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Politics and Food; Ways to Be a Smarter Patient; Empty Calories; Inside Youssif's Surgery

Aired September 22, 2007 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys. This is HOUSECALL. We're making the rounds this morning of some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week.
First up, politics and food. Some say what we eat is influenced by Washington. We're going to take a closer look at why we eat the way we do. Then, empower yourself to get the right diagnosis. Ways to make you a smarter patient. And how taking just one food out of your diet could help you lose weight today. We focus on empty calories.

We certainly have a lot on our plate today. But first, some people say the government helps shape the way we eat in this country. Thanks to farming subsidies, an emphasis on foods made from corn and soy beans. But with obesity on the rise, maybe it's time to change the menu, big-time.


GUPTA (voice-over): In Iowa, corn is a culture. It's a way of life. Hmm, corn on the cob. But critics point out much of the corn ends up as fast food. Sweeteners like corn syrup used in soda and animal feed for future hamburgers. Moist soy beans, meanwhile, become soybean oil, including trans fat for frying and baked goods. Iowa Senator Tom Harkin is chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a chief architect of the farm bill.

(on camera): Is there a correlation between the existing farm bill and the obesity problem?

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: I believe there is a correlation between farm bills that we've been passing for the last 20 years and the incidence of obesity in this country. That's why I keep saying we've got to start promoting alternative crops and fruits and vegetables.

GUPTA (voice-over): Just look around the capitol. Agricultural symbols are everywhere. The farm bill reflects the fierce competition for federal dollars. And for decades, the powerful lobbies for corn and soybean growers have been winning.

Apple and most other fruits and vegetables are considered specialty crops, and as a result, have not been eligible for major funding, until this year when with Harkin's urging, Congress is expected to approve $365 million or more for fruit and vegetable growers. By comparison, corn and soybean growers can expect about $2.7 billion.

(on camera): If we actually followed the food pyramid in this country and had five servings of fruits and vegetables, every American, every day, we actually don't have enough fruits and vegetables to provide for us.

HARKIN: That is absolutely true.

GUPTA: That's shockng.

HARKIN: That's very shocking. And -- well, again, we're going to try to change that.

GUPTA (voice-over): No one can guarantee that more federal money will lead people to eat more fruits and vegetables and reduce obesity. But it is food for thought.


GUPTA: And Congress is expected to vote on that farm bill later this month. Our diet can definitely be the death of us. We know that. Be sure to tune into my special called "Fed Up, America's Killer Diet." That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 p.m. Pacific. And again, at 11:00 p.m. Eastern and 8:00 p.m. Pacific.

Now I know it's difficult to believe, but even doctors can make mistakes. So what should you do if you think you've been misdiagnosed? CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us with some of those tips on this week's "Empowered Patient." Interesting topic.

ELIZABETH COHEN, MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, misdiagnosis happen. It just everyone's human. And sometimes it happens. In fact, some studies have shown that 10 percent of the time, doctors do not get the diagnosis right.

Now in my column this week, you can see that there was a woman who was diagnosed with a horrible form of cancer. She was told she might only have six months to live. And, guess what? She did not have cancer.

So from her and from others, there are tips about how you might suspect that you've been misdiagnosed. And our first tip is that if your diagnosis rests solely on a lab result, as was the case with this woman, that might be a red flag that perhaps you've been misdiagnosed. Because as you know, Sanjay, labs are not always right.

GUPTA: Yes, and I've heard stories about people actually getting lab results mixed up and...

COHEN: Right. Wrong person.

GUPTA: ...stuff like that. What else did you find? Any other things that should make you suspicious?

COHEN: Yes. There are a couple other things that you should think about, a couple of other things that might make you suspicious.

For example, and I know this sounds obvious, but if you're not getting better despite treatment, you know, sometimes people will just go on and on. For example, there was a woman who we talked about in our column who was diagnosed with heartburn by two different doctors, was given several different drugs, didn't get better. In fact, she had acute pancreatitis and ended up in kidney failure, and is to this day still on dialysis.

GUPTA: So that really hurt her.

COHEN: So it really did hurt her. So if your doctor recommends treatment and you're not getting better, you're not getting better, you're not getting better, that's a sign your diagnosis wasn't right.

GUPTA: You know, we're both health reporters, obviously. And you probably get this a lot, but people will say well, I went to the Internet, I Googled something, and I got such and such. A lot of times, it's not reliable as far as I can tell. What's your best advice on that?

