DEAR DR. BLONZ: We've begun offering nonfat frozen yogurt bars as a snack for our child. The package says there are only 90 calories and, of course, no fat. The package also says "no preservatives," but the ingredient list includes a number of gels and gums, along with polysorbate 80 and carrageenan. If these aren't preservatives, what are they? Are they OK for our 7-year-old? -- FF.,. San Jose, California
DEAR F.F.: None of the ingredients you listed are preservatives. The gels and gums are thickeners, and the polysorbate 80 and carrageenan are emulsifiers designed to keep the yogurt mixture from separating while it freezes. All these components keep the nonfat flavored yogurt from turning rock-solid at freezer temperatures.
These treats usually provide about 100 milligrams of calcium and a small amount of protein. They won't provide the healthful phytonutrients found in a good piece of fruit, but they do represent a good alternative to chips, baked goods or candies. Even so, why not have a snack that's a win-win by making your own bars with fresh fruit and yogurt? You can find an assortment of recipes online, so look for one that appeals to you and your child.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is it reasonable to use antacids as a calcium supplement? -- P.R., Sun City, Arizona
DEAR P.R.: Calcium-based antacids tend to contain calcium carbonate, along with flavorings, colorings and a sweetener. And only about 40 percent of the weight of the calcium carbonate is actually calcium. That means that a 500-milligram calcium carbonate antacid will only provide 200 milligrams of calcium, which equates to 20 percent of the daily value for this mineral.
If you're considering such an antacid as a supplement, don't overdo it, especially around mealtime. The first stage of digestion requires an acid environment to begin the separation of foods into their individual nutrients. The excessive use of antacids can make your upper digestive tract alkaline, and that can mess with normal digestion.
As for bone health -- presumably what you're hoping to boost -- remember that it takes more than calcium to make bones. Although a bone is about 90 percent calcium by weight, other minerals such as magnesium, phosphorous, boron and silicon are needed. Vitamin D is also integral to the health of our bones, so you should be sure to have that nutrient in the mix.
For these reasons, food should be your first choice as a source of calcium. Aside from dairy products, calcium can be found in dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, collards and arugula; legumes, such as soybeans and garbanzo beans; almonds; and fruits such as figs and apricots. Finally, aside from the calcium and other bone-building nutrients in your diet, it takes an active lifestyle and weight-bearing exercise to encourage the body to keep its bones strong.
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.