Saturday, December 31, 2005

I'm Lovin' McDonald's Nutrition Labels

From the Strait Times two days ago:
McDonald's takes healthy bite with nutrition labels All its food to carry such labels by mid-2006; also more balanced choices coming By Krist Boo BIG Macs - and all other McDonald's food sold here - will carry labels detailing their nutritional value by the middle of next year. The move by the fast-food giant in Singapore is part of a healthy-image makeover the Golden Arches is undergoing globally. The burger chain said last month that by the end of next year, two-thirds of its 30,000 restaurants worldwide would label the fat, salt, calorie and carbohydrate content of its food. McDonald's revealed its Singapore labelling deadline as it launched two new offerings - Asian-style chicken and beef rice burgers... The Health Promotion Board (HPB), which is working with the fast-food chain on providing nutritional education, hopes McDonald's will not only indicate nutritional values but that it would also help consumers make sense of it. A label that indicates an item has 400 calories, for instance, is helpful only if it explains that 400 calories make up almost half a day's calorie needs, it said...
The interesting thing about the title is that nutrition labels, per se, don't make the food any more, or less, healthy. Second thing is that since I like Big Mac meals, I've decided to read up on what the numbers mean. Here's what you'll find on the tray. The first column shows kcal, or calories. This is the amount of energy that's released when foods are digested.
When the supply of energy—that is, the number of calories consumed in foods—exceeds the body's immediate needs, the body stores the excess energy. Most excess energy is stored as fat. Some is stored as carbohydrates, usually in the liver and muscles. As a result, weight is gained. An excess of only 200 calories per day for 10 days is likely to result in a weight gain of nearly ½ pound, mostly as fat. Source.
Health Promotion Board has a list containing some estimates of daily allowances. I probably need around 2800 cal? The second column shows total fat.
These complex molecules are composed of fatty acids and glycerol. Fats are the slowest source of energy but the most energy-efficient form of food. Each gram of fat supplies the body with about 9 calories, more than twice that supplied by proteins or carbohydrates. Because fats are such an efficient form of energy, the body stores any excess energy as fat. The body deposits excess fat in the abdomen (omental fat) and under the skin (subcutaneous fat) to use when it needs more energy. The body also stores excess fat in blood vessels and within organs, where it blocks blood flow and damages the organs, often with devastating results... Authorities generally recommend that fat be limited to less than 30% of daily total calories, or fewer than 90 grams per day, and that the amount of saturated fat, trans fatty acids, and cholesterol in the diet be reduced. However, people with high cholesterol levels may need to reduce their fat intake even more. When fat intake is reduced to 10% or less of daily total calories, cholesterol levels tend to decrease dramatically. Source.
So how should we make sense of this number? Let's choose my favourite Big Mac. Two all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese, pickles-onion-on-a-sesame-seed-bun contains 28g of fat. 28 multipled by 9 is 252; the Big Mac has 252 calories of energy in the form of fats. So this constitues how many percent of my daily allowance? 252 divided by 2800 is 9%. Phew, I'm well below the recommended 30%. But wait, there's more! I'm assuming an allowance of 2800 calories because this is the figure given by the HPB. In reality, I may have only consumed a much lower amount of calories. For example, I missed my lunch yesterday. Assuming I only had 1400 calories, the calories-from-fat number would be 252/1200 = 20% of my daily intake! But wait again, there's more yet! I'm only calculating for a single Big Mac. I always have the Big Mac meal (no upsize, thank you) that has 44g of fat, so if I take that into account, the figure will be 14% (for 2800-cal diet) to 20% (for 2000-cal diet) . Essentially, I'm not supposed to consume not much more fat for the rest of the day. (On McDonald's US website, the numbers are more conservative. They assume the typical person takes in 2000 calories per day.) You can find a fun-to-use nutrition calculator from McDonalds Singapore. However, ignore the pie chart at the bottom of the numbers. There seems to be an error in the programming script; the resulting chart is almost certainly wrong. Maybe they'll correct it when they next revise the page. I'm not exactly sure what to do with the Cholesterol number. From this FDA website, it seems that the daily allowance for Cholesterol (and I'm not sure whether this is refering to the good or bad kind) is 300mg. For the sodium (I think it's found in salt), according to Merck, the daily limit is 1000mg. Just look at the Sausage McMuffin with Egg, my favourite. It has 1147mg of sodium! The last number is fibre. The Big Mac has 3g of fibre.
Authorities generally recommend that about 30 grams of fiber be consumed daily. In the United States, the average amount of fiber consumed daily is about 25 grams. An average serving of fruit, a vegetable, or cereal contains 2 to 4 grams of fiber. Source.
So these are some superficial things I've learnt from the nutritional labels. Your mileage will vary. Note that I'm not a trained nutritionist (obviously!), so please take things with a pinch of sodium. And have a great and nutritious New Year! Update (!): Heavenly Sword has more nutritious things to say!

