Sunday, May 31, 2009

Britain's got talent, but we've also got a very short memory

The order of appearance ran as follows:

Shaheen Jafargholi
Aidan Davis
2 Grand
Hollie Steel
Stavros Flatley
Shaun Smith
Susan Boyle
Julian Smith

And the three finalists with the highest number of votes were:

Susan Boyle
Julian Smith

Is it pure chance that the final three ended up as, well, the final three? I don't think so. I can remember watching a show called Stars in Your Eyes (or perhaps it was another talent show from yesteryear) and the final act almost always won after people voted in.

Golf: A new record at Stanmore

We had an early bird couple of rounds at good old Stanmore this weekend. After playing on an 18-hole course, Stanmore seemed somewhat empty, empty of ditches, of hills, bunkers, streams, distance, empty of all the things that make the game a real challenge. The weather was excellent however, and we had a fair couple of rounds. After all, when it comes to golf it surely must be a question of how much a person enjoys themselves. Yes, I believe few the man who walks off a golf course feeling less satisfied with himself and with life in general than when he first stepped on the course is an animal to be much studied, for something is clearly amiss in his universe.

Of note, I had a new record score for the course. Not a personal best, but a top score for consistency: 4,4,4,4,4,4,4,3,4. I was even going to over putt on the 8th to make for a clean run of fours but I couldn't bring myself to do so. A betrayal of that sort would not be tolerated.

Concerning other golfing related business matters, it looks like The Mulligan Committee is being disbanded, at least on the pitch n putt par-3 course.

'The Mulligan Committee'

Sunday luncheon vs Mcdonalds

A planned light lunch turned into an extremely filling meal (above pic). We are talking a portion of salad, half a battered fish, tartar sauce, and two large open cap mushrooms stuffed with a half tub tub of cottage cheese, spicy quorn pieces, and some chives and onion shoots. Okay, it may not rank that high on the health scale due to the tartar sauce, fish batter and sprinkle of cheddar cheese, but it compares darn well to a portion of fries at McDonalds.

My lunch totted up to around 410 calories. A portion of medium fries with ketchup and BBQ dip totals 405 calories while a large portion of fries with no sauce comes in at 460 calories. Elsewhere, I see a whole peshwari naan from Sainsbury's packs a whopping 492 calories. And to prove I'm no carbohydrate nazi, I could easily have swapped half a pitta bread (75 calories) into my meal by cutting back a bit on the cheese or perhaps switching the battered fish for a pure fish fillet in a light dressing.

PS - I'm trapped inside due to a pollen snowstorm, hence all the blog entries!

Quick thought - weight loss / gain and the new normal

When I was shedding weight a few weeks ago I actually felt my body going frail and thought I looked way too thin. These days I am back to eating approximately enough calories to break-even and I feel that I have as much energy (and perhaps strength) as I did previously. However, after having been in this stable mode for a few weeks my lower body weight (let's say 9 stone) just feels like the new normal. I do feel lighter but I don't feel unhealthy. Also, I don't believe I'm suffering from any kind of body image distortion, which could be dangerous territory - at just under 9 stone, I am still a fraction on the right side of the healthy BMI scale. It's just an observation of how quickly the mind adapts.

The other observation is a social one. It is that people are quick to observe and comment on a person's thinness and how they need to fatten up but the same doesn't hold when people put on a bit of weight, quite possibly representing a likely general decline in their health. Indeed, while all my health indicators seem to have improved, and the pharmacist who took my cholesterol commented 'keep doing whatever it is that you are doing', friends and family are eager to see me put some weight back on. I will try to do this by increasing muscle mass and it may take some time, but I do find the social perspective quite interesting.

