Taking Popcorn’s Reputation With a Grain of Salt

Popcorn, an excellent source of fiber, is often praised as a nutritious snack. But its reputation isn’t always deserved, according to a new survey from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit citizens group in Washington.

Too much fat and salt make many microwave popcorns, nonmicrowave prepackaged corns and movie popcorn unhealthy, CSPI cautions in the latest issue of its Nutrition Action Healthletter.

“Most (prepackaged) brands have so much grease, you might as well be eating potato chips, which average 60% of their calories from fat,” noted author Bonnie Liebman of CSPI. Most nutritionists recommend that no more than 30% of total calories come from fat, but the microwave corns analyzed by CSPI averaged 56%. The three nonmicrowave varieties tested contained from 45% to 47% fat. And a random check of cinemas in the Washington area revealed all use highly saturated coconut oil to prepare their popcorn.

Two bright spots for popcorn lovers, according to CSPI: Weight Watchers microwave popcorn gets just 9% of its total calories from fat. And air-popped corn is an even more nutritious bet. It’s “virtually fat-free and has only 90 calories in a three-cup serving,” Liebman wrote.


Tampon Absorbency

Tampon manufacturers may be required to standardize testing and to label product absorbency from A to F (F being greatest) under a government proposal issued Friday. But it could be a year or longer before those labels actually show up, a government spokesman said.

In presenting the proposal, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Frank Young said: “It is important that women know the absorbency of their tampons because tampon use has been associated with toxic shock syndrome, a rare but sometimes fatal condition, and the risk appears to increase with higher tampon absorbency. Women who choose to use tampons should use the lowest absorbency product that is effective for them.”

The proposal would also require tampon boxes to include explanations of absorbency ranges and how to choose the safest tampons to control different types of flow, an FDA spokeswoman said. Boxes are currently required to display a warning about the association between tampon use and toxic shock syndrome, a condition often marked by vomiting, high fever, diarrhea and a sunburn-like rash.


But the proposal doesn’t go far enough, believes Patti Goldman, an attorney for Public Citizen Health Research Group, a nonprofit organization founded by Ralph Nader, which sued the FDA in June, accusing the agency of foot-dragging on tampon labeling requirements since 1982. Goldman said the research group also will urge that manufacturers be required to stop using words like super or regular since tests have shown that one firm’s regular tampon may be more absorbent than another’s super.

The FDA proposal is open to public comment for 90 days. (Consumers can write: FDA Dockets Management Branch, Room 4-62, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, Md. 20857.)

Fitness Gauges

Physiologists evaluate a subject’s fitness level by using sophisticated equipment to determine oxygen consumption during exercise, a measurement they call VO2 max. The more oxygen used by your tissues, the fitter you are, explained Kevin Dolan, an exercise physiologist at the Centinela National Athletic Health Institute in Culver City.

But exercisers in good health can use some simple do-it-yourself tests to gauge their own approximate fitness levels. These include:

--A 1.5-mile walk/run developed by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, president and founder of the Aerobics Center in Dallas. An exerciser covers 1.5 miles as quickly as possible, records the time and then compares it to norms, which correlate with VO2 max. Details are in Cooper’s book, “The Aerobics Program for Total Well-Being” (M. Evans & Co., 1982).

--A 1-mile walking test in which exercisers take their pulse, walk a mile as quickly as possible, record the time and their heart rate and then find their fitness level on charts. (For a Fitness Walking Test booklet, write Rockport Walking Institute, 72 Howe St., P.O. Box 480, Marlboro, Mass., 01752. Single copies are free.)

--Some exercise bicycles with built-in fitness tests. On the Lifecycle, for instance, exercisers peddle for five minutes, then enter their pulse, age and weight to obtain a fitness score that allows them to gauge individual improvement.


“You can get a good idea about your fitness levels from these tests,” Dolan noted, even though the do-it-yourself versions are less precise than lab tests.

Forms of Fainting

Fainting can be embarrassing. But in most cases it does not signal a serious illness, said Dr. Barry P. Rosenzweig, assistant professor of clinical medicine at New York University Medical Center.

The most common form of fainting, called vasovagal syncope, accounts for more than half of cases, Rosenzweig noted in the center’s current Health Letter, and probably up to 90% of cases in people under age 40.

Vasovagal syncope occurs when stimulation of the vagus nerve (one of the cranial nerves) leads to blood vessel dilation, slowed heart rate and a drop in blood pressure. Usually, it’s preceded by anxiety and a stressful physical condition.

Besides common fainting, cautioned Rosenzweig, there are three more serious forms of loss of consciousness:

Seizures are caused by abnormal bursts of electrical energy in the brain and are typically accompanied by rhythmic movements of the arms and legs.

Postural syncope is due to a drop in blood pressure and most often occurs with postural changes such as lying down or standing up.


Cardiac syncope is due to obstruction in blood flow from the heart or a rhythm disturbance of the heart and is often accompanied by chest pain, palpitation or shortness of breath.

The chance that fainting is serious increases with age, he said.