Friday, December 23, 2005

What Football Team Should I Support?

I haven't been following the UK football scene for a long while now, and now that I think about it, why support any team that is situated 11,000km from where I live? However, the weekend fixture between Arsenal and Chelsea intrigued me. I thought to myself, 'What is Chelsea, and why is it at the top of Division 1?!' I think they call it the Premier League nowadays. I used to support Liverpool many years ago, and stopped when these three players vanished from the scene: John Barnes, Ian Rush, and Peter Beardsley, who had a really bad haircut but could play football rather well. I also miss Peter Shilton, who was once England's goalkeeper, and whose home team was Derby County. It was listening to the BBC sports reports that I first knew how to pronounce Derby (DAHbi), so that's nice. I know the Americans pronounce this as DERbi, but my allegiance is to the British Empire (despite the fact that Britan is located 11,000km from where I live), so I shall stick to the former. Anyway, lots of people gain seemingly easy satisfaction from supporting a top team. Fans don't need to do anything remotely resembling the actual physical activity called football to feel they belong to the team, and to feel wonderful and great especially when the team wins. Probably the closest thing folks ever do is scream at the TV and gesture dramatically, pretty much like what a real manager does. So, they are actually getting quite a good deal out of all this investment. No work and all gain. So, I feel I need to take advantage of that. I need to choose a team to support, which is a rather lame excuse of saying, 'You guys really work so hard every time there's a game, and I would like to imagine I am the one doing the running and dribbling, and feel great when you guys win! I would like to use the phrase "we won!" when in fact it's you guys who actually did all the hard work. But I know you won't mind!' Where do I start? Let's start with the current League leader Chelsea. I don't really like Chelsea; I'm not in favour of their blue uniforms. And isn't Chelsea a girl's name?! Chelsea Clinton! Nope, I don't think I'll support Chelsea. Manchester United? I like their uniforms, there's this big O on the front of their jerseys. (Actually, I just discovered it's Vodafone's logo.) And there's even a Man U shop in town so buying merchandise will be quite convenient. But Fergie seems to be quite a bad coach, throwing things at David Beckham or something like that, I heard once. So I don't think I'll support Man U. How about Arsenal? Well, I think the coach Wenger seems cute. But the thing I don't like about Arsenal is that firstly, it reminds me of war. Like bombs and stuff. Their nickname is The Gunners. So I don't think I like them too much. That leaves me with only one option, given the fact that I should choose one of the top three teams currently on the charts. Liverpool!! Wikipedia describes Liverpool as 'the most successful English football team'. Now we're talking, where do I sign up?! I only wish Beardsley were still playing, sigh. I do hope they top the league though, or else I'd have wasted my emotional and physical investment, especially the constant waving at the TV when my players don't know what the heck they're doing! Merry Christmas to everyone reading, especially to Liverpool F.C., of which I'm the greatest fan. May you top the league and beat Chelsea! PS. What's Chelsea, again?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Konfabulator Becomes YAHOO! Widget Engine

Some months ago, YAHOO! acquired Konfabulator. They've just changed its name to Widget Engine. Get it now! Chrome Clock

Monday, December 12, 2005

My First Voting Experience

And I voted for Xiaxue, since she is my hero. She has the sort of editorial integrity I wish I could match. (Sorry mrbrown, it's not that you're not my hero, it's just that you're not a woman.) It's funny how a lot of Singaporeans don't get to vote. My dad, who's lived in Singapore for more than 30 years, hasn't had the chance to vote in any election. Now, this is not the fault of anybody, since no one is technically prevented from running for office, provided you meet the criteria. It's just that none of the residents in my area want to run for office, for reasons known only to themselves! So I was very excited to take part this important election, to vote for someone to the high office of Best Asian Blog at The Weblog Awards. The interesting thing is the toing and froing between the two contenders Xiaxue and mrbrown. Xiaxue had a huge lead in the beginning, threatening a landslide. But she and her fans shouldn't have underestimated the political acumen of mrbrown, who crawled back yesterday to take the lead. I thought that was very remarkable achievement. And now Xiaxue is back in the lead, and she is urging her voters not to cheat. She has some political skills herself! And to see her actually beating America's most popular liberal political blog DailyKos in the initial stages just seems so surreal... Now, let's see if we have this much excitement in a real General Election. Someone in my area, please stand for election! Update (!): I just voted for DKos in the Best Blog category, and DailyKos has a huge lead there. However, it's still far behind XX and mrbrown. Oh my goodness, if the voting patterns continue, Xiaxue is going to be the best blogger in the world! How weird is that?! LOL

