Wednesday, November 19, 2008

One extra large double double please

Tim Horton's has become somewhat of a national obsession in Canada. I'm not normally one to follow the crowd, but this is one social custom I fall in line with. But my love and devotion to Tim Hortons was challenged recently when I started Weight Watchers.

I've had a life long struggle with weight. All through junior high and most of high school I was fairly chubby. In grade 8, to support my sister in her endeavour, and also to lose a little of my own weight, I joined Weight Watchers and did quite well. I gained it all back and then some, to reach my highest weight yet in grade 11 of 222 lbs, making me officially obese (I'm 5'8"). Over the course of 6-8 months in grade 11 and the summer between it and grade 12, I lost almost 70 lbs, dropping down to 155lbs. Don't ask me how I did it, because I really don't remember! Then I went to university, ate on a small budget, and met my future wife who is the most phenomenal cook I've ever encountered. Enter: weight gain!

I've crept up over the last 8 years to my recent weight of 195. At some points I brushed the 200 mark. I told myself if I ever got there, I'd do something about it. So I did, and I joined Weight Watchers again.

In my first week I lost 3.4 pounds. This week has been going well and I suspect I've lost 2-3 pounds again. My pants are already feeling loose and Sarah says my face is looking nice and slim again.

And surprisingly, I'm not hungry. The program is actually quite reasonable, I just have to quit being a pig and quit snacking on junk in between meals and before bed. That has been the main difference. But the biggest challenge yet came when my mother-in-law brought me my complimentary Friday morning extra large double double from Timmy's last week. I drank it, not thinking of its impact on my daily points total (I get 34 points a day; points are calculated based on current weight, gender, activity level, age, etc. and are calculated for each food using a formula that accounts for calories, grams of fat, and grams of fibre). Turns out an extra large double double costs me 7 points. And all it gives you is a caffeine buzz.

So I set to work on the Tim Hortons Nutrition Guide to calculate the points value for every item on their menu. I go to Timmy's once a week for lunch, so making healthy choices that will not force me to eliminate a whole meal later in the day is important. I have the full excel file if you wish, but here I will merely highlight some interesting points.

Donuts: lowest at 5 points are chocolate, maple, and honey dips and the Boston Cream, Strawberry Filled, and Blueberry Filled; stay away from the Walnut Crunch, Honey Cruller, and Old Fashion Glazed; 9, 8, and 8 points respectively

Timbits: I calculated based on 6 Timbits, because no one can actually eat a single Timbit if more remain behind
-lowest are the Dutchie and Apple Fritter at 7 points for 6
-the sour cream glazed is bad news; 13 points for 6

Cookies: If you must, chocolate chunk, oatmeal raisin spice, and caramel chocolate pecan are 5; peanut butter is 7

Muffins: Mostly bad news; you're better off with a donut; only 6-pointers are low-fat cranberry, low-fat blueberry, blueberry bran, and cranberry blueberry bran; chocolate chip is 10

Bagels: almost all 5 except flax seed, sun dried tomato, and twelve grain; 6, 6, 7 respectively; 3 tbsps of light plain or strawberry cream cheese adds 3 points

Specialty Baked Goods: Stick with plain or raisin tea biscuit; 6 points
-Cinnamon rolls are bad (10 points) as is Chocolate Danish (10)

Yogourt & Berries: RIGHT ON!!! ONLY 3 POINTS!!! (If low-fat)


-here is what I was looking for!
-best bets at 8 points each (regular with standard toppings): chicken salad, egg salad, deli trio
-BLT is worst at 10 points


-Hearty Vegetable rocks at only 1 points (regular bowl)
-Potato bacon chowder is worst at 6, and chili is worse than all at 7


-here is what might surprise many: you cannot slam 3 extra large triple triples every day and expect to shed pounds
-the only 1 point coffee is a small single-single; an extra large double-double is 7 points
-if you want, do like I do and get a splash of milk and add some Splenda
-a medium French Vanilla will cost you 6 points as will a small iced capp

So, today, I ate a Turkey Bacon Club with Hearty Vegetable Soup and a 0-point extra large coffee (splash of milk and Splenda) for a whopping total of 10 points! Not bad. I aim for roughly 10-11 points per meal, giving me some leeway for a small snack in between the three main meals. And it was a highly satisfying 10 points. I am happy to know a boston cream is only 5. I shall indulge some day.