The perception of my grandparents and parents generation that it is better to fall on the podgy side of the ledger is likely related to perceptions of health and wealth. I see this as an illusion of causality and correlation: in a time when calories were expensive, being more portly signaled wealth and perhaps health. However, while being better off may have increased the likelihood of being larger in size, it doesn't quite hold that being larger in size will lead to an increase in wealth, or health. This is particularly true in the present age, when calories come very cheap, and it makes the old, misguided mindset even more outdated. Turning to my generation, the issue is confounded by the fact that people are generally larger than they were a few decades ago, so if you are thin you stand out that much more. Then there is the issue of social eating - people want to see you eat a good portion size, especially if they are having a good 'healthy' serving. That many celebrities are exceedingly thin suggests the signal between body size and social perception is changing in at least one strata of society, and while this is an unhealthy state of affairs that creates a whole host of anxiety issues, it is at least a sign that perceptions of body image keep changing over time. Indeed, while people are generally getting larger this is considered a broadly unattractive (and unhealthy) feature and unless we return to an era of food/calorie scarcity I predict this will remain the case.

Quick thought - Pizzideo

Simple idea really. Combine DVD delivery service with pizza delivery. After all, both go together very well. If you order every week, the delivery boy could take your old DVD when he delivers the next order.

The idea has a short shelf-life as the world is fast going digital, but it beats me why no one has thought of this before (at least around these parts).

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What it means to be a businessman

The life of a businessman.

Go figure

Yesterday's peanut cookie blow-out (5pm) may have left my stomach feeling extremely heavy for the rest of the day but I still managed a full dinner (7pm), a bowl of cereal (9:30pm), and a small handful of snack food (at around midnight). However, when I weighed myself that evening I was half a kg lighter than my usual evening weight, and the following morning I was back down to 55.6 kg (8.76 stone), which is the exact same weight as when I completed the 30 Days Down project. My body-fat also seems to have edged marginally lower since the project ended. Strange goings ons indeed.

I know I was planning go embark on a 30 Days Up experiment, where I would increase my daily calorie intake to around 3000 (with hard exercise), but I'm struggling to keep it as high as 1,8000-1,900 (net). Instead, I have a host of other, shorter duration experiments planned.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ruinous peanut butter cookies

I just tried to cook up a batch of cookies using this seemingly simple recipe. Here's what happened:

Error 1: Tried making some cookies without any egg. This produced good looking cookies that were a nice tasting but crumbly mess.

Error 2: Halved the peanut butter and sugar quantities but used a whole egg for the rest of the cookies (instead of halving this as well). This produced a splodgy mess which could have turned out okay if I didn’t overcook them - I stopped cooking when I smelled burning…it was too late.

Error 3: Disheartened by this dual disaster, I placed a cookie straight in mouth and burned my tongue.

Error 4: To clear my memory off these biscuits, I tried to eat these rock hard biscuits out of existence. I got half way through before realising the batch contained over 1100 calories. It was time to stop. The rest of the biscuits are worthy only of landfill.

: (

Free eye test and cheap glasses

Step 1: Free eye test: Tesco are offering free eye-tests. The voucher is valid until 30/06/09.

Step 2: Buy glasses:

The supermarket also has a small selection of cheap frames from £15 (with a try before you buy option - just pay postage).

I previously used GlassesDirect for cheap specs on-line. Their service was top notch and I see that you can currently try four frames on for size for £5, which is reimbursed when you place your actual order.

SelectSpec's amazingly cheap glasses offer was highlight in Martin's MoneySavingExpert weekly e-mail. I'm going to try and order a couple of pairs from them, but judging by the mixed reviews there is a fair chance they won't arrive. I think the glasses come via Hong Kong.

One thing is for sure - the era of expensive glasses is over.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

18 hole golf - the humbling

We manned up and had a round on an 18-hole golf course over the weekend.

Couldn't have asked for better weather or better facilities (clubhouse with hot food, tea(!), driving range, putting green, etc):

The first tee, and the first time we tee'd off with anything stronger than a 5-iron:

It's a bit disconcerting teeing off and not being able to see the pin:

The flag is off to the right. A brave golfer would try to send it over the trees. The safe player aims for the gateway slightly off to the left. As is the case with many holes on the course, a ditch runs a line through the hole* about 120 yards out - our par-3 conditioned minds are not suited to such obstacles!

