Thursday, December 20, 2007

That's all folks!

Just a quick note to say that I'm winding-up this blog for an indefinite period of time. If you're a regular visitor, thanks for stopping by. I'm leaving it online, so articles will still be 'findable'.

I will be continuing my online presence via my primary blog and my Flickr site.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas holidays

I used to think that the Christmas break would be a brilliant time to 'get things done', read that novel, write that article.

It never happened. The things didn't get done. The novel wasn't opened. The article was not typed. And I got frustrated.

So now I 'go with the flow'. I eat and drink too much. I talk with friends and family. I watch TV. I get a lot of sleep.

I enjoy Christmas a lot more and enter the new year recreated and refreshed, with 5 pounds of good reasons to get back to the gym.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Avoiding stagnation

Without mental and physical challenge, humans become enervated and depressed. But a surplus of either can lead to similar symptoms. Maintaining a cycle of various kinds of activity and rest will help to keep your body and mind working efficiently.

When our muscles and bones are stressed beyond their usual capacity, minor damage occurs at a cellular level.

When we are mentally stressed, whether emotionally, or by being forced to learn something new, our brain responds to the stimuli, processing and storing the new data, and adjusting our metabolism.

After muscles have been stressed, changes are made that cause them to become stronger, with a larger supply of blood. Bones respond in a similar way, increasing calcium concentration and blood supplies to the stressed regions.

No-one seems to have any idea of how rest, and in particular sleep, works. But we do know that people who get plenty of it cope better with stress than those who don't.

And repeat...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Keeping up with the news

The Week reports:

"Few of us have time to read one newspaper from cover to cover, let alone the hundreds of newspapers and magazines published in the UK and overseas every week. Britain's daily and Sunday newspapers amounts to around 5,800 pages. Almost ten million words. Every week.

"So, keeping up to date with what's happening - and understanding all the issues behind the headlines - is difficult, if not impossible."

"The Week distils the best of the British and foreign press into 35 pages."


I find it an excellent way to keep up-to-date with a wide spread of world issues. There is a 6-issue free trial on the web site, and various subscription offers.

Me, I get them for free by taking them off my best friend when he's finished with them.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Don't multi-task, switch

Whenever possible, prioritise the jobs you have to do, and do them one at a time.

You'll do them better, quicker and with less stress.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

In search of the perfect pen

My favourite writing implement is a battered old Sheaffer fountain pen. I've got other more expensive fountain pens, but none of them have the correct 'balance', write as smoothly or deposit such a heavy density of ink.

The problem with the Sheaffer is that (like most fountain pens) it requires regular refilling and cleaning. And it doesn't enjoy travelling. It can also be temperamental in its ink delivery. And even when working 'properly' it usually leaves ink stains on my fingers.

A few years ago, Conrad Gempf gave me a 0.7mm Zebra Sarasa gel pen he bought while shopping in London. He was impressed with the ink colour (as I remember, a rich yellow), but what I liked best was the way it wrote. I now keep stocks of them in blue, red and black. My only reservation is that the line thickness is a little too thin for my writing style.

While shopping in Staples last week, I came across 1.0mm versions of the Zebra Sarasa, and it is now my 'new favourite pen'. I'm writing all this year's Christmas cards with them. My journal may be next.

The Zebra Sarasa 1.0mm pens are available in blue or black, for around £1.25p each.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


Journal keeping is a good way of collecting your thoughts and feelings.

- Fill in the top of each day's entry with the day, date, time.

- Write whatever you are feeling, don’t hold back anything.

- Keep your journal safe from prying eyes.

- Try and write something every day.

- You can write as if praying to God, talking to yourself, or to no one in particular, the important thing is that you write!

- Some people find it useful to have having a different focus for different days of the week e.g. Monday - family, Tuesday - exercise, Wednesday - reading, etc.

- At the end of each month, and each year, review your journal for recurring topics.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Planning for next year

Most new year resolutions are made in a haze of over-indulgence. Which is why they usually consist of vague plans to eat less and exercise more.

Why not schedule a couple of hours in the next couple of weeks, get a writing implement and some paper, look back on this year, and work out some goals for next year.

- Make measurable, achievable goals.

- Don't make too many.

- Make them over a variety of areas.

Keep the notes and refer to them at the end of every month in 2008 to assess your progress.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

DDT - busting some myths reports: [edited]

DDT is probably the single most valuable chemical ever synthesized to prevent disease. It has been used continually in public health programs over the past sixty years and has saved millions from diseases like malaria, typhus, and yellow fever. Despite a public backlash in the 1960s, mainstream scientific and public health communities continue to recognize its utility and safety.

DDT's delisting for various uses in the United States in 1972 was a political, not a scientific, judgment. After decades of extensive study and use, DDT has not been proven to be harmful to humans. But by 1997, its future looked bleak. Environmentalists were pushing for it to be banned worldwide, and its most articulate champion, the South African Department of Health, stopped using it.

Surprisingly, DDT recovered its reputation, and in 2006 the World Health Organization (WHO) championed it again. But celebrations have been short-lived. The momentum to increase DDT use has stalled for lack of increased political and financial support.

DDT, the scientific name of which is dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, was first synthesized by Othmar Zeidler in 1874, but it was not until the 1930s that a scientist working for a Swiss chemical company discovered its insecticidal properties. Paul Mueller happened upon it when looking for an insecticide to control clothes moths. He sprayed a small amount of DDT into a container and noted the slow but sure way it killed flies. He wiped the container clean, but when he added new flies, they died, too. Mueller soon realized he had come across a persistent, powerful residual insecticide.

DDT was first used by the Allies during World War II to control lice-borne typhus. In October 1943, Allied forces liberated Naples as they advanced northward through Italy. A typhus epidemic broke out shortly after the liberation, posing a significant threat to both troops and civilians.

Dusting stations were set up around the city, and in January 1944, two delousing stations dusted 1,300,000 civilians. Within three weeks of the dusting (along with other less important treatment and vaccination programs), the epidemic was under control.

Malaria is a parasitic disease that has plagued mankind for centuries. Today the disease is mostly confined to tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, but this was not always so. Until the 1950s, malaria was widespread in Europe and North America, and epidemics were even recorded above the Arctic Circle.

