrients off their menus based on hasty responses and faulty logic. Read more about food allergies and untoward reactions to food components at the website for the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: tinyurl.com/b8cnsr6. Also, check out this article on food allergies and intolerances in the Berkeley Wellness Letter: tinyurl.com/m425slg.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Can you please tell me the nature of the fat in chocolate? The Nutrition Facts label lists its total fat, but what is the source? -- V., via email
DEAR V.: The fat in chocolate, called cocoa butter, is primarily made up of stearic acid (34 percent), palmitic acid (20 percent) and oleic acid (30 percent), with small amounts of other acids making up the rest. Both stearic and palmitic acids are saturated fats; oleic acid is the monounsaturated fat that is also found in olive oil.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is it true that black pepper is toxic, that it is not eliminated by the body and that it collects in the kidneys? -- L.A., Los Angeles
DEAR L.A.: There are compounds in black pepper (piper nigrum) that might pose a problem if crushed peppercorns were a big part of your diet, or if you had ongoing kidney disease. But there is no evidence that black pepper is bad for an otherwise healthy individual when used as a seasoning. The idea that something in black pepper collects in the kidneys is not consistent with information I have read.
Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to email@example.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.