A beautifully styled par 3, with bunkers galore and heavy rough to contend with. Send it across the ground and it's game over:

* One of those winding streams/ditches discussed earlier:

Beautifully manicured, undulating greens:

Ask a man to go for a pleasant walk and he'll probably give you a funny look. Give him a stick and tell him to hit a small ball around a nice setting for several hours and he'll gladly oblige:

It's called a 'twilight' discount for a reason. Fortunately this is on the 18th:

For posterity, here's the score card.


- 33 over par and I'm pretty chuffed ... the beauty of low expectations ! The goal is to one day break 100. Managed to bag a couple of pars, which was a bonus.

- We sacrificed a good quantity of a balls to the golfing god, who at least blessed us with the good fortune to find a handful of balls lost by the previous souls who had walked a similar path.

- Get this. Tee off: 3:07pm. Final putt on the 18th: around 9:30 pm ... that's a lot of golf!

Something went very wrong with the timing. There were no queues or hold-ups and the back 8 holes took the regulation 2 hours. However, even allowing for a half hour break, the bermuda triangle that is holes 1 to 10 (see triangle section on above map) twisted the time space continuum and stole a few hours from us. I'll put it down to much practice swinging and lots of zig-zagged walking. Oh yes, and an evil, evil, a 500 yard 4th hole called The Spire that is steeply uphill and peppered thoughout with large bunkers - even though the Mulligan Committee (formed and run by our good selves) permitted two Mulligans each for the course, the sight of this hole made us weak in the knees and we used up all our Mulligans in a crazed five-minute window of firing tee shots left, right, but never center.

Here's how it felt:

The Spire? ... More like 'The Mulligan Meatgrinder!'

- I packed my pedometer with me and we walked a full 16.8k steps, covering 11.26 kilometers, or 7 miles! On the upside, this half day trek, carrying golf bags, burned up a few hundred calories. On the day, I estimated that I burned 650 calories and in order to get back up to my daily 1,800 calorie target later that evening I ate the a chapatti with spinach and potato curry, a kiwi fruit, a bowl of pineapple chunks, several spoons of yogurts, half a portion of crunchy granola oats, two satsumas, a chunky toast slathered in peanut butter, and a big bowl of muesli. Eating all this food back-to-back left me feeling totally stuffed and in the end I gave in with the healthy food and just had a high calorie flapjack to get a burst of calories delivered in the most efficient way.

According to an hour of golf, carrying clubs, burns 306 calories so our round comes in at somewhere closer to 1,830 calories (6 hours worth of golf) ... surely not!

Monday, May 25, 2009

My oh my ... anchovy butter (picture added)

Okay, this anchovy butter is something special.

- Put a desertspoon full of butter (10g) in a cup and leave it out for about half an hour or so to let it soften up at room temp. Add a clove of mashed up garlic, a few drops of lemon, and a single anchovy, cut or ripped up into tiny pieces. With a fork and spoon get to work mixing and mashing it all up for a couple of minutes. Put the cup in the fridge for at least an hour so the butter hardens up a bit and the flavours settle. Yields two portions.

Anchovy butter is used on all sorts of foods, from grilled salmon to beef steaks. I enjoyed mine on a simple piece of toast:

- Cut a wedge of tasty bread and pop in the toaster. Meanwhile, turn the grill on full. Butter the toast with half the anchovy butter and place under the hot grill for about a minute.

A lazy day in food part II (photo added)

Let's finish the lazy day in food post. On Saturday I'd had great success with a strawberry-balsamic vinegar combo and was at 900 calories at just before supper.

For my main course I had a roti with a bowl of mackerel fish curry, and a portion of salad:

I followed this up with a delicious pineapple-kiwi combo, supplemented nicely with a dollop of yogurt and sprinkle of crunchy granola oats:

That took me to around 1,500 calories.