In 1898, Ronald Ross, a medical doctor stationed with the British army in India, discovered that mosquitoes transmit malaria. Shortly thereafter, a leading Italian zoologist, Giovanni Battista Grassi, identified the specific genus of mosquito (Anopheles) responsible for transmitting the malaria-causing parasite.

When used in malaria control, DDT has three separate mechanisms: repellency, irritancy, and toxicity, which together are remarkably successful at halting the spread of the disease. Repellency is the most important mechanism, and along with DDT's long residual time, it makes DDT superior to other insecticides. Its repellency qualities have long been known, but they have largely been forgotten by the malaria-fighting community.

Mosquito control officers in the United States used DDT in two ways: as a residual insecticide on the walls of houses and as a larvicide. The results were dramatic. By 1952, there were virtually no cases of malaria transmitted domestically, in contrast to the 1-6 million cases just a few years earlier. Of the 437 confirmed malaria cases in the United States in the first half of 1952, only two were domestically caught. Just as DDT was being used within the United States, it was also saving lives in overseas, within a few years of its widespread use malaria was almost unheard of in Europe.

Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring questioned the effect that synthetic chemicals were having on the environment. Her argument was that DDT and its metabolites make bird eggshells thinner, leading to egg breakage and embryo death. She also implied that DDT was a human carcinogen based on stories of individuals dying of cancer after using it.

In 1971, after considerable pressure from environmentalist groups, the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held scientific hearings investigating DDT. The hearings lasted for more than eight months, involving 125 witnesses with 365 exhibits. After many months of hearings, DDT was not found to represent a cancer threat to humans, to cause mutations in humans, or to threaten the development of fetuses. DDT was relatively benign, and the allegations against it did not stand up to scrutiny.

Although Sweeney ruled that any existing uses of DDT should not be cancelled, he was overruled in 1972 by the administrator of the EPA, William Ruckelshaus, who did not attend one hour of the hearings. According to a report in the Santa Ana Register quoting Ruckelshaus's chief of staff, Marshall Miller, Ruckelshaus did not even read the entire hearing report. The decision to cancel certain uses of DDT was essentially a political one without any grounding in good science.

DDT leaves stains on mud walls, which was the primary reason South Africa's malaria control program replaced the use of DDT in 1996 with another chemical class - synthetic pyrethroids - although pressure from environmentalists certainly contributed. What followed was one of the country's worst malaria epidemics. Over four years, malaria cases increased by around 800 percent and malaria deaths increased tenfold.

In 2000, the South African Department of Health reintroduced DDT. In just one year, malaria cases fell nearly 80 percent in KwaZulu-Natal province, which had been hit worst by the epidemic. In 2006, malaria cases in the province were approximately 97 percent below the previous high of 41,786 in 2000. DDT remains an essential part of South Africa's malaria control program, and the success of its use in that country has encouraged other countries in the region to follow suit.

For over fifty years, DDT has been on WHO's list of approved insecticides for use in vector control. It experienced a resurgence with reforms to WHO's malaria control policy in late 2005 when the then-director-general, the late J. W. Lee, appointed Arata Kochi to lead the malaria unit. On September 15, 2006, Kochi launched WHO's revised policy position on IRS. In his candid remarks, he explained how and why WHO had arrived at a position that strongly supports IRS and DDT:

I asked my staff; I asked malaria experts around the world: "Are we using every possible weapon to fight this disease?" It became apparent that we were not. One powerful weapon against malaria was not being deployed. In a battle to save the lives of nearly one million children every year - most of them in Africa - the world was reluctant to spray the inside of houses and huts with insecticides; especially with a highly effective insecticide known as DDT".

DDT is no panacea, but it has a better track record on malaria control than any other intervention. Lives are lost every day because of continued opposition to its use. With development and modernization and, perhaps, a vaccine, DDT will one day no longer be necessary, but that day is still a long way off.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Hate me all you like...

but Christmas is just 5 weekends away.

If you celebrate Christmas (or are forced to celebrate Christmas), then now is the time to start making lists (and checking them twice) of people to send cards to, buy presents for, etc.

And to buy cards, and to start writing them, a few each evening, rather than having to spend a tedious day (or two) writing them in one go.

And if you haven't got loads left over from last year, go out and get some wrapping paper and sticky tape now, before the prices rise and availability dwindles.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The power of two

Regular exercise can be a lonely and dispiriting business. Whatever the ads show you, it's not all smiles and vitality. An awful lot of it is about turning up and getting it over and done with.

Exercising at home is an attractive prospect, with no gym fees or travelling required. However, the majority of home gym equipment gets a week of usage before gathering dust in the corner of a bedroom or garage.

Working out with a partner has a number of benefits including:

- encouragement to turn up

- incentive to improve

- someone to banter with

- spotting partner for weights

If your 'partner' is fitter/stronger than you (or visa versa) this doesn't have to be a disadvantage, giving one person a target to aim for, and as the performance gap closes, an incentive for the 'stronger' partner to keep the gap open.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Kitchen Essentials #1: The 1 Litre Pyrex Jug

Apart from its primary use as a measuring/pouring device, the 1 litre Pyrex jug makes an excellent microwave receptacle.

Being made of glass, baked beans and curry won't permanently stain it.

The glass handle remains cool enough to remove the jug from the microwave one-handed without scalding your hand.

Its squat form factor means it is unlikely to topple.

You can see the contents, allowing you to remove the jug from the microwave before they boil over.

And a porcelain/stoneware bowl makes a perfect, easy-clean 'anti-splatter' lid.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Keeping things in perspective

Life involves struggle. For most people reading this blog, it's far less of a struggle than for the majority of the people on this planet. However, we all have days when life seems particularly difficult.

Here's a simple checklist to help put things in perspective.

- Stop what you're doing.

- If possible, go outside.

- Fill your lungs with air. Slowly breathe out. Repeat.

- Consciously relax your shoulders and neck.

- Assess your situation rationally.

- Focus on the good things in your life.

Of course, this won't make the bad things go away. But it does help to 're-centre' you for the tasks ahead.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kill the apostrophe?

As someone who loves words, this web site made me think...

kill the apostrophe reports: [edited]

"This website is for those who want to remove the apostrophe from the English language, on the basis that it serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to confuse those who dont.

