Tuesday, February 9, 2010



I remember the trips to Florida when we loaded up on fruit the minute we crossed the state line. Now I spend my time trying to give away bags of grapefruit.
I remember the amazement of a friend from Toronto when I refused her shopping bag of grapefruit. This was a few years ago and the news had not yet spread, certainly not a popular subject in a citrus state, that grapefruit was not healthy but harmful for those on various prescription drugs.
In fact, it had proven to be deadly for too many people after the harmful side-effects were discovered in 1989.
For the millions on Coumadin (warfarin), where the INR is monitored on a weekly or monthly basis, and is expected to be between 2 and 3, even missing one regular pill of 5mg or doubling up can knock the INR for a loop.
INR stands for a gauge of the slipperiness of your blood, and if you have heart problems like atrial fibrillation, it's your shield against heart attacks. So when patients regularly enjoying big juicy grapefruits (with sugar) for breakfast started toppling over in the middle of Florida vacations, the entire world started paying attention.
Perhaps the natives of Barbados knew something because after it arrived there from its birthplace in Jamaica, it was called the forbidden fruit.
There was nothing forbidden about it in North America before 1989 because when the ladies-who-lunch gathered to stretch before the mirrors, they compared notes on their grapefruit diets.
Newspaper women pages would recirculate the grapefruit diet every few years, alternating with the cabbage soup diet. Doctors raised their eyebrows but mostly recommended moderation.
Turned out it should have been abstinence, for patients on warfarin and many other prescription drugs where grapefruits exaggerate the impact.
There are some readers who will say they have known this for years. Every doctor and pharmacist warns you. They say warning labels are pasted on prescription vials along with the ones about take with water or without food etc
All I know is that I have been fleeing to the sun of Florida, Cuba and Mexico every winter since 1997 and there are always a few sun tanners around the pool with bulging bags of grapefruit. And they are indignant when you refuse.
I arrived to meet my new landlord and immediately offered him a sack of fruit that I had been given despite my rejection. No thanks, he said, my mother-in-law has a tree. I can't eat them, I said. Neither can I, he replied.
Right now, the U.S leads the world in production of the fruit, followed by China. So there's a task for all the food engineers who want to expand the markets. Produce a safe grapefruit. After all, I always liked the grapefruit diet, not that it ever worked.

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