COHEN: The advice on that is that you don't want to diagnose yourself on the Internet. That is a mistake, according to the doctors who we talked to. But what you can do is that when you get a diagnosis from your doctor, look it up.

For example, if your doctor tells you you have tendinitis, and then you go and you look it up, and it says that, you know, that lasts for let's say six to 12 weeks, and a year later, you're still in pain, that might be a sign you should go back to your doctor and say you know, I looked at how long tendinitis is supposed to last. And I had it longer than that.

GUPTA: Right.

COHEN: Are you sure that we got this right?

GUPTA: A lot of that communication.

COHEN: So it can be helpful. All about communication.

GUPTA: Well, this empowering your patients series is fascinating stuff.

COHEN: Great, thank you.

GUPTA: So glad to be able to do that. I think it's very helpful to a lot of people out there.

COHEN: Great.

GUPTA: And for the whole story, check out and look for empowered patients. And next week in her column, Elizabeth will have some tips on how to avoid being misdiagnosed.

And what we eat is at the top of the agenda on HOUSECALL today. And straight ahead, we look at how getting rid of just one food can help you lose several pounds.

And later, it's about more than just the veggies. The ABC's of being a vegetarian.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Twinkie is one of the finest examples of modern engineering.


GUPTA: Deconstructing the soft creamy filling of an American icon. It's the subject of our quick quiz. And that's coming up in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: Twinkies are considered the quintessential junk food. And urban legend has it that a Twinkie can survive until the end of time with an unlimited shelf live. So what is the shelf life of a Twinkie? Is it A, 25 days; B, two months; C, one year; or, D, forever? The answer -- a minute away.


GUPTA: Before the break we asked about the shelf life of a Twinkie, which legend has can survive a nuclear war. Well, the answer is 25 days, which is a long time for a baked good, but not long enough to stay fresh in your fallout shelter.

Twinkies were kind of a junk food pioneer. But now Americans have perfected the art of eating foods full of so-called empty calories, foods that have little or no nutritional value, but lots and lots of calories. So we paid a visit to nutritionist Page Love to get some tips on taking those foods out of our diets.


PAGE LOVE, NUTRITIONIST: We're talking about breakfast cereals as our first food to compare. And we're looking at sugary breakfast cereal versus high fiber brand flakes with raisins. The problem with sugary cereals is that most of them contain about seven teaspoons of sugar or more and very little fiber. So they leave you feeling very empty and hungry about an hour later.

On the other hand, high fiber breakfast cereals will last you twice as long and give you all kinds of fortified nutrients, including fiber, which helps to keep the gut nice and healthy.

Our next food that we're going to be comparing are fried tortilla chips versus a low fat wheat cracker. The problem with the tortilla chip is if you have this as your afternoon snack every day, you could gain as much as seven pounds of body fat in a year because a typical serving of tortilla chips has about one gram of fat. And this much fat, they squeezed it out into a test tube.

On the other hand, low fat whole grain crackers are much lower fat and contain fiber. so they help you feel a lot fuller, a lot longer throughout the afternoon, particularly if you combine it with a piece of low fat cheese. Much healthier snack choice.

The next food that we're talking about is a standard candy bar, to a low fat, to a granola bar. The problem with the candy bar is it's loaded with empty calories, both sugar and fat. In fact, about 17 spoons of sugar similar to the high sugar breakfast cereal, and also about three to four teaspoons of the wrong kinds of fat.

On the other hand, a low fat granola bar is actually much higher in fiber. You can even get it with a little bit of chocolate in it, get that chocolate flavor need met. But it's much lower in fat and chock full of fiber and good nutrients that help you feel fuller throughout the afternoon.

The next foods that we're going to be comparing are a dark, regular sugared soda to a skim milk product. The problem with the soda is it's also loaded with all kinds of empty calories. On the average, about 12 teaspoons of sugar.

On the other hand, a skim milk product is full of nutrients. We need our three dairies a day. The dairy also helps us feel fuller in the afternoon, whereas the soda may make you go on a rollercoaster craving other sweets. Go for the dairy.

Well, our take home message here today is you can choose all these empty calorie high sugar foods. Or you can choose the alternatives. They're right at your finger tips. A high fiber breakfast cereal, a low fat high fiber cracker, a chewy granola bar, a glass of skim milk. These choices are out there. You make the choice.


GUPTA: And the way we eat, of course, is a decision that can affect our health, for better or for worse. On this week, we asked which topic you would most like us to tackle on HOUSECALL. You voted for the ABC's of vegetarianism. We turn now to Judy Fortin with more on going vegetarian.


JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENTS (voice-over): Ordering a plate of chicken leg nuggets made from soy protein is a real treat for John Pappazoglou. He hasn't eaten any meat, fish, or eggs for 15 years.

JOHN PAPAZOGLOU, VEGETARIAN: Being a vegetarian in and of itself, I think guaranteed that nutrition, you still have to have a balanced diet, and have the proper proteins, and the proper balance. You can just eat a bag of potato chips every day and be a vegetarian, and have a horrible diet.

FORTIN: Making the switch to a vegetarian diet doesn't need to be complicated, according to registered dietician Molly Paulson.

MOLLY PAULSON, REGISTERED DIETITIAN: You do need to do a little bit of research to make sure you're getting the amount of protein that you need, the amount of calcium, iron, and vitamin B-12.

FORTIN: Protein is found in nuts, grains, and legumes. The right combination offers the most nutrition.

PAULSON: A food can pair let's say a black bean with a rice dish and have black beans and rice and you've got a complete protein.

FORTIN: Paulson says many new vegetarians make the mistake of eating too many foods with saturated fats in order to feel full. When done correctly, experts claim a low fat, meatless diet can help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes.

Judy Fortin, CNN.


GUPTA: And you know, you e-mailed us your questions as well about going vegetarian. So we decided to take them to an expert. Dietitian Molly Paulson, who you just saw in Judy's report.

The first e-mail question's from Ryan in Virginia, who's pregnant wife is a vegetarian. And he ask this. "I've heard vegetarians should find alternate spreads and not eat peanut butter. Can peanut butter hurt the unborn baby?"


PAULSON: There are some studies suggesting that children of pregnant mothers or breast fed children are easier to come up with the antibodies that make them allergic to peanut butter later in life or as a child. So that's the only thing. But it's still not proven. And it's a very good, healthy protein substitute.


GUPTA: All right, and this next e-mail question was about different kinds of vegetarians. Jay from Georgia asked this. What's the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?


PAULSON: Veganism has absolutely no animal products. They don't eat eggs or dairy as well. And a vegetarian can be -- that's someone who does not eat meat, fowl, or fish. And they have eggs and dairy in their diet.


GUPTA: All right. And Molly also had some quick tips for people who were considering going vegetarian.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PAULSON: The top things that you want to keep in mind when you're becoming a vegetarian is that you don't want to assume it's healthy, avoiding the saturated fats and the trans fats, and keeping your fiber intake high. Making sure if you're going vegan, especially that you're getting enough protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin B-12.


GUPTA: Thanks, Molly. And there's much more to come, of course on HOUSECALL.

We're going to update Youssif's story. Remember, he's a little Iraqi boy. And he had his first operation here in the United States this week. And it's smaller than a penny and it can listen. That's right, it can listen for cancer. We have the latest and greatest medical tools. Stay with us.


GUPTA: A young Iraqi boy with severe burns is recovering this morning from the first of several operations to repair his face and his life. I was there. Here's what I saw.


GUPTA (voice-over): What you're looking at is the emotional separation there between Youssif and his parents. This is cross- cultural. Parents giving up their child to go to the operating room for general anesthesia. Certainly by now you know the story of Youssif, a five-year-old boy who was burned with gasoline. It affected some of the most cosmetic areas of his body, his face, and his hand as well. And I got a chance to scrub in with Dr. Grossman and see this procedure firsthand, as they try and fix what that burning gasoline did to him.

The goals of the operation are two fold, to actually remove that scar that's sort of along his nose, actually went to his lips, to actually remove that, and to also place these expanders, to run - expand some of that healthy skin there over the next few months. The goal there is if you can expand that healthy skin, you can actually cover some of the areas that were scarred, some of the areas that were burned.

Certainly, he has many operations to follow over the next several months, but the operation today looks like it was successful. And he needs time now to heal. As his story develops, as Youssif heals, we'll continue to bring you those details.


GUPTA: Now let's check in with Judy Fortin. She's here with some more of this week's medical headlines. Judy?

FORTIN: Hey, Sanjay, we all get those persistent e-mail offers selling cheap drugs or natural herbal remedies. Well, authors of a new study on medical related spam warned buyers beware. Purchasing drugs online is often too good to be true. Researchers attempted to buy products offered through spam and found the medications did not always arrive and were often not what they thought they were getting.

The FDA also warns online buyers don't have legal protection if something goes wrong and can receive outdated, contaminated or counterfeit products. Doctors may one day be able to listen for the signs of cancer. That's according to researchers at Georgia Tech, who have created a device that detects cancer related molecules by monitoring frequency changes in blood samples. The device is still being tested, but inventors hope one day it will facilitate a quick blood sample screening for cancer.