PS-For those interested, the Weight Watchers points are calculated as follows:

Point value=(calories/50)+(grams of fat/12)-(the lesser of the grams of fibre or 4/5)
Round to the nearest whole number
This way if you forget your points slider at home, you're okay!

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Thought I'd give an update on our Bullfrog status! Once we signed the release form and the company could check our power usage, we learned that by switching to BullfrogPower, we will pay only $9.49 extra a month on our electricity bill and will save the following:

-2.14 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually
-3.59 kilograms of nitric oxide annually
-5.46 kilograms of sulfur dioxide annually

I thought that was cool!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Severe? I think not

After spending a night enunciating so sharply and talking so slowly that I could have died, I wondered whether the diagnosis handed down to us by our son's speech language pathologist was really something to fret about.

When Mrs. Mustard first read me the report over the phone I started crying. I thought it was my fault, that my little boy would not grow up to be as intelligent as I once thought. When my rational mind awoke I realized their couldn't be anything that wrong. We had done everything right according to the pamphlet the SLP provided. But why is Sacha's speech so delayed? And will it catch up?

In pharmacy school we spent a whole semester learning about clinical epidemiology, that is how to research and then analyze primary medical literature (clinical trials, systematic reviews, etc.) It has served me well on more than one occasion, present one included.

A group in Western Australia published the results of a prospective cohort study in The Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research in December 2007. The study entitled "Late language emergence at 24 months: an epidemiological study of prevalence, predictors, and covariates" followed 1766 children over time, evaluating their speech, both receptive (comprehension) and expressive. 13% of children in the study showed late language emergence at 24 months. Having late language emergence (LLE) was not associated with parental education, socioeconomic status, parenting practices, parental mental health, or family functioning. A family history of late talkers (which we have), being male (3x more likely), and early neurobiological growth were all associated with LLE. As well, children born well below their normal birthweight (as was Sacha) and born 3 or more weeks early (Sacha) were also more likely than their peers to have LLE.

The great news comes from another study published by this group entitled "Language outcomes of 7-year-old children with or without a history of late language emergence at 24 months". It was published in the same journal as above in April of this year. The children who had LLE at 24 months fell within the normal range at 7 years for general language ability and specific language dimensions.

What does that mean? For unknown reasons, Sacha is a late talker. It could be genetics or his specific set of environmental circumstances with regards to birth but it is most definitely not our fault. However, we can help him catch up and I still do not think him seeing an SLP formally for 8 weeks will harm anyone and will probably be quite beneficial.

But for now, I can at least dispatch with the monotone slow talk.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I'll always remember....

Watching Barack Obama be elected the next president of the USA last Tuesday, I was reminded that we all experience events in our lives that we'll always remember. Here's my list of the historical events that occurred during my life. I'll always remember them vividly, including what I was doing at the time.

1. Princess Diana's death: I remember somewhat naively wondering who she was and why everyone was so interested in the event. But I still very vividly remember when I heard the news.
2. Midnight, January 1, 2000. Someone turned off the breaker at a drunken high school party I was at and made us all think Y2K actually happened!
3. September 11: Sarah called me from school to tell me that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. At the time, we thought it was a biplane gone astray. Later that morning we heard the second one had flown into the buildings. I remember hearing the details while buying groceries at the local IGA after my morning university courses.
4. George Bush steals the presidency: I remember being so disgusted when I heard that Bush one even though Gore got more of the popular vote.
5. Bush wins again. I obviously don't like him much. I remember vividly watching the coverage the day after in the social room at pharmacy school.
6. Barack Obama is elected president of the United States of America. I will always remember this. I wanted to watch the election coverage so badly. Sarah decided it was a fine evening to hang drapes. So she made noise with a hammer and hung drapes over my face while I tried to hear the commentary and see the camera shots. Lovely. But I must say, if any politician in Canada could orate as well as that man, I'd vote for him. I'm not even sure I'd care what he was talking about! I hope his administration brings the change the world is expecting! (Sidenote, forcefully added by Sarah, the drapes look lovely.)