Then it all went horribly wrong. I hit my calorie 1,800 target in the evening but I don't like how I got there: trying to convert some leftover of banana-strawberry-apple milkshake into pancake batter by adding flour, oats, and an egg, marked my culinary downfall. The batter was pink and runny and the pancakes stuck to the pan and fell apart - the end result was a not so nice tasting splodgy stodgy lump of ruin. I will not harm your eyes by providing a picture of this unholy mess. My run of relative successes in the grand prandial adventure had come to an end and this was 'proof in the pudding' evidence that my station is more the dining room than the kitchen!

But it did not stop there. Having failed to convert a milkshake into a pancake and not being one to learn a lesson the first time around, just today I tried to convert a nice pineapple, kiwi fruit salad into a smoothie. This too led to ruin and I have learned the hard way that just because an idea works well as a solid it doesn't mean that it will blend up into a nice drink, or vice-versa.

At least today hasn't been a total washout. I had a great simple breakfast comprising of some cottage cheese (100g and 1oo calories), almonds (60 calories), and a drizzle of honey (40 calories). With a coffee, we are talking just 200 calories all in. For lunch, I cooked up made a tuna salad with olives, feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and onion, a portion of green beans, onions, and onion shoots cooked in a balsamic reduction. Alongside I boiled up a handful of Anya Potatoes (a new potato discovered in 1995 by the Sainsbury's gardener and named after Lady Anya Sainsbury - quite nice, and you can get a bag for £1 ... you can figure out where you can buy these!).

I've also mashed up some garlic, lemon juice and an anchovy into a small portion of butter to make some anchovy butter. I'll try this later tonight on some hot toast.

It really is all about the food these days!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A lazy day in food

It's such a great day to be lounging about the garden, eating food and thinking about food. Here's my day so far, expressed in food of course:

The regular Saturday big-breakfast grill up. Max 450 calories. A bit of Reggae Sauce and small dollop of Branston's Pickle take this game to the next level.

2pm - Time for a a little 'something something'. Branson's Pickle on one half, peanut butter on the other. Palette cleansed with tea between courses! 120 calories.

The best strawberry's I have ever tasted. Just bought these from the market, but they were only 6/10 on the ripeness scale, some tasting rather sour. But pay the ripeness no mind. Just de-hull the cores, mix with equal parts caster sugar and balsamic vinegar and leave in the fridge for half an hour. Such beautiful things emerge. I had to check this a few times over but this syruppy piece of heaven packs a mere 75 calories, if that.

I've also just had a pint glass filled to the top with a milkshake made up of the following: a banana, a few strawberrys, an apple, cinnamon and milk. It's a nice, filling drink and it turns out that no sugar or honey is needed when at least some of the fruit is nicely ripened. 260 calories.

It's almost 6pm and I've only eaten around 900 calories worth of food. I need to find space for dinner and much more besides as I'm currently aiming for 1,800 calories a day. I remain astounded at how much you can eat if you eat wise (I've easily met the 5-a-day target already). Simply put, I can eat all the above food over again and come in at target!

Friday, May 22, 2009

More on food

Ever since my tastebuds were reinvigorated following the 30 Days Down experiment, I have been constantly been thinking about food, not about quantity but about flavours and taste.

I'm no cook by any stretch of the imagination but yesterday I produced some cracking pancakes for breakfast, a peanut butter and chilli satay sauce which made for a nice change when stir-frying up some vegetables at lunch, some almond ricotta stuffed courgette strips with olive oil and balsamic dressing for tea, and some roasted veg with baked eggs to supplement dinner. Oh yes, in the evening I made some more pancakes so they could be enjoyed with some sweet, syruppy rhubarb, freshly picked from the garden.

Today, I made some Chinese Cabbage Roll-Ups/Wraps, filled with different left-overs from past dinners (lentils, ratatouille, mince meat) which were quite nice, but I think it's time to slow down as food is occupying too much of my mind space. I've even taken to dusting off our all our old recipe magazines and books and pulling out interesting ideas. Interestingly, I always used to demand a picture to accompany any recipe but this time around I've been quite happy reading text-only recipes and trying to imagine how the dish will turn out. Despite having little interest in red meats, most fish dishes, recipes that require too many steps and recipes that have more than a handful of basic ingredients, I am finding there is plenty out there to experiment with.

