Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The potato battle

In Weight Watchers last week, we had a very detailed discussion about the difference, nutritional and otherwise, between sweet potatoes, yams, and potatoes. There seemed to be a lot of misinformation floating around the room, so I thought I'd figure it out.

There is a lot more you can find on Wikipedia, but suffice it to say, the yummy, sweet, orange vegetable you know as a sweet potato in Canada is in fact a sweet potato. However, if you are American (which I am certain you are not because like 9 people read my blog and most of you live within 500 km of me) then what you know as yams are actually sweet potatoes. For some reason, sweet potatoes were given the name yams over the years. The actual yam is barely distantly related to the sweet potato, has a different taste and look, and is native to Africa, whereas the sweet potato is native to South America. But apparently, sweet potatoes are often even labeled as yams in many North American supermarkets.

How do these two vegetables compare on the nutrition front? Well, compared to all other vegetables actually, the sweet potato basically kicks total ass. According to Wikipedia, in 1992 "Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes to other vegetables. Considering fiber content, complex carbohydrates, protein, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium, the sweet potato ranked highest in nutritional value. According to these criteria, sweet potatoes earned 184 points, 100 points over the next on the list, the common potato."

There. Argument settled. If we spend 3/4 of the next Weight Watchers meeting arguing about this, I'm just going to have to pull this info out. Will it point me out in the crowd as an uber-nerd? Yes. Do I care? Very little.

Unconventional wisdom

I recall reading a study some time ago that showed that Diet Cola drinkers actually had higher average weight and slower rates of weight loss than others. But I couldn't find the reference. Finally through my ultra nerdy Obesity+ McMaster obesity reporting service I received the citation to the article.

A study published in Diabetes Care this April followed the food intake questionnaires of patients over many years. The results were interesting. Daily or more consumption of diet soda increased risk of metabolic syndrome (syndrome associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease) 36% and the risk of type II diabetes by 67%. It seemed to be linked to higher waist circumference and high blood sugars.

How does that make sense? They do not elucidate possible reasons in the study because it's impossible to establish causality in such a study. However, I imagine it has something to do with the human tendency to overcompensate. You see, if you replace that 150 calories cola with a diet cola, that means you can have that 150 calorie snack you've been wanting all day. Problem is, we're really lousy at guessing how many calories things have. Furthermore, having diet soda often gives you a false sense of security, like buying indulgences to account for your sin.

I know you've seen it before: the overweight customer rolling up to the McDonald's counter and getting the double Big Mac meal super-sized with....Diet Coke. You're better off just throwing out the carbonated drinks altogether and replacing it with good old water.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Is left right?

The Globe and Mail reported today that the Alberta government is projecting a $4.7 billion deficit for 2009-2010. There were many comments on the Globe comment string about how they wish Klein was back.

A couple thoughts. In the slow moving world of political and economic consequence, it appears much of what is happening now is in fact due to Ralph Klein and his mismanagement of our province. Sure, he got things into shape, but then he totally botched it. Instead he handed out prosperity cheques and kept putting negligible savings into the Heritage Fund, unlike Norway, another petro state that has handled their wealth more than responsibly ($80 billion surplus this year).

As for this notion that the Conservative party is the least of evils and without alternative, look at Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Saskatchewan is doing very well, not only under previous NDP Premier Lorne Calvert, but now under Saskatchewan Party Premier Brad Wall. So just because there are no alternatives now, doesn't mean they don't exist. And the NDP is doing a fine job in Manitoba under Gary Doer.

Let's look across the country.

SK Saskatchewan Party government: $500m surplus ($489.79 per capita)
Manitoba NDP government: $48M surplus ($39.74 per capita)
BC Liberal government: $495m deficit (-$112.97 per capita)
Quebec Liberal government: $3.9b deficit (-$503.19 per capita)
New Brunswick Liberal government: $700m deficit (-$953.68 per capita)
Ontario Liberal government: $14.1b deficit (-$1086.53 per capita)
Alberta Conservative government: $4.7B deficit (-$1310.97 per capita)
Newfoundland Conservative government: $750m deficit (-$1473.51 per capita)

So of the provinces that have tabled fiscal updates thus far, only Saskatchewan and Manitoba are projecting surpluses. The standard line in Canada is that we can't elect an NDP or Liberal government because it will ruin our country, maybe even the world. The top two provinces are a centre-right government and a left-leaning government. The four middlemen are Liberals, and the bottom feeders are Conservative. I'd like to say this provides support for a direct correlation between fiscal responsibility and leftward position on the political spectrum, but I won't.

All I'll say is it doesn't seem to matter what type of political party runs a government. It matters only the competency and quality of those within the party making the decisions that affect the provincial and/or federal economy. Maybe once we come to this realization we'll start electing leaders by their competencies and ideas than by the color of their political stripes.