"Many of the calls to defend traditional apostrophe usage are little more than unthinking superstition. Its right because its right, runs the argument, failing to engage with the fact that its arbitrary.

"I suspect a lot of peoples prejudices on this matter are probably inculcated by humiliation at an early age, and leave victims frightened of the terrible social consequences they thereafter imagine will follow from deviating from the standard - this then becomes a self-reinforcing loop as they leap upon other peoples apostrophe 'misuse' like it matters, which it doesnt.

"The fact is that apostrophes are redundant and consume considerable time and resource and wed be better off without em.

"Yes, there are a couple of functional arguments in favour of what the apostrophe does in some limited cases..."


The site is worth a visit, it will either challenge or reinforce your presuppositions!

Thursday, November 01, 2007


50g blueberries
50g raspberries
15g raisins
15g almonds
15g walnuts
1 small apple

Washed down with 100ml apple juice, diluted to 300ml.

About 400 calories, tasty, a good mix of carbohydrate, fat, protein and micronutrients, and surprisingly filling.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Just in case

The human body requires a wide range of minerals, vitamins and nutrients if it is to work efficiently. The problem is that no one seems to know exactly what they do, and how much of them we need.

People all over the world live full and healthy lives living on simple, unvaried and unsupplemented diets. However, some cultures have diets deficient in certain essential (Japan's population suffer a high incidence of rickets, a bone condition caused by lack of vitamin D).

I'm not a great lover of fish, or green vegetables. So I supplement my diet with a multi-vitamin tablet and a fish-oil capsule each day. I also know that the fruit I eat has often been chilled during its journey to Waitrose, weakening the vitamin C content. So I swallow a 500mg vitamin C tablet as well.

I have no idea if they do much good. But I do know that I'm getting a regular dosage of stuff that the experts tell me I need.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Making a difference

Following on from Tuesday's post...

Defeating Global Poverty reports: [edited]

On Tuesday, I participated in a dinner event sponsored by the Seattle International Foundation featuring Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. His talk included these statistics:

- Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is now serving 7.5 million clients (avg. family size of 5 => 35M+ people)

- 27,000 staff

- 80% of poor in Bangladesh are offered microfinance (most poor countries have 5-10%)

- Bank is owned by borrowers

- All capital loaned out comes from savings of the poor (and bank staff)

- Each branch must drive their own savings for capital to loan out and require that each branch become profitable and capital self-sustaining within 1 year

- Microfinance is very empowering for women... often first time in their lives that they have anything of their own. Borrowers (women only) decide who will inherit their savings if they die. Interestingly, most women choose their youngest daughter as she has the least opportunity.

On other Grameen-spawned businesses:

- Grameen Phone is largest mobile operator in Bangladesh with 16M subscribers

- Grameen Energy is focused on bringing solar energy solutions to the poor... reached 100,000 households so far and now aiming for 1M.

On social businesses:

- Yunus continues to be a strong proponent for social businesses... that is, businesses which exist as commercial entities AND have a mission to have a strong positive social impact

On microfinance in China:

- China has very little supply for microfinance and, next to India, has the largest un-met demand for microfinance

Yunus recently met with senior people in China's central bank on their request to hear about his ideas on microfinance. Central bankers were initially quite defensive ... holding up their cooperative model as being quite effective in channeling financial services to the poor

Yunus said that that was quite interesting and that China must be doing something quite differently as in Bangladesh there was also a long-term cooperative system which was widely promoted by the government, but is completely ineffective due to corruption, bureaucracy and lack of relevance.

This caught the central bank leader off guard and she surprisingly agreed with his assessment and said that they would no longer rely on cooperative model as the cornerstone of China's financial services provision for the poor.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Role models #2: Muhammad Yunus

Defeating Global Poverty reports: [edited]

Muhammad Yunus (along with Grameen Bank, which he founded) has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microcredit. This is a very powerful statement about the power of the microfinance revolution to help alleviate hopeless poverty.

Here are some of the things that impress me about Yunus:

He is an innovator. The Grameen Bank has continued to re-invent itself and lead the way in developing improved products and services which serve the poor AND are sustainable through generating profit.

He is an advocate. Yunus uses his access to powerful people to speak on behalf of the needs of the poor. He continues to frame his ideas, issues and questions in plain language which challenge the typical techno-speak of the international development community.

He is generous. Yunus has generously given of his time, knowledge and influence to help others learn from what they are doing at Grameen Bank in order to implement best practices to help the poor in other areas of the world.

[Editor's note: After receiving the news of the Nobel Prize award, Yunus announced that he would use part of his share of the $1.4 million award money to create a company to make low-cost, high-nutrition food for the poor; while the rest would go toward setting up an eye hospital for the poor in Bangladesh. For a potted history of Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank, visit Wikipedia.]

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Obesity cure discovered

The largest ever UK study into obesity, government-funded and compiled by 250 'experts', has concluded that excess weight is now the norm in our 'obesogenic' [eurrgh!!! Ed.] society.

My favourite quote was this one:

"Individuals can no longer be held responsible for obesity and government must act to stop Britain 'sleepwalking' into a crisis. Dramatic and comprehensive action is required to stop the majority of us becoming obese by 2050."

In fact, I had to check to make sure that this was not a hoax report... 'Individuals can no longer be held responsible...' am I the only one who thinks that's bollocks?

I wonder whether Michael Winner had a hand in the report's release. If not, he couldn't have picked a better time to release his latest book.

In his own words:

"If a fat slob like me, who for decades has resisted everything except temptation, who has no known willpower, who has failed every diet I've ever tried, can lose three and a half stone and keep it off - then there's hope for everyone!"

Having gritted my teeth through his appearance on the increasingly cringeworthy Parkinson show, it sounds as if this 240 page document could be precised into two words.


And, while I have no love for the star of the Esure ads, he's right.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Healthy heels and elbows

As we age, our skin gradually loses its elasticity. I've never been one to 'bother' with any kind of moisturising regime, but as I entered my forties, I noticed that I was developing 'elephant elbows'. The skin was becoming very dry, with a tendency to crack and (eughh) bleed. And my heels were heading the same way.

My good friend Emma recommended I try Body Shop's Hemp Hand Protector cream. I did, and it has worked a treat.