By far the best looking cook book on our shelf

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Woefully inadequate health advice from the Scottish government

Surfing around the 5-a-day site, I followed a link to the Healthier Scotland 'Take Life, One Step at a Time' web-site. I know the campaign means well but their page separating food myths from food facts is appalling, in my opinion:

Food myth - Its OK to skip breakfast.
This is a common misconception. Breakfast is a very important meal and just a simple breakfast can provide lots of vitamins and minerals. If we miss breakfast, this tends to make us snack by mid-morning on foods that are high in sugar and fat.

But eating at any time can provides nutrients and minerals. The problem with snacking on junk later on may be what needs to be addressed (e.g. replace crisps with nuts, etc), and if that problem is fixed wouldn't it then be OK to skip breakfast? Also, from my own study (30 Days Down diet) where I went without breakfast and lunch for a few weeks and ate only a handful of nuts or dried fruit until my evening dinner, I experienced no desire to eat breakfast. When I ate anything substantial in the day, I was hungry 1-2 hours later. Overall, I believe breakfast is no more important than other meals in the day.

Food fact - Most of our salt intake comes from processed food - I can buy this.

Food myth - Dried fruit isn't as healthy as fresh fruit.
This isn't true. Dried fruit like raisins and dates all count towards your 5 a day. They also boost your energy levels and contain fibre, vitamins and minerals.

I'd say the evidence is less clear cut than the statement suggests. I'm a fan of dried fruit, as it's nutrient rich for the weight, portable and tasty. However, if you had to have 100% of either dried fruit or fresh, fresh wins every time.

Food fact - Frozen is as good for you as fresh. - Wouldn't argue much against this one.

Food myth - Bread and potatoes are fattening.
Starchy foods like bread, potatoes, rice and pasta are a really important part of a healthy diet - and they keep you full for longer. Its only when we add fat to them (like oil and butter) that they become fattening.

Where to start on this one?
'... they keep you full for longer' ... than what? Protein, sugar, fat? It matters!
Yes, good carbs are part of a healthy diet but the idea that 'Its only when we add fat to them (like oil and butter) that they become fattening' is simply wrong and misleading. Pop Quiz hot shot, 'What's got more 'end of the day' fat: A toast with a teaspoon of olive oil, or two toast with nothing on them? It's the toast with nothing on them. Why? Because they have more calories and excess calories are converted to fat. For the most part, and when looking solely at what makes you fat, it's all about the quantity of calories and it matters little where the excess calories come from.

Food fact - A full scottish breakfast can be healthier. - Fair comment, just grill and don't fry.

Of the six myths and facts, I reckon three are wrong, with the comment on eating fat equating to being fat being the most misleading. How can a government get it so wrong. Judging by this recent news story, perhaps I just lower my expectations.

Flourless pancakes recipe

Just made these simple, fluffy pancakes for breakfast and they were delicious.

It's based on this recipe and the essential ingredients are an egg, some cottage cheese, a touch of vanilla, and some oats, all blended up. That's the mix.

I followed a few tips from the 150+ comments and added the following to the batter:

- A quarter teaspoon of baking powder (not sure if this is needed)
- A squirt of syrup
- Sprinkle of cinnamon

You are supposed to make lots of small pancakes but I am a man of little patience in these matters (see picture). I finished it off with a teaspoon drizzle of honey. It all tallied up to about 300 calories, but the magic thing about these is that they are low carb (if that's your bag) and they carry a good portion of protein (over 15g). Okay, I probably destroyed the low GI values of the ingredients by whizzing it all in a blender but hey ho.

