DEAR DR. BLONZ: What exactly determines what gets classified as dietary fiber in foods? -- C.D., Elgin, Illinois
DEAR C.D.: Fiber refers to the materials found in plant foods that the human body cannot digest.
Think of the foods we eat as a complex combination of nutrients and non-nutrient ingredients. In order for your body to absorb and make use of the nutrients, food has to be disassembled into small, absorbable bits. Our digestive system is the disassembly line, and enzymes are the body's chemicals that break the foods down. Fiber is unique in that the human body lacks the right enzymes to take it apart. Instead of being absorbed, it becomes part of the bulk that passes on through.
As fiber travels through the digestive system, what it does depends on how it's built. An important distinction is whether the fiber dissolves in water. There are two main categories of dietary fiber: insoluble and soluble, and their health benefits differ. Both, however, are valuable parts of the diet.
The average diet contains only about half the fiber we need. Research suggests an increased fiber intake (a total of 25 to 30 grams per day) helps control heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation, diarrhea, weight, hemorrhoids and ulcerative colitis. This is quite impressive when you consider that dietary fiber isn't even absorbed.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is salmon safe to eat if it's been frozen for 6 months? Or should I just throw it away? -- Y., San Diego
DEAR Y.: If your salmon was packaged tightly -- ideally in a container or bag meant for freezer storage -- and your freezer has maintained a constant low temperature, there shouldn't be any problems from a safety perspective. The quality of the frozen fish, however, will decline after a few months. After its siesta, the fish won't be nearly as flavorful as it would have been if eaten fresh, but it should be safe.
When you remove it from the freezer, be sure to trim off any areas of freezer burn. These will show as blotches of discolored fish, usually near the edges. As the fish defrosts, let your senses be your guide as you check for any weird smells. If the fish looks OK and has no "off" odors, try to find a recipe that adds plenty of flavor so that the focus won't be on the fish.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Please tell me what you think about "detox food patches." These are pads you place on the bottom of the feet to promote natural detoxification and the pulling of toxic metals from the body. They also claim to improve circulation, combat fatigue, jump-start metabolism and promote a better night's sleep. According to the literature, you place one on each foot every other night for 30 nights, then use them about once every three weeks. The pictures show how wearing the patches gives rise to a black buildup on the patch, which is evidence that it is working. -- S.F., via email
DEAR S.F.: Using scientific evidence as the benchmark by which such claims should be measured, these products are pure, unadulterated nonsense.
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.