Q: My infant daughter gets colicky every evening around dinner time. Our pediatrician assures me that the fussiness is well within normal bounds. He has made several suggestions, but nothing seems to help. I hate to see her in pain. Is there anything you can suggest? And can you tell me what causes colic?
A: We really do not know why normal, healthy babies develop colic. It has been suggested that symptoms may be related to problems of an immature gastrointestinal tract, or that colic may occur in response to overstimulation. Happily for both the uncomfortable infant and for frustrated parents, it generally lasts for a relatively short period, usually disappearing before the baby is 3 months old.
Pediatricians recommend several methods to help relieve symptoms. It is important to try to minimize the amount of air swallowed and to burp the baby well. If nursing, allowing more time for sucking may be helpful. A pacifier is sometimes useful.
Various home remedies suggested in popular volumes can be dangerous and should not be tried. In one case reported several years ago, an infant nearly died of potassium toxicity when a well-intentioned mother turned to such a book and fed the infant a mixture of lactobacillus acidophilus culture and salt substitite in water.
Q: Does okra have any nutritional value?
A: Okra is low in calories -- only 50 in a cup of the cooked vegetable. Yet that same portion will give appreciable amounts of a medley of nutrients, including over 40 percent of the day's ascorbic acid requirement and almost 20 percent of the day's vitamin A. It is rather unusual among vegetables, in that it contains more calcium than most, providing over 10 percent of the daily requirement in a cup. It also contains some protein and small amounts of a variety of B vitamins.
Gastronomically, okra is prized by those who like gumbo for the gelatinous quality it imparts to the dish. On the other hand, many people find the gummy texture objectionable. Recently we came across an Indian method of cooking the vegetable that resulted in a far firmer and, to our taste, more agreeable texture. The okra was sliced vertically and slowly saute'ed in an uncovered pan along with thinly sliced raw potato in a very small amount of oil. Some cumin seed had been lightly browned in the oil, and turmeric was added during cooking.
Okra is a member of the Hibiscus, or mallow, family of plants. This is the same family of plants that provided the gummy juice from which the French made the first marshmallow-like candy called pa te de Guimauve.
Q: Shortly after reading your column on soups, I ordered a bowl of vegetable chowder in a restaurant, expecting something resembling a cream of vegetable soup with perhaps larger chunks of vegetables. What I got was a thick vegetable soup. I had always thought of chowders (with the exception of Manhattan clam chowder) as milk-based soups. Is that wrong?
A: The classic American cookbook, "The Joy of Cooking," describes chowder as "thick fish, meat and vegetable soups, to which salt pork, milk, diced vegetables, even bread and crackers may be added." By that definition, a great variety of soups can be labeled as chowder. Consequently, the use of the term has no nutritional implications.
The word comes from a corruption of a French word, la chaudie re, the enormous copper pot of early coastal villages. Fishermen added parts of their catch to the pot and the community prepared soup to celebrate their safe return from the sea.
Q: What is the difference between "cold-pressed" and regular vegetable oil?
A: "Cold-pressed" oils are those extracted mechanically from nuts or seeds. They undergo no further processing. In conventional production of vegetable oils, both mechanical methods and chemical solvents are used to extract the oil, which then moves through several other steps in the refining process.
These treatments remove impurities, with the result that oils processed by conventional methods generally are milder in flavor and lighter in color than cold-pressed oils. They also tend to foam less and hold up better during frying. And they have a longer shelf life.
Refining has no effect on the fatty-acid content of the oil and only a limited effect on the vitamin E it provides. In short, there are no nutritionally important differences between oils processed by the two methods.