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.