Week of September 19, 2005

Nutrition Wise

Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is decaffeinated green tea a good source of EGCG?

A: Regular green tea is a much better source of EGCG, which is the antioxidant phytochemical that shows many cancer-preventive effects in laboratory studies. Decaffeinated green tea contains about a third of the EGCG in regular brewed green tea. That amount, however, is still more than twice the amount in black tea. You can make up for the reduced amount of EGCG in decaffeinated green tea, compared to regular green tea, by drinking more cups of it.

Q: Do enzyme supplements to prevent intestinal gas really work?

A: Enzyme supplements can help reduce intestinal gas that comes from beans or lactose intolerance, if you get a product that resolves the gas problem you have. People who develop an uncomfortable amount of gas from eating cooked dried beans and peas should look for supplements that contain the enzyme called alpha-galactosidase. Gas forms in these people because their digestive enzymes do not break down certain complex carbohydrates in these foods, causing the foods to ferment in the large intestine and emit gas. If you’ve been avoiding these foods because of gas, these products may be worth a try. Dried beans, peas and lentils are excellent sources of fiber, protein and a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. Follow the directions for the supplements carefully. You need to consume them at the same time you eat the food. They can’t be added to the food while it cooks. You can also lessen the gas produced by canned beans by rinsing them well. For dried beans, soak them several hours or overnight. Discard the water they soaked in before cooking. People whose gasiness is due to lactose intolerance, however, won’t be helped by these supplements. Lactase tablets that break down the carbohydrate lactose in milk products may be useful for them.

Q: Is sea salt a better choice than regular table salt?

A: No. The two forms of salt are equally high in sodium, and sea salt offers no nutritional advantages over regular salt. Sea salt is made from seawater and contains trace amounts of substances such as magnesium, iodine and zinc. But most of these are present in amounts so small they’re nutritionally insignificant. Furthermore, although it is no longer necessary to provide additional iodine to prevent goiter in certain areas of the country, sea salt is dramatically lower in iodine. Regular table salt is available in an iodized form. Today, the iodine content of most Americans’ diets tends to be adequate, however. Grocery stores offer a selection of foods grown in a variety of soils that contain iodine. Iodine is also found in dairy products. Even saltwater seafood and sea vegetables that are now widely available have iodine in them. You can still use sea salt, if you prefer its flavor, but don’t expect any health advantages. If you’re looking for a lower-sodium form of salt, try some of the “lite” salts available in grocery stores. If you need to cut down on the total amount of salt in your diet, add flavor with herbs and spices.

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