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Finally, Ice Cream Is Good for You

Additive in the low-fat flavors may make kids' bones stronger, say researchers

THURSDAY, Nov. 29, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- The additive that makes low-fat ice cream smooth may also make kids' bones stronger, a group of researchers think.

Baylor College of Medicine scientists are beginning a year-long study to see if they can duplicate the results they saw in an earlier study on inulin, which is an additive that also gives sauces and gravies better "mouth feel" and makes meat juicier.

Inulin is a carbohydrate found naturally in such foods as asparagus, garlic, bananas, onions and several grains. Partially digestible, it is high in soluble fiber and has only 1.5 calories per gram, compared to 9 calories per gram in fat and 4 per gram in fully digestible carbohydrates like sugar. It's used to add texture to a variety of low-calorie foods. (On ingredient labels, it may be listed as inulin, oligofructose or chicory root fiber.)

"It's classically found in Jerusalem artichoke, which is not very popular among teen-agers," says Dr. Steven Abrams, a pediatrics professor at Baylor College of Medicine and the researcher who is leading the study.

In 2000, Abrams reported that adolescent girls whose high-calcium diets were supplemented with inulin increased their calcium absorption by almost 80 milligrams, which would be the equivalent of drinking an extra 7 ounces of milk. That study, sponsored by a company that manufactures a brand of inulin, ran for two months. Now, the researchers are expanding the study to 9- to 12-year-old boys and girls to see what happens when inulin is added to calcium-fortified orange juice for a year.

Adolescence is the most important time in a person's life for calcium absorption, Abrams says. Adolescents absorb more calcium -- between 30 percent and 40 percent, depending on their diet -- than adults or younger children because of the hormonal changes that occur during puberty.

Teen-age girls, however, rarely eat the calcium-rich diet needed to get the recommended daily intake of 1,300 milligrams, which is roughly the equivalent of four 8-ounce glasses of milk. The National Women's Health Information Center reports that eight out of 10 adolescent girls don't get enough calcium -- at a time in their lives when they're building their lifetime measure of bone mass.

"It's more problematic with girls than boys because they're more aware about their weight," says Dr. Douglas Rogers, a pediatric endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. "They stop drinking milk because they think it's fattening."

The effect can be devastating as women age, he adds. When the body stops producing estrogen after menopause, calcium quickly leaches out of the bones and contributes to osteoporosis.

"The vast majority of calcium laid down in our bones is done during adolescence," he says. "If teen-age girls miss that opportunity, it's gone forever. It's very hard after about age 20 to actually get more calcium into the bones naturally. There are medical things we can do to force that, but naturally, it's very difficult to build up or increase the amount of calcium in the bone. After 20, [we're] just trying to slow down the rate of loss."

Although the Baylor study is looking at the impact of inulin on high-calcium diets, Abrams says he's hopeful that inulin also can help increase calcium absorption in those whose diets are too low in calcium.

"We know that even though the recommended intake of calcium is 1,300 milligrams per day, kids have a lot of trouble reaching that goal," Abrams says. "We're looking for other ways to do that."

What To Do

For more information on calcium and teens and a list of high-calcium foods, visit the Center for Young Women's Health at Children's Hospital Boston. You can read more about why young women should care about osteoporosis at the National Women's Health Information Center. For details on inulin, visit the Food and Drug Administration Web site. This article deals specifically with hydrolized inulin syrup as an unlisted food additive, but explains the FDA's position on the safety of inulin as an additive.

For information on enrolling in the BoneMax study, visit the Children's Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine.

SOURCES: Interviews with Steven Abrams, M.D., professor of pediatrics, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas; Douglas Rogers, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist, Cleveland Clinic, Ohio; information from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas
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