There are some others like the shuttle Columbia exploding over the US, or when Pope John Paul II died, or when Pope Benedict XVI was chosen by the Cardinals, that I will always remember, I just don't remember what I was doing at the time.

What does your list of memorable historic events that occurred in your life look like?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I've been wrong this whole time

For years I told people I know not to use hand dryers in public washrooms because Joe Bob's uncles brothers sister-in-laws pastors scientist brother told him about a study in the Journal of Urban Legends that hand dryers actually increase bacterial counts on skin after hand washing. Today, while vigorously washing my hands after doing a onesie, I contemplated two questions on this issue:
1. What method of drying hands is more hygienic: hand dryer or paper towel?
2. What method of drying hands is more environmentally friendly: hand dryer or paper towel?

Surely no one has pondered such obscure questions before. Wrong again.

First wrong: hygiene question. A study out of the Mayo Clinic compared 4 hand drying methods and how they affected bacterial cell counts on participants hands after washing with soap. Paper towel, forced hot air, something called spontaneous room air evaporation (cool; can you still breathe?), and some other method that I can't remember all produced similar results. Verdict: Urban legend sucks. Verdict #2: Touching paper towel dispensers makes me icky, so I will continue to bodycheck the hand dryer to turn it on, thereby preventing transfer of icky bugs to my hands.

Second wrong: Many people ask obscure questions such as these. Not only did a respected organization like the Mayo Clinic conduct a randomized trial like the one above, but many have studied my second question: the environmental impact of each drying method. Turns out the hand dryer wins....hands down. Ouch. Dicey pun. The life cycle carbon impact of hand dryers is much lower. Over its life it emits something like 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide through the production of energy necessary to power it. The paper towels on the other hand release 4.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide due to the loss of trees (effective carbon sinks) and the production methods used to create them.

So I will now vehemently promote the use of hand dryers. But you must use bodychecking. It works great and really creeps out your fellow bathroom inhabitants.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Miracle cure for our sickness?

Some would call it a sickness, this excessive lifestyle we live as North Americans. Our entire way of life is based on the consumption of petrochemicals, a finite resource. For years now, researchers have been searching for a cure, be it a change in the way we live, or a change in the fuel we consume. We've heard talk of cars that run on nothing but hydrogen and oxygen and release nothing but water as an emission. We've seen countless scientists claim that some day nuclear cold fusion will be a reality. But like many other things, it looks like one of the first real solutions has been discovered deep in the forest.

Discover Magazine's great science news aggregator, 80beats, reported today that researchers at Montana State University have discovered a tree fungus called Gliocladium roseum that turns plant matter into a mix of hydrocarbons that almost exactly mimics the composition of diesel fuel! The fungus grows on Ulmo trees in the Patagonia area of Argentina and apparently uses the gaseous mix to poison other fungi that try to move in on its feeding territory. This fungus can convert cellulose plant material into gaseous hydrocarbons so easily it makes the current process of turning cellulose into ethanol look foolishly cumbersome.

Having a relatively simple organism to achieve such a complex process opens up the door to producing these hydrocarbons in a factory setting on a large scale. Producing bio-ethanol requires large amounts of land to grow the corn, which also removes land necessary for growing food, which subsequently pushes up the price of food. The concept being toyed with by the researchers, who have obviously patented the fungus and are closely guarding its location in Patagonia, is that the fungus would be cultured and grown in factories just like yeast. It would be fed cellulosic plant material (a renewable resource) upon which it would convert the cellulose into the gaseous hydrocarbons that could be siphoned off and used as fuel.

But is this a good thing? The finite nature of petroleum could be a mixed blessing when it comes to the future of the planet. If the burning of hydrocarbons has contributed to global warming, then if the source of those hydrocarbons, petroleum, were to disappear, we would be forced to change our ways to be more sustainable. But if we suddenly had an infinite supply of hydrocarbons at our disposal, we could continue with our reckless consumption. I think this is a good step, but not the answer. Renewable resources that do not produce hydrocarbons as a product, like wind or solar, would be far more useful.

Of course, if we would just quit living beyond our means, the whole problem wouldn't exist.