Applying a small quantity of it to my elbows and heels after each gym session seems to replace the moisture that my aging body is no longer providing, leaving them pliable and crack-free. Hurrah!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Watch your mouth

The five main steps in maintaining good oral hygiene are:

Flossing (at least once a day)
Done properly this will remove the plaque and particles of food between your teeth, and under the gumline. If you're not sure how to floss properly, a quick Google will provide hundreds of sites eager to show you how.

Tooth Brushing (at least once a day)
Electric toothbrushes have come down a lot in price over the past couple of years, and while there's no proof that they're more efficient than 'manual' versions, the fact they require less effort does encourage you to spend more time on making sure your teeth are properly scrubbed. Again, Google will reveal plenty of info on brushing techniques.

Tongue Scraping (at least once a day)
Tongue-borne bacteria is the major cause of bad-breath. It can be scraped off using your toothbrush, or a purpose-made tongue scraping device. Be prepared to fight the gag-reflex, and make sure you go back as far as you can, as this is where the really 'orrible bugs reside.

OK, you know about avoiding sugary stuff, especially sugary stuff that will stay in your mouth a long time (boiled sweets, mints, Werthers Originals). Drink water after eating sweets to dilute/rinse the nasties. Hard toffee is excellent for removing fillings/ceramic crowns from their mountings.

Regular check-ups
Visit a dentist at least once a year whether you think you need to or not. They can spot stuff going wrong before it becomes painful/even more expensive.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Human teeth are composed of:

Enamel is the hardest and most highly mineralized substance of the body. 96% of enamel consists of minerals, primarily hydroxyapatite (crystalline calcium phosphate). Enamel varies in thickness, up to 2.5mm.

Supporting the enamel and forming the majority of the tooth, this porous, yellow-hued material is a mineralised tissue with an organic matrix of collagenous proteins. It accounts for the majority of the structure of the tooth.

Cementum is a bony substance covering the root of a tooth. It is composed of 45% inorganic material (mainly hydroxyapatite), 33% organic material (mainly collagen) and water.

The dental pulp occupies the central part of the tooth. It consists of blood vessels and nerves, entering the tooth at the apex of the root. Along the border between the dentin and the pulp are odontoblasts, which initiate the formation of dentin. The pulp is what most people call 'the nerve' of the tooth. And yes, it's the bit that is sensitive to pressure and temperature.

Information via Wikipedia

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Indian takeaway

Dean Mahomet was born in Patna, India in 1759. He moved to England in 1784 after joining the East Indian Company.

In 1810 he established the Hindoostan Coffee House at 34 George Street, Portman Square, which was (allegedly) the first Indian restaurant in Britain. In 1812 he declared bankruptcy. Dean was eventually appointed 'Shampooing Surgeon' to King George IV.

From this inauspicious start, Indian food has become one of Britain's favourite takeout foods, beaten only by the ubiquitous Chinese takeaway. Many of the Indian dishes we know and consume have been 'custom made' for British tastes, including Chicken Tikka Masala and Onion Bhajis.

Indian takeaway foods are second only to pizza in their calorie-laden-ness-ness. However, some dishes are 'worse' than others:

Cream-sauced dishes have double the calories of their sauce-free tandoori equivalents.

Pilau rice has double the calories of plain boiled rice (Indian restaurants usually add oil to pilau rice).

And naan bread is so stuffed with calories that if you look really closely you can see them jostling with one another for space. This is one of the reasons that Indian restaurants are usually so dimly lit. Maybe.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Don't wait until you feel like it

Some people adore physical activity. Give them the slightest chance to go for a long walk, or a cycle ride, or a trip to the local swimmerama and they jump at the chance.

These people make up about 1% of the population.

Most of us would much rather slump.

The problem is that the long-term effects of slumping include:

- lower energy levels
- lower abilities to cope with stress
- depression
- lower appetite for 'healthy' foods
- higher appetite for 'unhealthy' foods

99% of us never 'feel' like exercising. The list of excuses I find myself making for skipping my gym sessions are endless.

Nearly everyone feels better AFTER exercising. And it only needs to take 20 minutes to provide tangible benefits.

So whether it be a brisk walk, run, a cycle-ride, or a session at your local gym, plan some kind of physical activity into your day. It will make your day more enjoyable and (if you care about such things) more productive.

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Most fruits consist of carbohydrates, a small amount of protein and very little fat (Avocados being a notable exception).

Fruits also contain dietary fibre, vitamins and micro-nutrients. No one seems to be quite sure how much of these things we need, but we do know that if we don't get any of them, our body suffers.

So, fruit is 'good food'. But what very few people dare to say is that fruit is nearly 100% sugar. And it's not even all 'good' sugar.

Table sugar is sucrose, you know, 'bad' sugar. It is made from two simpler sugars called glucose (dextrose) ('bad sugar') and fructose ('good' sugar).

Glucose is digested, absorbed, transported to the liver, and released into the general blood stream. Many tissues take up glucose from the blood to use for energy; this process requires insulin.

Fructose is predominantly metabolized in the liver, but unlike glucose it does not require insulin to be used by the body. For this reason, it is thought to be 'healthier'.

1 medium apple contains:
2.9 g sucrose, 3.4 g glucose, 8.1 g fructose

1 medium orange:
6.0 g sucrose, 2.8 g glucose, 3.1 g fructose

1 medium peach:
4.7 g sucrose, 1.9 g glucose, 1.5 g fructose

1 medium plum:
1.0 g sucrose, 3.3 g glucose, 2.0 g fructose

1 medium banana:
2.8 g sucrose, 5.9 g glucose, 5.7 g fructose

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Role models #1: Justice Stevens

New York Times has a long, but excellent article about Justice Stevens, the oldest member of the U.S. Supreme Court. If you want to be encouraged that life doesn't have to 'end' at 60, 70, or 80, it is worth a read.

Some excerpts follow:

Justice Stevens, the oldest and arguably most liberal justice, now finds himself the leader of the opposition. Vigorous and sharp at 87, he has served on the court for 32 years, approaching the record set by his predecessor, William O. Douglas, who served for 36.

In criminal-law and death-penalty cases, Stevens has voted against the government and in favor of the individual more frequently than any other sitting justice. He files more dissents and separate opinions than any of his colleagues.

