DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am looking for general advice: I am 70 years old, in good health and hope to stay that way. I do my best to get five or six fruits and vegetables each day and a lot of cereals/grains. I also take a multivitamin that contains between 100 percent and 200 percent of my recommended nutrients. I am at the top end of the normal bracket for cholesterol, so I am very careful with fats. Most of the vegetables I eat, and a lot of the fruits, are raw. Is that good, bad or does it matter? -- J.W., Phoenix
DEAR J.W.: What you are doing sounds great! Having your vegetables raw is neither good, bad nor indifferent; having them at all is what's most important. The way they are prepared is a matter of taste. If you are going to take a supplement, it is best to take it with a meal. The choice of the meal is up to you, but it should contain fat, protein and carbohydrates. As regards your cholesterol, what you are doing with your diet sounds good to me. The one item you haven't mentioned is physical activity, and I would try to stay as active as possible. If you have not previously been active, you should touch base with your doctor before you start.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: I want to know about the no-calorie sweetener called Splenda. What is it? Have studies shown that it is safe for long-term use? -- B.B., Chicago
DEAR B.B.: Splenda is the brand name for the compound known as sucralose, which is a modified form of sucrose, or table sugar. Sucralose is approximately 600 times as sweet as sucrose. It's not absorbed to any appreciable degree, and that means no carbohydrate grams as well as no calories. It does not contribute to tooth decay. It does contain a small amount of a carbohydrate as a bulking agent in packing, but it is less than one gram per serving -- not enough to provoke the release of insulin by the pancreas. The sweetener has been in use in Europe and in Canada since 1991, but only approved for use in the U.S. since 1998.
Sucralose is made through a multi-step process that substitutes chlorides in three places along the sucrose molecule. These tightly bound chlorides change the character of the molecule to the point that it is not recognized as a carbohydrate. Sucralose gets the green light for cooking because, unlike other artificial sweeteners, it does not lose its sweetness when heated.
As for your second question: Is sucralose safe? Safety studies to date reveal no cause for concern. A review in the October 2009 edition of the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology has affirmed this fact. As an artificial sweetener, this one looks like a winner, but our history with novel food additives would dictate that it pays to be prudent with this or any artificial sweetener.
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