My only regret is making a half portion as I could have polished off another plate of these bad boys in the evening. Next time around, I'll try replacing the syrup and honey with a teaspoon of sugar in the batter, and then round them off with another half teaspoon of sugar and loads of lemon. That should shave a minimum of 50 calories off the total. I reckon they are super flexible and will work well with apples, bananas, and raisins, and they may even work as a base for savoury pancakes. All in good time.

PS - They look a bit burnt in the photo but that's my poor colour tweaking skills. They were spot on.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Quick note on losing weight and healthy smoothies

For today's lunch I made the above. It includes a bit of salad (10 cal), a portion of cous cous (200 cal), half a portion of pitta bread (75 cal) a portion of roasted vegetables flavoured with garlic and olive oil (80 cal), a tiny amount of chili oil, and a few spoons of yogurt. Total calorie count for the plate is about 380.

Later in the day I decided to make a Martha Stewart Banana and Oat smoothie and do the calorie calc afterwards. I knew it was going to be high but I wasn't expecting it to exceed 400 calories! It was a hearty drink but nowhere near as filling as my lunch, and is further evidence that liquid calories are to be avoided when trying to lose weight. That includes fruit juice.

The Michael Fassbender diet plan

I was just reading about a film called Hunger in which actor Michael Fassbender lost a shed load of weight to play the role of Bobby Sands. It is reported that Fassbender spent 10 weeks preparing for the role and that in the last four weeks of the diet he was down to 600 calories a day. His weight fell by 14kg to 59kg over the period.

It turns out that my diet wasn't all that different. I lost just over half the weight (7.9kg) in just under half the time (31 days), with an average daily intake of 612 calories. Unlike Fassbender, I didn't feel cranky in the evenings, but I have to agree with his comment that, 'It's quite an interesting process when you cut out food like that, just how your body streamlines and you get quite Zen.'

After the diet I raised my intake to 1,500 calories. Ten days later, my weight was exactly unchanged. I'm now on 1,800 calories and so far there is no sign any meaningful physical change (body fat and BP are also steady). In terms of other changes, my appetite is fully restored, my digestive system seems to be back on track, and my sense of taste is normal (albeit severely dulled relative to when I was on the diet).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Evolution a piece of a very big puzzle, perhaps

Reading an excellent book about evolution called 'Your Inner Fish' provided me with a much deeper appreciation of the evolution of life, at least up to the point where it crawls out of the water and starts living on land.

However, what is sorely missing in the book is a presentation of how much we understand about the evolution of modern man starting with homo sapiens and working backwards, and the question I was still left asking after reading the book was just how far back do we go before the chimpanzee (an ancient, living ancestor) before we our knowledge goes dark? Well, it turns out it is not that far, although a recent discovery may shed some light on the topic.

A 47 million year old fossil, named Ida, has been found in Germany and many scientists believe the lemur type animal could represent a crucial part of our primate lineage. The fossil is extremely well preserved and Ida is already stirring up hot debate. The main scientific paper on the find has already been published, though most folk will wait a week or so for specially made David Attenborough documentary about Ida (the Revealing the Link web-site from the documentary makers is an excellent starting point for finding out more about the fossil).

My own arm chair conspiracy theory, based on an in-depth analysis of Ida's x-rays (above), is that she is not part of our lineage but a precursor to something a bit more sinister:

Wolfram is kind of cool

Wolfram is the brainchild of a British physicist. This strangely named beast is a computational search engine and while I've only played on it for a few minutes and the results are pretty neat for particular types of queries (but disappointing for others).

In a few short minutes, I learned the following about myself in relation to the outside world:

The weather in the town of my birth, on the day of my birth

Relevant BMI range

And some grim mortality charts:

Seems like good entertainment for inquiring minds, and it may even be useful to some people.

Monday, May 18, 2009

30 Days Down - a quick follow up

Since ending the 30 Days Down project, I have continued to keep an approximate tally of my daily calorie intake, which I reckon is accurate to around +/- 10%.