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

CELTA at ECC, Bangkok

So this is the place where I took my CELTA (previous post here). Like I said before, it's a very intensive course, but it's also the most enjoyable thing I've done in years. So if you're interested in taking the course and don't know which centre to go to, the centre at Thailand is quite a good choice. One reason is its relatively low course fee. Another is that it's in Thailand! And yes, the Thais are really wonderful people

I think there are some things that could be improved such as the limited number of computers available (so bring your own laptop!), but overall, it was a very good experience. Your mileage will vary of course as the teacher trainers aren't always the same. But I think all of them have valuable insights to offer, even if they don't always tell you the same things. If you're thinking of doing a part-time course, don't. Do the full-on, full-time version instead. Also, how much you get out of the course also depends on the classmates you get. I was lucky that the trainees in this batch were 'above and beyond the call of duty' helpful, gracious, and classy, so I got the chance to learn heaps from them. (Congrats to Alice, Bianca, and Lenore for getting As!) Remember to help one another as much as possible since everyone is in this together. In case you're stressing out so much by the third week that you're about to burst into tears, read Barry's words of wisdom and try to get some perspective...

I think the key to a good time doing the CELTA is to have an open mind, a quick adaptability to new ideas and methodologies that might initially seem so psychobable-esque (I still have my doubts on misguided discovery, arghhh!), an eagerness to critique the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of your lessons, and accepting that it's one month of intensive work, with little time to rest, perhaps only a few hours on Saturday afternoon and night, but that's about it. Of course, those who work faster or more effectively will have much more free time than that.

Also, there should be no distractions, which is why it's probably a good thing to leave your country/ family/friends/spouse behind and do this course in an overseas country. Under no circumstances should you attempt a CELTA romance, please! (How did that happen?!) If you already have some teaching experience under your belt, that's great. If you don't, the course is still very much doable, but before you start the course, you may want to get yourself the Parrot and Harmer books and study them to get the basics first. (They are available at the library at ECC too.) I thought I knew my grammar, but during the course, I realised how little I understood the nuances and subtleties of supposedly 'simple' language points. So, if you're thinking of doing this course, all the best! But first, you need to get through the pre-interview (chat) task. I took two weeks slowly doing that. You might have an easier time than me. Click the pictures below and you'll get larger ones...

Richard welcomes you to ECC! The nice view from ECC My group mates Richard, Lenore, Alice, and Jas. Intermediate class Elementary class Pre-Intermediate class On the last day, the school held a party for the students. They're really cool... Here's Kathleen, Jas and Andrew. Bianca in the middle Gary, Ashleigh, Kirsten Steven's mobbed by enthusiatic learners of English. Sylvie and Steven Jerome Laurence, Bianca, Alice Barry, Lalita, Jas and Dan Accommodation This is the A-One Inn, a nice place that costs about 13,000 baht per month for a single bed room. The double bed rooms cost the same amount, but I was too lazy to move. WIFI in the room is available at 100 baht per day. The view from my window. From right to left, Pisces, Reno Hotel, and the National Stadium BTS station. This is Soi Kasem San 1, quite a few guesthouses can be found on this Soi. I'll probably still stay at the A-One if I return here in the future. What I find remarkable about this place is that one usually thinks that Bangkok is a very crowded place, and yet, it feels so quiet in places like Pisces and Sorn's where Lenore and I sometimes had breakfast or dinner. This is Pisces, a nice, quaint place just across the soi from A-One.

Sorn's is 10m away from Pisces. They serve Western breakfast and excellent fried rice and curry. The menu has cute chilli icons that grade the spiciness of things, with one icon meaning 'not for the fainted heart [sic]', and five icons representing 'for the adventurous' or something...

My last breakfast there, this cost 75 baht (SGD3, USD1.8)

Update (!): Here's someone who's just done the CELTA in Vietnam. Fred Shannon talks about his ECC experience last year. Another blog has an upcoming series 'one month of CELTA at International House, London'. Mel did the CELTA in Beijing. More background information from Dave's ESL Cafe: here, here, and here.