DEAR DR. BLONZ: Forgive the basic nature of this question, but what is the difference between a vegetable and a fruit? Also, I am interested in becoming a Certified Dietary Manager. How would I go about this, and what are the requirements? -- R.K., Indianapolis, Indiana
DEAR R.K.: A vegetable is an edible part of a plant that has a soft stem. These parts can include leaves (such as lettuce), roots (carrots), bulbs (garlic), stalks (celery), seeds (peas), tubers (potatoes) and flowers (cauliflower). A fruit is the mature ovary in a flowering plant: the fleshy part of the plant that contains the seeds. This means that tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and squashes are technically fruits, even though they are commonly thought of as vegetables.
There was actually a Supreme Court decision in 1893 stating that a plant part typically eaten with the main course was a vegetable, while a plant part typically eaten as an appetizer or dessert was a fruit. (The clarification was sought by a tomato importer looking to avoid vegetable tariffs by classifying his wares as fruit.) I wonder what those justices would say if they had a chance to savor today's cuisines, many of which make use of fruits throughout the meal.
As for your interest in becoming a Certified Dietary Manager, there are a number of resident and correspondence schools that offer training. After that, gaining and maintaining certification means meeting certain career requirements and passing a nationally recognized credentialing exam. For more information, check the site for the Certifying Board for Dietary Managers: cbdmonline.org.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: What is maltodextrin made of? I have called a soup company, two cereal/bread companies and two nutrition stores, and no one knows. I ask because my grandson is allergic to barley. We associate the word "malt" with grains, so we have omitted any product with maltodextrin from his diet, just to be safe -- and it's in a lot of products. I am hoping you can tell me exactly what it is. -- M.S., Sun City, Arizona
DEAR M.S.: Maltodextrins are easily digestible carbohydrates made from starch. The starch is cooked and then broken into smaller pieces -- similar to what happens when starch is digested. As additives, maltodextrins serve as texturizers or flavor enhancers. According to FDA regulations, manufacturers should use use corn, potato or rice as the source of the starch for any maltodextrins used in foods. Note that this may not be the case for maltodextrin used in medications.
Where allergies are involved, it is best to use caution; even though there are regulations, there is no guarantee that a particular manufacturer won't use a different source for its starch. For any specific products your grandson might consume, you should consider contacting the manufacturer and requesting further information about their maltodextrin supplier.
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.