I have almost tripled my calorie intake to approximately 1,500 calories a day on a net basis (after exercise etc) and it feels like I am stuffing my face from morning til night. However, ten days later, my weight is exactly unchanged. I was expecting it to kick up a little but I guess 1,500 is close to the break-even rate for a sedentary individual, so I shouldn't be too surprised.

I'm also measuring my body fat and blood pressure through the day and as with my weight, these levels have also remained broadly unchanged.

New trousers needed ... and what a price!

The drawback of losing a few inches around the waist is almost all my old clothes no longer fit. Fortunately, the discount web-site Halfcost has come to my rescue. I have just ordered three pairs of these Ocean Pacific trousers (two blue, one beige) :

The order included a few more items (eight AAA batteries and a light, shower proof jacket) and with postage included it totted up to a mere £14.50. It's turning out to be a very good year for bargains.

PS - I already have three of these trousers in the medium size and they are extremely light and comfortable but the legs are very long and will probably need to be turned up. Also, if you order 4 clothing items you get the 5th free. If not, use the code FF15 for a 15% discount. Nice.

Our food is adulterated by vitamin fortification

Milk with fish - it ain't right I tells ya'.

I have just read a report about how Canada may be moving in the direction of fortifying its junk food by allowing food manufacturers to fortify certain products at their discretion:
"Health Canada considers permitting vitamin and mineral (iron, calcium etc.) additives in high-calorie food products of all sorts, such as potato chips, energy bars, fruit flavored drinks. However dieticians and other health professionals caution that those products continue to be fortified junk food and that the little added nutritional value will boost consumption and enhance problems of obesity and diabetes.

The belief behind the proposal of discretionary fortification for manufacturers is that people will at least get nutrients when they eat junk food."
I don't know whether a change in Canada's regulations would bring it to par with other countries, or whether it represents even further liberalisation, but I do think that the overall fortification trend is cause for concern.

In recent weeks I've really started to notice how our shelves are packed with foods that have been fortified with additional nutrients. We have cereals and bread products fortified with vitamins, folic acid, niacin, etc, milk fortified with fish in the form of Omega 3, fluoride in water, and who knows what else. Now, if people are deficient in certain vitamins then I imagine fortification will help but wouldn't these people be better off changing their diets and actually eating healthier food? In the interim, vitamin tablets could bridge the gap, and at least by taking tablets they would be reminding themselves that their diet is out of balance.

The next point is that for the general populous it has been shown that the benefits from vitamin supplementation are dubious at best (see here and here for comprehensive reviews). The general consensus also seems to be that when we try to isolate certain nutrient compounds from the food they come packaged in, they can lose at least some of their effectiveness, and eating fortified food is surely more akin to taking a supplement with one's food rather than taking vitamins in their natural format?

Also, people respond to incentives and considered over the longer term, fortification of foods will surely reduce the the rate at which people change switch to more healthy dietary habits - bear in mind that most high nutrient food is naturally relatively low in calories versus foods that could be fortified (i.e. anything).

Lastly, while it appears that we can consume certain vitamins in relatively large quantities with no ill side-effects, high doses of other vitamins are proven to have negative effects, and if people adapt and eat significantly healthier foods we could be find ourselves in a situation where people suffer from excessive vitamin intake.

It seems the authorities just don't factor in the idea of people adapting when they take the longer view. For example, many studies are emerging showing large swathes of the population are deficient in vitamin D, a vitamin that is very hard to find in food but easy to get from the sunshine. What is more, low levels of vitamin D seem to be correlated to a whole array of problems from weak bones to metabolic syndrome and even increased cancer risk, so it could soon be the case that we are told to go and get more of it. But I wonder, instead of accepting that most habits don't change overnight and giving the public people time to learn and adapt themselves, perhaps over a decade or so, will they recommend fortification as a relatively cheap and easy way out? I hope not.

Vitamin Water or Placebo Juice?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

After dinner games ... quite

My sister and brother-in-law popped by for lunch today. Despite recent successes in the kitchen, my stir-fry was sorely unbalanced. However, a last minute rescue came by way of the desert - we split an Elvis between the four of us. Sprinkled with some sugar, this sandwich converts into a deliciously satisfying desert.