Flu season is right around the corner. And word is there's plenty to go around, of flu shots that is. The CDC reports more than 130 million doses are available. That's enough to vaccinate a third of the U.S. population. Trouble is officials are concerned not everyone who needs the vaccine will get it. The CDC recommends the annual shot for almost everyone, but especially for people over 50 and children under 5, who were at the highest risk for complications. The flu kills an estimated 36,000 Americans each year.

And Sanjay, speaking of the flu, I hear there's news on flu mist and children.

GUPTA: Yes, those numbers always so remarkable. But there is some new news, Judy, you're absolutely right. Flu mist has now got an extended approval for children ages 2 to 5. So there's no excuse now for those young children, because there's three vaccines available to them to try and combat the flu or prevent people from getting it in the first place. So some good news there. Still got to get the kids to take it though, Judy.

FORTIN: That's right. That could be a big problem.

GUPTA: Not always so easy. Thank you very much, Judy Fortin.

And another lettuce recall also made headlines this week. What you should do to protect yourself and your family from contaminated produce. Then, what's in a Twinkie? You are what you eat, but you may not be able to pronounce it. Stay tuned.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSECALL. We're talking a lot about Twinkies today for good reason. They've been considered the breakfast of champions. Not really. But in the process of researching America's diet, we literally went inside the junk food icon.


GUPTA (voice-over): With more than 500 million sold every year, chances are pretty good you've tasted a Twinkie. But have you ever wondered what's in one? Well, we asked Christopher Kimball, host of America's test kitchen, to deconstruct the Twinkie for us. CHRISTOPHER KIMBALL, AMERICA'S TEST KITCHEN: The Twinkie is one of the finest examples of modern engineering. And here's why. It started out in 1930 as a basic sponge cake with the basic ingredients, you know, milk, butter, eggs, etcetera. And they filled it with cream. And it lasted well maybe a couple days -- three days in the market. Hence, the problem. Now how do you create something that's going to be shelf stable, it's not going to change over time?

GUPTA: To do that, Hostess replaced the eggs yolks with Lecigran.

KIMBALL: It's an emulsifier like egg yolk, which means it takes lots of disparate ingredients and sort of lets them blend together.

GUPTA: Cellulose gum replaces fat.

KIMBALL: It brings in moisture, holds moisture, and gives you that mouth fill you get from fat.

GUPTA: Artificial colors take the place of natural ones.

KIMBALL: And those colors actually come from, oddly enough, the petrochemical industry from benzene and analon (ph) and other chemicals, which in quantity is actually poisonous. But in the small quantities used here, the FDA has approved.

GUPTA: In response, interstate bakeries, maker of Hostess products, says the core ingredients have been the same for decades. Flour, sugar, water. Adding that deconstructing the Twinkie is like trying to deconstruct the universe. Some people look at the sky and think it's beautiful. Others try to count the stars.


GUPTA: From Twinkies to treating what ails you, we want to know what's on your mind. Straight ahead on HOUSECALL, our "ask the doctor" segment. It takes a look at butter as a treatment for burns. Is that myth or medical fact? Stay tuned.


GUPTA: It's time for our segment called "Ask the Doctor." Now we hit the streets to find out the medical questions on your minds. And in the wake of the Dole lettuce recall, here's a question a viewer had for me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm concerned about my lettuce. What should I be doing with it once I bring it home?


GUPTA: Good question, a question we get quite a bit here. Leafy vegetables, truth is, can be tricky. First thing you should do, and you already know this, is wash it, thoroughly, even if it's prewashed and packaged.

Now if you're still concerned, some experts recommend removing all the outer leaves. That's because that's where bacteria is typically found. And don't forget to wash your hands, especially before you touch the inner part of the lettuce or you could actually be spreading the germs.

Finally, dry the leaves before storing them in the refrigerator. You can prevent the growth of bacteria that way.

Now another viewer had this question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My grandmother told me that if you put butter on your burn, it would help the pain go away. I wondered if that was true.


GUPTA: I'd recommend saving the butter actually for some of grandma's recipes perhaps. Even though you may get some temporary relief, putting butter, Crisco, or any kind of oil on burns increases your risk of infection. It can actually lead to bacterial growth.

So instead, try running the burn under some cool water. This not only removes the heat and cleanses the area, but also helps prevent scarring, a real concern for a lot of people.

Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. Remember, this is the place for the answers to all your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN, starting right now.