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

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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.