He is the court’s most outspoken defender of the need for judicial oversight of executive power. And in recent years, he has written majority opinions in two of the most important cases ruling against the Bush administration’s treatment of suspected enemy combatants in the war on terror — an issue the court will revisit this term, which begins Oct. 1, when it hears appeals by Guantánamo detainees challenging their lack of access to federal courts.

He considers himself a “judicial conservative,” he said, and only appears liberal today because he has been surrounded by increasingly conservative colleagues.

“Including myself,” he said, “every judge who’s been appointed to the court since Lewis Powell” — nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971 — “has been more conservative than his or her predecessor. Except maybe Justice Ginsburg. That’s bound to have an effect on the court.”

Stevens was born on April 20, 1920, the youngest of four boys. His paternal grandfather, James W. Stevens, made a fortune as the founder of the Illinois Life Insurance company, and in 1927, his father, Ernest J. Stevens, built the Stevens Hotel in Chicago, now the Hilton Chicago, which he called “the largest and finest hotel in the world.”

“I had a very happy childhood,” Stevens told me with a faraway look in his eyes. But events took a darker turn in 1934, when the Stevens Hotel went bankrupt in the Great Depression, and Stevens’s father, grandfather and uncle were [unfairly] indicted for diverting money from the Illinois Life Insurance company to make interest payments on bonds for the hotel.

Stevens’s uncle committed suicide, and his father was convicted in 1934 of embezzling $1.3 million.

I asked Stevens whether seeing his father unjustly convicted influenced his views on the Supreme Court. “I’m sure it did,” he replied. “You can’t forget about that.” Stevens said the experience had taught him a “very important lesson”: namely, “that the criminal justice system can misfire sometimes” because “it seriously misfired in that case.”

Since Stevens joined the court, he has been the only justice routinely to write the first drafts of his own opinions — the other justices have generally relied on clerks to write their first drafts and then rewritten (or at least edited) the drafts to various degrees.

“Sometimes the draft is pretty short,” Stevens told me, “but at least I write enough so that I’ve had a chance to think it through.” Stevens said writing a first draft was “terribly important” because “you often don’t understand a case until you’ve tried to write it out.”

During his early years on the court, Stevens was known as “the FedEx justice” because he would hand-write his drafts on a yellow pad, dictate them for his secretary, FedEx them to Washington so she could type them up and then FedEx back and forth with his law clerks for editing. “That was cumbersome,” he recalled. But he switched to computers about 20 years ago and, with a secure Internet connection and phone line, he has become the first telecommuting justice.

He swims every day in the ocean, plays tennis at least three times a week and plays golf two or three times a week. “I get a lot of exercise down there, and my wife feeds me very well, so it works out very well,” Stevens said happily. He tries to maintain this vigorous exercise schedule when he is in Washington, playing tennis two or three times a week, often with one of his three daughters. (His son died in 1996 of cancer.)

He is in such good physical shape that, in 2005, at age 85, he threw the first pitch at a Cubs-Reds game at Wrigley Field and got it right over the plate.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Common Sense Maxims #2

A good friend of mine once gave me this piece of advice:

"When in doubt about what someone thinks about you, think the best".

On first hearing, I didn't think it made much sense, but as I've thought about it, and put it into practice, the wisdom of its message has emerged.

1. It stands as a good hedge against paranoia.

2. Most people aren't against you. In fact, most people are so obsessed with their own lives that they're not thinking about you at all.

3. Trying to second-guess whether people like or hate you is a time-consuming, emotionally draining and usually negative activity.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A tasty, low-calorie, high-protein meal

Bring 150g of new potatoes (104 calories) to the boil, set a timer for 18 minutes and leave to simmer. When the buzzer goes, put 100g of chopped tinned tomatoes (20 calories) in the microwave for a couple of minutes.

Remove from microwave, and leave (covered) while you nuke 70g of frozen sweetcorn (70 calories) for 3 minutes.

Open and drain a 150g tin of tuna in brine or spring water(150 calories). Remove the potatoes from the boil (they should have been on for about 25 minutes by now) and drain them.

Bung it all on a plate, pour yourself a glass of water, and enjoy a meal that provides you with nearly 40 grammes of protein, almost no fat and just 350 calories.

(If you haven't got 25 minutes to wait for the potatoes to cook, a bag of low fat/low salt potato crisps provides a reasonable substitute, and a similar amount of calories)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Give it a year

'People Who Know A Lot About How To Sell Things' (PWKALAHTST) have come to the conclusion that 'people' (that's you and me) think that 6 weeks is a 'bearable and believable' amount of time to follow a programme for and expect results.

That's why our newsstands are stuffed with magazines promising 'A flatter stomach in 6 weeks', 'Bigger biceps in 6 weeks' and 'Build your own space shuttle in 6 weeks'.

However, while the claims aren't technically false (they don't specify HOW much flatter, HOW much bigger or... OK, I made up the last claim), they are misleading.

If you are planning on making life-changes, whether it be increasing your personal fitness levels, learning a new skill or improving your sleep patterns, make it a year plan. A year goes by plenty fast anyway (we're into the last third of 2007, so where did the first two go?) but 12 months gives you some room for 'lapses', and the ability to fine-tune your programme based on assessing your results (or lack of them) at monthly intervals.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

If you exercise regularly (or are planning on starting, is a site that allows you to:

Record your workouts
Log all your workouts such as running, cycling, swimming, and weight training. Create custom workouts to track your other activities in your active lifestyle.

Create running routes
Measure your running routes and create elevation profiles. Our mapping tool is easy and fun to use. It is an excellent alternative to the expensive GPS devices.

Analyze your data
Visualize your training progress through colorful graphs. Find specific workout entries using different criteria. Track your shoe mileage to reduce injury.

Join or start a training group
Whether you just started running or training for another marathon, there is a running group in RunningAHEAD that can help you achieve your goals.

Share training experiences
Meet other fellow runners in the RunningAHEAD community. Exchange running tips, receive answers to your questions, or talk about anything else.

Registration is required, but membership is free.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Custard Principle

What follows is a story about Mary and Michael. They're not really called Mary and Michael. In fact, they're completely made up people. But we're going to call them Mary and Michael.

At the beginning of this story, Mary and Michael have just got married. One day while they're eating dinner, Mary asks Michael,

"What is your favourite dessert?"

