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Beware Salad Bars With Sulfites

Posting Date: 04/07/2003

Q. I like to eat out at restaurants but often I get stomach cramps about an hour after eating salad, especially if it is from a salad bar. I must rush to a bathroom to avoid an embarrassing incident of diarrhea.

I feel sure there must be some substance, perhaps a preservative on the lettuce or in the dressing causing this reaction. I know other people who've had similar experiences, but I've never seen it addressed in your column. Do you know what it could be? I might be able to ask in advance whether the restaurant uses the substance and save myself distress.

A. What you are describing sounds suspiciously like a reaction to the preservative sulfite. Years ago, lettuce and raw vegetables at salad bars were dipped in a sulfite solution to keep them from turning brown. This is no longer legal because the FDA banned the use of sulfites on fresh fruits and vegetables in 1986. Too many people had experienced hives, diarrhea or life-threatening asthma attacks when exposed to these chemicals.

Salad bar lettuce should be safe, but other salad ingredients, such as shrimp, might cause trouble. Some salad dressings contain sulfites, and so do dried fruits like apricots or golden raisins. Beware of foods such as hash browns, home fries, jam, molasses, soup mixes, canned vegetables, wine and flaked coconut.

Q. I used to take Prempro because my gynecologist said it was good for my health. Then she took me off it because of the research showing it doesn?t help heart disease.

The main problem I have now is vaginal dryness, which makes relations with my husband uncomfortable. My doctor prescribed a vaginal cream containing estrogen. A friend says natural progesterone cream would be safer and better. I?m confused and will be grateful for any information.

A. Researchers have concluded that postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy has a minimal impact on health-related quality of life, other than easing hot flashes. Although estrogen can alleviate dryness, this hormone is absorbed into the blood stream from the vagina as easily as from oral estrogen. Side effects are likely to be similar.