By Brett Spiegel
Doctors in St Louis are pointing fingers at Flamin' Hot Cheetos, citing the spicy, cheesy snack as the culprit for recent spikes in emergency room visits. Due to excessive amounts of red and orange food dye in the treat, parents and children are mistaking red coloring in their stool for blood and rushing to hospitals in panic.
The doctors' complaint comes just days after the attempted ban of Flamin' Hot Cheetos from school vending machines in New Mexico, Illinois, and California due to their lack of nutritional value. According to Cheetos manufacturer Fritolay, an ounce of Flamin' Hot Cheetos (about 21 pieces) contains 160 calories, 250 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of fat, and 1.5 grams of saturated fat.
Though medical experts say that there is most likely nothing physically wrong with the Flamin' Hot Cheetos-eating population, the fact that so many people are eating so many Cheetos exposes another, larger concern.
"So even though we might eat some foods with red food dye in them regularly, your stool doesn't usually become discolored unless you eat huge amounts of it," Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, a pediatrician at St. Louis Children's Hospital told CBS station KMOX-TV . "Flamin' Hot Cheetos is one food that people will eat enormous amounts of and will see a change in their stool."
Additionally, scientists, researchers, and nutritionists all fear that, because it is a processed food, the "hyper-palatable" combination of the Flamin' Hot Cheetos' fat, salt, and spiciness could potentially make it hard for people to stop eating the snack.
"It's something that has been engineered so that it is fattier and saltier and more novel to the point where our body, brain and pleasure centers react to it more strongly than if we were eating, say, a handful of nuts," Ashley Gearhardt, MS, MPhil, a clinical psychology professor at University of Michigan told the Chicago Tribune regarding processed foods. "Going along with that, we are seeing those classic signs of addiction, the cravings and loss of control and preoccupation with it."
Many have also reported abdominal and chest pain as a result of indulging in the peppery goodies. "A number of patients who have consumed these Cheetos in excess have complained of pain in their upper abdomen, rising up into their chest, likely due to the red peppers and spice contained in the snack," Robert Glatter, MD, an emergency medicine physician for Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told CBSNews.com.
Dr. Glatter warns that those who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, should avoid Flamin' Hot Cheetos altogether to avoid risk of flare-ups.
When it comes to poop color, he notes that bleeding from the upper gastrointestinal tract -- esophagus, stomach, duodenum, and small bowel -- will make stool look black, while bleeding from the lower gastrointestinal tract, specifically the small intestine, yields red or maroon colored poop.
There's usually no cause for alarm if your poop has a red hue. Many foods are known to tint stool red -- beets, red peppers, red velvet cake, red meat, melons, cantaloupe, figs, horseradish, cauliflower, turnips, and radishes among them. Blueberries, black licorice, and iron supplements, to name a few, can be responsible for a darker, black shade. If you haven't eaten any of these foods, and your stool is red, black, or otherwise unusually colored for you, check with your doctor.
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<strong>What it is:</strong> Extract from <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/castoreum" target="_hplink">beaver perineal glands</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> "Natural flavoring is defined by the FDA as any substance extracted, distilled or otherwise derived from 'natural' materials, such as plant or animal matter," Bradley explains. "In the case of strawberry and raspberry flavorings, some natural berry flavors may actually be enhanced by castoreum." It's also sometimes taken (intentionally) in <a href="http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-315-CASTOREUM.aspx?activeIngredientId=315&activeIngredientName=CASTOREUM" target="_hplink">supplement form</a>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A salt compound <a href="http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ammonium sulfate" target="_hplink">comprised of nitrogen</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> In <a href="http://w3.uwyo.edu/~dwwilson/pamphlet.html" target="_hplink">some fertilizers </a> -- and in some breads, like the <a href="http://www.subway.com/Nutrition/Files/usProdIngredients.pdf" target="_hplink">rolls at Subway</a>. Chemicals with ammonia are typically added to neutralize a food that's too acidic, says Doyle, which can affect texture. It's safe in the amounts it is used in foods, he says, but admits it will certainly be startling to many people, who may only be familiar with it as a heavy-duty cleaner.
<strong>What it is:</strong> An amino acid made from human hair or duck feathers <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Used as a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/24/processed-food-ingredients_n_1441700.html#s890346&title=KFCs_Chicken_Pot" target="_hplink">dough conditioner</a> in some bread products, Bradley says, which can improve the texture and feel of products, as well as prolong their shelf life. Feathers and hair are readily-available waste products that would cost more money to dispose of, says Doyle, and since both are protein, they can be digested down to amino acids.
<strong>What it is:</strong> Also known as silica, it's most often present as <a href="http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/silicon+dioxide" target="_hplink">quartz or sand</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Various fast food options, like <a href="http://www.wendys.com/food/pdf/us/nutrition.pdf" target="_hplink">Wendy's chili</a> and <a href="http://www.good.is/post/silicon-dioxide-and-smoke-flavor-taco-bell-s-definition-of-meat/" target="_hplink">Taco Bell's meat filling</a>. It's added to foods as an anti-caking agent, to keep them from clumping, explains Doyle.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A chemical related to the mined metallic element <a href="http://www.rodale.com/gross-food?page=2" target="_hplink">titanium</a>, according to Rodale <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Sunscreen. It's a UV light absorber, says Doyle, but also works as a lightener in foods. It's often used to whiten skim milk, which, after the fat is removed, can appear slightly blue, he says. It may also be used in <a href="http://eatthis.menshealth.com/slide/3-salad-dressing" target="_hplink">salad dressings</a>, coffee creamers and frosting, according to <em>Men's Health</em>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> A <a href="http://www.fao.org/ag/agn/jecfa-additives/specs/Monograph1/Additive-049.pdf" target="_hplink">processing</a> agent <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> <a href="http://healthland.time.com/2011/10/27/why-lovin-the-mcrib-isnt-a-heart-smart-idea/" target="_hplink">Plastics, like yoga mats</a> and the soles of your shoes, according to <em>TIME</em>'s Healthland -- as well as <a href="http://nutrition.mcdonalds.com/getnutrition/ingredientslist.pdf" target="_hplink">hamburger buns</a>.
<strong>What it is:</strong> <a href="http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20588763_5,00.html" target="_hplink">Secretions from a bug native to Thailand</a>, Health.com reports <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> Coating your favorite shiny sweets, like jelly beans. Look for it on ingredients lists as "confectioner's glaze."
<strong>What it is:</strong> Charred <a href="http://www.peta.org/about/faq/Are-animal-ingredients-included-in-white-sugar.aspx" target="_hplink">cattle bones</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> While it's used less and less in foods these days, says Bradley, it was historically used to filter sugar appear to make it appear whiter and more pure. <em><strong>Clarification:</strong> Language has been added to indicate that bone char was used in the refining process, not as an additive.</em>
<strong>What it is:</strong> <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html" target="_hplink">Wood pulp</a> <strong>Where you'll find it:</strong> In shredded cheese, salad dressings, chocolate milk and more, according to the <em>Wall Street Journal</em>. It's added to foods to keep them from clumping by blocking moisture, and can <a href="http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703834804576300991196803916.html" target="_hplink">thicken foods in the place of oil or flour</a>, which cost more.