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Friend’s petal-power diet may be overrated

Q: I have a friend who’s really gotten into eating flowers. She says the petals are all edible on plants, and that as long as it wasn’t sprayed recently with pesticide, they’re safe to eat. She puts them in her food, and recently has started picking flowers along the street and eating them as we walk. How much truth is there to all this?

A: As with many food fads, there is a bit of truth, but it’s not nearly as much as what she seems to believe. Some flowers are edible, such as nasturtium, marigolds, daylilies and snapdragons. Some are commonly eaten in some areas, such as dandelions. Others, such as roses, lavender and lilac, we know more for their scents than their flavors.

But some flowers can be deadly, too. Foxglove, the whole plant including flowers, contains the basic ingredient for heart medications, and eating the plant can stop your heart. Delphinium is another flower with potentially fatal compounds.

Of course, she should only use flowers that have not been treated with pesticides, but just saying “not recently” is not enough. Some pesticides are within the system of the plants and can be present for much longer than a day or two. Even wild flowers could be problematic depending on the health of the animals in the area. Manure is good fertilizer but also can carry lots of bacteria.

Call your local Extension office; it should have a copy of the “Guide to Toxic and Irritant Plants of Florida.” Or use the “AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants,” from the American Medical Association.

And it’s a good idea to check what you do pick for insects unless you want some wild protein as well.

Q: I recently started on a high-protein diet. I am using soy protein as well as meat and poultry. I seemed to lose a lot of weight fairly quickly, within a week. But then the weight loss stopped and I hit a plateau. Usually I don’t plateau on a diet until after a month or two. So that’s puzzling me. I happened to mention the diet to my doctor and he was really insistent that I stop it! Why?

A: The person you need to ask is your doctor. I don’t know your medical history or what particular risks you might have. What I can say is that the quick early weight loss on a high protein diet is simply because you lost water.

When you force your body to burn fat and protein for calories instead of carbohydrates, two things happen. One: The fat produces ketones. Two: The protein puts extra nitrogen into your system. Both of these have to be excreted through your kidneys. More urine loss means more water loss, which you see as weight loss.

But your body can only sustain a certain amount of dehydration, so you start drinking more to maintain your fluid levels. And the weight loss stops. The extra load on your kidneys from the extra excretion needs might be part of your doctor’s concern. In persons susceptible to kidney problems, either from family history or other medical conditions, high-protein diets can push a person into serious kidney failure or damage. They can also increase your chances or risks of gout. So talk to your doctor before you continue for much longer on the diet. Make another appointment with him or her if necessary to discuss your risks.


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