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QUESTION - Is it true that lettuce has no nutritional value?

QUESTION - It's certainly no nutritional powerhouse. It contains just small amounts of a number of vitamins and minerals, and a bit of fiber. If you eat the darker outer leaves, you'll be getting more carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, than if you eat the paler leaves inside.While iceberg lettuce can't be counted on as a concentrated source of minerals and vitamins, it is extremely low in calories, only 10 in a cup. For people who are dieting and who enjoy its crunch, it's one of the few foods that can be eaten in large quantities -always provided, of course, that it's not drowned in calorie-rich dressing.

QUESTION - A while ago, I read that the amount of iodine in our diets might be rising. Is that still a concern and, if so, is it a bad idea to use iodized salt?

ANSWER - It's true that iodine levels in the U.S. diet had begun to creep upward. Increased levels in bread from a dough conditioner used by commercial bakeries and in milk from a number of iodine-containing products used by the dairy industry were partly responsible for the rise. According to recent studies, however, iodine consumption is down from the high levels recorded in the mid-70s, and has been declining steadily since 1982.

In 1985-86, the typical intake for men was 250 micrograms (mcg.) and for women, 170 mcg., before iodized salt is used. That's above the Recommended Dietary Allowance of 150 mcg. a day, but still very well within safe limits. In general, iodine intakes of as much as 2,000 mcg. have caused no adverse reactions in healthy adults.

The committee, which wrote the most recent edition of the Recommended Dietary Allowances, noted that dietary levels had begun to decline. It recommend that no additional sources be introduced into the U.S. diet. The committee further advises that individuals living in noncoastal regions where environmental and dietary levels are low should continue to use iodized salt.

QUESTION - Does breast-feeding prevent childhood illnesses? I've read differing views, and I'm looking for a clear answer.

ANSWER - How clear an answer you can get depends somewhat on geography. If you're talking about feeding infants in developing countries, no one would seriously argue against breast-feeding as the best and safest way to nourish a baby.

When it comes to developed countries, it's harder to demonstrate that breast-feeding reduces risk of infection. The necessary studies are difficult to conduct, requiring as they do detailed information about a plethora of factors. The relative proportion of breast milk and formula, for example, may change at least once during the first several months of life, further clouding the issue.

A study recently reported in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, involved a group of investigators led by David H. Rubin of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. They followed a large group of infants in Copenhagen, Denmark, from birth until age one. Each month, mothers from a largely middle-class population responded to a mail questionnaire that included information about breast-feeding and illness during the period. Questions focused on gastrointestinal upsets, respiratory illness and ear infections.

The investigators failed to find any significant difference in rates of infectious illness between the children who were mainly or exclusively breast-fed and those who were mainly bottle-fed. The study did have limitations. For example, while an elaborate set of questions was used to classify each type of illness, diagnoses were not confirmed either by medical records or by direct examination. Similarly, severity of symptoms was not compared, and it may be that breast-feeding affects the degree of illness, if not the frequency. Moreover, the findings may not apply to less affluent groups. These are just some of the study's limiting factors.

Although the investigators didn't demonstrate any benefits in reducing risk of illness and believe their findings extend to middle-class populations in the United States, they also believe that there remain many good reasons to support breast-feeding for all infant populations. And we heartily agree.

(C) 1990, Washington Post Writers Group