And for after dinner games? Well, after our tea, biscuits and Elvis portions, we opened up the health checking gadgets I recently purchased and measured our blood pressure, bmi, body fat, hips and waists. This was actually way more fun than it sounds. Indeed, almost everyone I come across seems interested in their weight these days, so at least my little diagnostic kit should be put to good use!
PS - Interestingly my sister shares my view that while fruit may be healthy it can actually have a negative satiety effect, as can eating breakfast. Contrast this to the common wisdom that breakfast is crucial to a solid start to the day and that fruit is a good replacement for so called junk food. I believe both ideas are worthy of further investigation.

Photoscape 3.3 review

Not all that different from the original (in other words, still brilliant), but the latest version is well worth updating for as it offer new functionality (perspective, film effects, etc), a built in screen grabber, and new caption bubbles.

This is a very nice, fast piece of software and is superb for folks who want quick results without the hazzle of more complicated packages such as and Photoshop.

And it's free, of course!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Terry Gilliam is working on Quixote once more!

Around a decade ago, director Terry Gilliam worked on a movie adaptation of Don Quixote. 'The Man Who Killed Don Quixote' was to star actors Johnny Depp and Jean Rochefort but the movie quickly collapsed under the weight of a series of unpredictable calamities. The work in progress was made into a an excellent documentary film titled 'Lost in La Mancha', but the original movie never progressed beyond a handful of scenes.

Gilliam, holding the project close to his heart, never gave up on the project and last year he re-acquired the rights to make the film ... and yes rejoice, a re-scripted version of the movie is back in pre-production. There is uncertainty as to whether Depp will play Sancho Panza, and there is talk of Michael Palin as Quixote. Palin and Gilliam are partners in crime from yesteryear (Monty Python, etc) and he's got the right amount of wrinkles. However, ever since I saw actor Andre Royo playing Bubbles in The Wire I keep on thinking that he's perfect for the role.

Whatever the path, this is one movie I really want to see it get made.

"Nearly 10 years on, I find myself lending a hand to get that crazed, giggling bedlamite back in the saddle. I'm talking about Don Quixote. In spite of God and the devil, he shall ride again..." - Tony Grisoni (script writer)

Lundgren and Stallone re-match?

Here's what I reckon was thought and said when Dolph Lundgren met Stallone on the set of The Expendables.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Some random pics from my phone

I had a day out in London yesterday and paid attention to details that often pass me by.

Traveling on the underground often feels like worming one's way through the bowels of the city. Evidence of the billion plus journeys have taken place in this great maze is found in the air contained within. It's as if the many billion breaths breathed by these passengers are still circulating their way around the tunnels and walkways, combining with the heat and pollution to create an unhealthy miasma.

However, beyond the peeling paint and crumbling corners, and the unholy miasma, there is a great deal to hold one's attention from an aesthetic perspective. Most stations follow a clear design theme, ranging from the art deco designs of Southgate and Knightsbridge stations to the Big Brother-esque, Orwellian machinery that is Westminster station (first few pics above) - appropriately this is the getting off point for those who work in the offices of Parliament and Central Government. If you want to see a station in a state of repair and dis-repair visit King's Cross. Parts of it almost feel unsafe.

I never knew the V&A Museum had a Venetian style facade on the side of the building but there you have go.
I've taken to snapping pics of food I'm about to dig in to. With my diet project over for now I have learned the ways of the avocado guacamole. This stuff is delicious. Chop an onion and tomato and a couple of pieces of garlic and mash up with an avocado half, adding lemon, salt and pepper to taste, and maybe a bit of chili sauce if it takes your fancy. Finally mix in a very small amount of grated cheese and grill the bad boy until slightly browned. 10/10.
This here banana bread is my first attempt at baking anything since god knows when. I went for the easiest recipe I could find and it came out rather nice indeed. I'm planning to add a good dollop of nutella next time around.