My fiance' and I are fond of tripe and eat it often. However, we have been unable to find out about its nutritional value, specifically about how much fat and cholesterol it contains. Can you give us that information, and tell us more?

Tripe is relatively low in calories, containing just 20 per ounce. It is also low in fat, having little more than a gram (about one-fifth of a teaspoon) per ounce. It is low in cholesterol and provides some vitamin B and iron. As long as you do not use a lot of fat in preparing it, tripe is a good choice if you want to keep a lid on fat, calories and cholesterol.

Various organs are often erroneously referred to as tripe. It is really the lining of the first two stomachs of ruminant animals. The first and largest of these, the rumen, provides honeycomb tripe, so-called because of its appearance. Among food authorities, tripe has not always received rave reviews. The late food historian Waverly Root said of tripe that it is "an ideal carrier for other tastes since it has virtually none of its own to compete with them, once it has been cooked long enough to rid itself of its boiling-laundry odor." And M.F.K. Fisher describes it as "slippery, ivory white rubber." You and your fiance' obviously have a different view, and we wish you happiness along with your tripe.

Is there any evidence that dietary habits are associated with the development of ulcerative colitis?

Since food travels through the gastrointestinal tract, it certainly makes sense to wonder whether diet plays any role in producing this disease. Recently Drs. Beverly Calkins and Albert Mendeloff of the Johns Hopkins Schools of Hygiene and Public Health and Medicine reviewed the available evidence for a link between both ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, another type of inflammatory bowel disease. The doctors found no clear-cut relationship.

Dietary studies are difficult. For one thing, relevant dietary practices might have occurred years before the disease is diagnosed. Also, dietary practices may change from the point at which the disease develops until it is diagnosed, making it difficult to establish links. There have been few studies of pre-illness diet.

One dietary component that comes to mind is fiber. But whether dietary fiber is an important component of the diet in areas where these diseases are uncommon is not known. However, diets high in fiber have been shown to reduce relapses in individuals with these conditions.

Diet has been suggested as an explanation for the lower rates among Jews living in Israel than among Jews in this country. Even in Israel, the disease is much more common among Ashkenazi Jews than among non-Ashkenazis. Dietary factors have been shown to parallel these differences. American Jews tend to eat more fat and meat and less carbohydrates and fiber than Israeli Jews. And Ashkenazi Jews in Israel consume more meat, milk and eggs than non-Ashkenazis. But this is not the kind of firm bond that represents a cause-and-effect relationship.

Early studies suggested milk consumption was associated with ulcerative colitis, but they have not been supported by later research. Questions have arisen about whether the type of infant feeding may play a role. Findings are inconsistent.

It is true that during the era in which the prevalence of breast feeding was on a steady decline, the incidence of inflammatory bowel disease was rising. Now breast feeding has become more prevalent, and the incidence of inflammatory bowel disease has stabilized and may be declining. But the number of individuals with these disorders is too small to permit conclusions. Given the large number of infants fed formula over the past four or five decades and the relatively small number who develop inflammatory bowel disease, any effect of formula would be difficult to identify.

A friend recently told me about a new treatment for obesity in which the patient swallows a balloon. This is supposed to decrease food consumption. Can you tell me more about it?

In this procedure, a balloon is inserted into the stomach and then inflated with air. The hope is that by decreasing the capacity of the stomach, the individual will experience less hunger and eat less. One type of balloon, or "bubble," was approved by the Food and Drug Administration more than two years ago, and a considerable number have been inserted.

As yet there is insufficient evidence to back up its safety and effectiveness. In the few short-term studies reported, some have found considerable side effects and no benefit in terms of weight loss, while others have shown significant weight loss and few serious side effects. Whether the balloon has an enduring role in treating some obese individuals must await further studies.

Is there any nutritional difference between spinach pasta and regular pasta?

None that is significant. But what is commonly available in the markets is not pasta (meaning flour, water and vegetable) but spinach egg noodles.

The government hasan official recipe or Standard of Identity for noodles made with vegetables. It specifies that when vegetables are used -- fresh, canned, dried or pure'ed -- they must contribute at least 3 percent of the finished weight of the product. That is a relatively small amount, just under two grams, or less than a half-teaspoon in two ounces of dried noodles.

Even if more than that is used, this still means the nutritional contribution of added vegetables (such as spinach) is too small to matter. Apart from price differences, then, you can choose among these types of noodles based on aesthetic preferences rather than nutritional value.

1988, Washington Post Writers Group