Without hesitation, Michael replies,

"Apple pie and custard, I LOVE apple pie and custard."

On their next shopping expedition, Mary purchases the most expensive brand of apple pie she can find (Mary's not much of a cook) along with a tin of Bird's custard powder.

The following evening, Mary pops a couple of pre-prepared korma curries in the microwave. While they are being nuked, she heats some milk on the stove and prepares a pint of custard. She leaves this to stand, and puts the apple pie in the oven to warm while they are eating their main meal.

When they have both have finished their curries, Mary dishes up the apple pie, and pours custard on each portion. Michael notices that she has left the custard skin on his portion. He hates the skin on the custard and he wonders whether to mention it, but decides not to make a fuss and eats it, even though it ruins his enjoyment of the meal.

Years go by, and many more apple pie desserts are served. And Michael always gets, and eats, the custard skin.

On Mary and Michael's 20th wedding anniversary, they visit a small restaurant for a celebration meal. When it is time for dessert Michael orders apple pie and custard. (Mary orders profiteroles, in case you were wondering.)

When the apple pie and custard is served, Mary nudges Michael and whispers "What a shame, they haven't left the skin on your custard".

Well, three large glasses of expensive burgundy have loosened Michael's tongue. He gently holds Mary's hand, looks her in the eyes and says,

"Mary, I've never told you this before, but I HATE custard skin."

Mary stares at him flabbergasted, before exclaiming,

"You mean, for 20 years, I've been sacrificing the custard skin, which I LOVE, and you haven't told me!


There is a fine line between tact and stupidity. Kindness and unnecessary people-pleasing. And often, being honest about what you do and don't like means more people get to do the things they really want to do, rather than the things they think they ought to do.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Suck it in

Our stomach muscles are composed of the internal obliques, external obliques, rectus abdominis and the transverse abdominis.

Their main job is controlling the 'hinge' between our legs and our upper body and protecting the various organs that exist behind them.

Western society has become obsessed with possessing a flat stomach. However, a much more important thing is to have strong, controllable stomach muscles. Our lower back relies on our stomach for support, and a lot of back problems are a result of poor posture caused by weak stomach muscles.

A simple exercise that will strengthen your stomach muscles and improve your posture, is to breathe out, then 'suck in' your stomach towards your backbone. Hold this posture for a few seconds, then gently relax. Repeat this as many times as you can before getting dizzy!

This exercise can be performed when sitting, standing or walking. The male of the species performs it instinctively upon sighting a human they find sexually attractive.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


This one's so basic that you probably know it already. However, it is one of those things (like breathing) that I find myself having to learn, and re-learn, then re-re-learn again.

You need to talk to someone about something. You've spent time thinking about it. You're sure you need to talk with them. But it's not something you're looking forward to saying to them.

If possible, find an opportunity to talk to them one-to-one, face-to-face. Firstly, this is the best way. Secondly, you're going to make sure that this is something you really need to tell them!

Second-best, 'phone them.

Third-best, a hand-written note, requesting a one-to-one meet.

Don't email, memo or fax them.

And definitely, DEFINITELY, never, ever, EVER tell someone else about it so that the person gets to hear about what you think second- or third-hand. Trust me, it will end in tears.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Grill it, don't incinerate it

Grilling meat is an easy way of saving calories. However many people associate grilled food with dry, tough and tasteless food.

There are two ways of ensuring that grilled food tastes great:

1. Preheat the grill for at least ten minutes.

2. Time the cooking of the meat.

I find that boneless/skinless chicken breasts require about 10 minutes, and sirloin steak as little as 6 minutes (turning the meat over half-way through the cooking time).

If these times leave the meat too rare for you, put it back under the grill for a minute at a time until you find the 'done-ness' that suits you. Record the total grilling time, and use that in the future.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Aide memoires

The human brain is a strange thing. You'd think that something with over a 100 billion neurons would be capable of remembering a few important items that you are meant to take with you on your journey. Or even one.

And, of course, it can. And it does. However, my brain (and I suspect I'm not alone here) tends to wait until I have not only embarked on a journey, but have travelled a significant distance before moving it from the 'stored' to the '!!@£*?!' area of my consciousness.

I'm sure there are all sorts of very clever ways of becoming more conscious of the 'stored' area. However, the lazy way is to put the thing you need to take with you somewhere where you can't avoid noticing it before leaving your house.

Alternatively, put it in the bag you will take with you, or the vehicle that you're going to use.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fast food #1

Using an electric kettle, boil enough water to three-quarters fill a small pan. Pour the boiled water into the pan, place the pan on a gas/electric hob and bring the water to a steady, rolling boil.

For a soft yolk and firm white, gently lower a large egg into the water and leave for 4 minutes 30 seconds. Remove from water and decapititate the egg. If it is too runny for your tastes, put the top back on for 30 seconds, and next time increase the cooking time by 15 seconds.

A large boiled egg provides less than 100 calories, but supplies your body with 8g protein and 7g fat, along with significant quantities of vitamins B12, B2, D and A.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Pizza is one of my favourite meals. Nutrition-wise, there is a fair balance of stuff. One slice of a large Pizza Hut Deep Pan Pepperoni Feast (assuming 8 slices) will provide you with 18g protein, 33g carbohydrate and 20g fat. However, it is one of the most calorie-laden concoctions you can purchase. That same slice contains nearly 400 calories. That means 4 slices provides an average, physically active woman with her entire daily calorific requirements.

Throw in garlic bread, chicken wings and an ice cream dessert, washed down with a couple of glasses of wine, and you can see why pizza should be a treat, rather than a regular part of your diet.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


You've got a number of things to do. One of them includes mowing the lawn. It is dry outside, but clouds are looming.

All the other jobs can be done while it is raining.

Mow the lawn now. Not later.

Yes. Now.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A brace of brilliant books

I became a Christian nearly 30 years ago. One of the books that influenced my decision was 'Mere Christianity' by C.S. Lewis. Despite being written nearly 40 years before I read it (it was adapted from a 1943 series of BBC radio lectures, originally printed as three separate pamphlets, The Case for Christianity, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality), I found it spoke to me more clearly than many more contemporary 'apologetic' works.

Perhaps there were resonances with Lewis' struggles with accepting the existence of a personal, loving creator God. I still remember smiling as I read the words of his own conversion experience:

“In the Spring term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Recently I was corresponding with a woman who is working on a thesis exploring the beliefs of individuals involved in a conversation between Christianity and contemporary culture. One of the questions she asked me was how I thought Christianity interprets the world.

This is a massive question, and I began to think of books I had read that might help to answer the question. 'Mere Christianity' was the first book that came to mind, not because it deals directly with that question, but because it goes straight to the root of what Christianity is.

I then began to think about whether there were newer (better?) books available. One that sprang to mind was Tom Wright's 'Simply Christian', which has often been branded as the 'New Mere Christianity'. Certainly Tom Wright possesses a similarly powerful intellect, and his writing is never less than readable. So this Saturday, I made myself a double-strength latte, settled myself down into my comfy sofa, and worked my way through it.

It is an excellent book. One I would recommend to anyone thinking about spirituality of any kind. And having read it, I thought I would read through Mere Christianity again, to compare and contrast. It made for a fascinating study.

'Mere Christianity' remains a fresh and contemporary work. Lewis couldn't write a bad sentence if he tried, and his determination to focus on the essentials of the Christian faith means that not much of it has dated. His arguments for the uniqueness of Jesus, and the necessity of God when arguing for morality are still compelling and succinct, although I'm sure that they would make Richard Dawkins' teeth itch.

However, Wright's book is (not surprisingly) a far more contemporary presentation of the Christian faith, especially in giving a holistic overview of what the Christian belief system entails. It deals with subjects that Lewis didn't have to, such as postmodernism, pantheism and Islam.

Wright spends far more time with the Bible than Lewis does, and presents a masterful precis of it, and why it is central to the Christian faith (albeit reflecting his particular interpretative biases). He also deals with the Church as a worshipping, human community in a way that Lewis doesn't attempt.

In conclusion, they're both worth reading. But if I had to choose one book for someone who was keen to gain an understanding of what the Christian faith was about, I'd buy them a copy of 'Simply Christian'.

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Every once in a while I find myself with a free Sunday afternoon. By 'free', I mean that I am by myself and there is nothing I have to do in the next few hours. Usually I make myself a simple meal, wash it down with a few glasses of wine, then lie down on my huge 'so old it's trendily retro' sofa, and fall asleep.

The room that houses this sofa also contains a very decent sound system. And yet I often find myself leaving the kitchen radio on, and listening to that instead. Somehow music that is coming from 'somewhere else' is more conducive to relaxing - blending with the environment rather than dominating it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Perspectives on technology

Sundays are precious days for me. I lie in until 6.30am, get up, make myself a coffee and tidy up the kitchen. Then, weather permitting, I don heart rate monitor, iPod and running shoes (OK, and a pair of shorts, and a t-shirt) and embark on a 6-mile run.

A couple of Sunday morning's ago there was a fine drizzle in the air, and I decided to leave the iPod indoors. As the run takes about 50 minutes to complete I was a little worried about the 'boredom factor' kicking in sans musical accompaniment. I am aware that my conversation is scintillating to other people, however I already know the punchlines to my outrageously witty jokes, and I'm familiar with my huge store of scintillating anecdotes.

As the run progressed, I was surprised to discover that not only was it no more boring and painful than usual, I was also more aware of what was going on around me. The sound of the wind in the trees. The rush of cars passing by. The rhythmic 'thump, thump, thump' of trainers on pavement. I felt more orientated. More balanced.

Last weekend the strap on my heart rate monitor broke. So this weekend I ran without it. Or my iPod. I didn't even time my run. Once again, I enjoyed the freedom of not being 'paced & chased' by the readout on my watch. I'm fairly sure I ran slower, but not by much.

I'm aware that these events' charm resided primarily in their novelty value. And that using the pulse rate monitor has provided me with good feedback on how different levels of exertion 'feel' to me. Before I used the pulse rate monitor, I know that I used to work too hard, preventing me from gaining some of the benefits of running, and making me hate the exercise even more than I do now!

Long-term, I'm sure that I will use the iPod on some of my runs, and the heart rate monitor for most of them. But it was good to discover that I'm not completely dependent on them.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Understanding colour

Colour is one of those things that we tend to take for granted. And yet it plays a huge role in the way we perceive our surroundings, and is inextricably woven into the language we use.

Understanding just why colour is so important to humans has proven elusive. Is colour an objective part of reality, a property of objects with a status similar to shape and size? Or is it more like pain, something that only becomes real when experienced?

What we do know is that most people are very conservative about colour, usually because they know how horrible things look when the 'wrong' colours are juxtaposed. However, the science of matching colours is straightforward.

The simplest way to find colours that work together is to visit a web site like which will generate a variety of different combinations of colours based on a colour that you choose. It even has a menu that simulates a variety of visual limitations for the 15% of people who cannot see the 'normal' colour spectrum.

For 'instant' ideas and inspiration, Adobe's kuler web page offers a huge range of colour varieties, and you can even subscribe to an RSS feed that keeps you up-to-date with the latest additions. serves a similar purpose, with one advantage: the swatches can be downloaded as graphics files that are large enough to use as screen savers/wallpaper. I've made up a folder full of them, which I run as my screensaver and my screen's wallpaper. As well as being attractive, it also exposes me to a wide range of colour combinations that I might not otherwise consider.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Baked Beans

Most commercial tinned baked beans are haricot beans, also known as Boston Beans or Navy Beans, cooked in a tomato-based sauce.

In the United Kingdom, Heinz is the top selling brand of baked beans. A half-tin portion of UK-sourced Heinz Baked Beans contains 10g protein, 27g carbohydrate and .4g fat. It also contains 8g of dietary fibre. (Heinz produce a 'lower salt/sugar' variety, but the nutritional/calorific differences are very slight).

They are gluten-free, suitable for vegetarians and are low on the glycaemic index. Heinz beans (like all Heinz products) have no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.

If you're looking to restrict calorie intake while maintaining a balanced diet, baked beans make a good substitute for the 'potato/pasta' portion, and only take a few minutes to heat up. If you're in a real hurry, they are quite palatable when cold.

Note: There are differences between Heinz baked beans sold in the UK and the US. The US beans contain brown sugar (UK beans do not). US beans also contain double the total amount of sugar, are darker in colour, and possess a mushier texture.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Exercise in the morning

1. It gets it out of the way. This is the single most important reason for exercising in the morning. Even if you schedule exercise during the day, it will usually be the item that gets dropped as the day becomes busier.

2. It raises your metabolic rate, making you feel more ready for the day ahead.

3. It helps regulates your appetite for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Arabica vs Robusta

There are a wide range of coffee species, but the two most commonly available are Arabica and Robusta.

Arabica has milder but more complex taste characteristics. It grows better at higher altitudes and requires intense cultivation. Arabica is predominantly grown in the tropical and equatorial strips of America, Africa and Asia.

Robusta has a simpler taste profile, with a bitter, astringent flavour. It costs much less to grow, as it is more resistant to tropical heat and parasites and thrives at lower altitudes. This, combined with the fact that it is more soluble than Arabica beans, means that it is commonly used as the major ingredient in 'instant' coffees.

Arabica and Robusta are genetically quite distinct: the first has 44 chromosomes, the second only 22.

The caffeine content of Arabica is about 1%. Robusta ranges from 2 to 4.5%.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


WebMD reports: [edited]

Want a drug that could lower your risk of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and colon cancer? That could lift your mood and treat headaches? That could lower your risk of cavities?

Coffee, the much maligned but undoubtedly beloved beverage, just made headlines for possibly cutting the risk of the latest disease epidemic, type 2 diabetes. And the real news seems to be that the more you drink, the better.

After analyzing data on 126,000 people for as long as 18 years, Harvard researchers calculate that compared with not partaking in America's favorite morning drink, downing one to three cups of caffeinated coffee daily can reduce diabetes risk by single digits. But having six cups or more each day slashed men's risk by 54% and women's by 30% over java avoiders.

Though the scientists give the customary "more research is needed" before they recommend you do overtime at Starbuck's to specifically prevent diabetes, their findings are very similar to those in a less-publicized Dutch study. And perhaps more importantly, it's the latest of hundreds of studies suggesting that coffee may be something of a health food - especially in higher amounts.

At least six studies indicate that people who drink coffee on a regular basis are up to 80% less likely to develop Parkinson's, with three showing the more they drink, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can translate to a 25% reduced risk of colon cancer, an 80% drop in liver cirrhosis risk, and nearly halve the risk of gallstones.

On the flip side, it's clear that coffee isn't for everyone. Its legendary jolt in excess doses - that is, more than whatever your individual body can tolerate - can increase nervousness, hand trembling, and cause rapid heartbeat. Coffee may also raise cholesterol levels in some people and may contribute to artery clogging. But most recent large studies show no significant adverse effects on most healthy people, although pregnant women, heart patients, and those at risk for osteoporosis may still be advised to limit or avoid coffee.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sirloin steak

Red meats differ massively in their fat content depending on the animal, and the parts of the animal, they are derived from. Popular wisdom tells us that white meat has less fat than red meat, however there are some cuts of red meat that are extremely low in fat, of which sirloin steak wins the prize.

Provided you trim all the fat from it, 100 grammes of grilled sirloin steak contains 135 calories, 23.5g protein and 4.5g fat. The same weight of chicken breast fillet yields 126 calories, 25.1g protein, 1.2g carbohydrates and 2.3g fat.

And lean red meat has other benefits as well, it a rich source of iron, vitamin B12 and zinc. It's also low in sodium and cholesterol.

Oh, and it tastes fantastic!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

200 calories-worth of food

Pay a visit to WiseGeek.

Once you've got over the shock of the scary lady, and the horrible page layout, you will find a series of images and captions that give you an idea of the calorie content of the stuff we shove in our mouths.

(thanks to Sora Neko for the link)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Omega-3 & Omega-6

You probably don't need telling that the human body is very efficient at making and storing fat. However, there two types of fat that it cannot produce naturally, and which it needs to function efficiently. They are Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) called Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Excessive inflammation is associated with many chronic degenerative conditions including cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, arthritis and dementia.

Tests have indicated that Omega-3 fatty acids offer protection against depression, bipolar disorder and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids have also been associated with lower cancer risk in population studies.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in plant and animal products. The highest levels are found in flaxseed oil and cold water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and trout. However, flaxseed oil's Omega-3 content is less easily accessible to the body than fish oil (if you want to know more, type 'flaxseed oil vs fish oil' into Google).

Sources of omega-3 fatty acids at lower levels include walnuts, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, soybeans and blackcurrant seeds.

The three most important omega-3 fatty acids are Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA), Eicosa Pentaenoic Acid (EPA) and Docosa Hexaenoisc Acid (DHA). ALA is an essential fatty acid that must be consumed in the diet, it is converted in the body to EPA and DHA (which turn into series 3 prostaglandins). The prostaglandins then direct signals to dilate blood vessels, reduce inflammation, and prevent platelets from crowding together.

By contrast, Omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Inflammation helps the body repair itself (such as in the case of a muscle sprain). Omega-6 fatty acids are incorporated into the cell membrane, and when the cell is under stress, it places prostaglandins around it signaling to the body the need for repair.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in red meat, dairy products and Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) such as soybean and corn oil.

The most important omega-6 fatty acid is Arachidonic Acid (AA), which can be found in egg yolks, meats (organs in particular), and other animal-based food items. Linoleic Acid (LA) is converted to Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) in the body and then further broken down into AA.

Most westerners consume a surplus of Omega-6, and a deficit of Omega-3. If, like me, you don't like fish much, 1,000 milligrams of a good quality fish oil supplement a day should counteract the deficiency.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Potatoes - they're not bad, just misunderstood

Potatoes are low in fat, high in vitamins and minerals, virtually fat-free, contain almost no cholesterol and when served with their skins are a great source of fibre. And compared to most vegetables, they're even quite high in protein.

150g of potatoes provide you with a quarter of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C and Vitamin B6. And only 100 calories.

A baked potato in its skin contains more fibre than two slices of wholemeal bread.

However (especially when peeled) they are a high-glycemic-index food, raising bad triglycerides and depress good-type HDL cholesterol, boosting the risk of heart attack, especially in people with insulin resistance.

So, stick to small portions (say, 150g), hold the salt, butter and mayonnaise, and eat with low-glycemic index foods to buffer the 'sugar spike'.