Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saturday Stories: Magic Leap, "Helena", and HIV

Kevin Kelly in Wired with the most in depth story I've yet read on what I think will be a world changing technology (including for medicine) - Magic Leap

Sam Biddle in Gawker covers Helena, the amazing new start up that doesn't seem to actually do anything.

Justin Heckert in GQ with a riveting long-read on the life of a boy whose father purposely injected him with HIV tainted blood.

Friday, April 29, 2016

If The Weather's Nice, Julia Roberts Enjoys Wearing Pink Fuzzy Handcuffs

I do love Ellen.

And despite the headline, today's Funny Fridays is in fact safe for work.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Simple Solution to Put an End to Hospital Junk Food Fundraising

So it's Slices for Smiles time again. That's the campaign that sees Canada's children's hospitals shilling $2 fast food pizzas in the name of fundraising.

As I've reported in the past, the splashy campaign, when divvied up and considered in the context of a hospital's annual budget, doesn't earn all that much. Last year for instance, Slices for Smiles saw its most successful campaign ever and was reported to have raised $50,000 per participating hospital. That $50,000 in turn pays for roughly two hours of a medium sized children's hospital's annual operating expenses (and in the case of a large one's, about 33 minutes worth).

In terms of what Slices for Smiles provides Pizza Pizza, well it provides them with a year long campaign, the ability to capitalize on the charitable goodwill of a nation to sell pizzas, to create powerful emotional branding which in turn might lead to lifelong customers, to latch onto a cause that in turn is beyond reproach, and to have hospitals further normalize the regular consumption of fast food.

And of course it's not just Slices for Smiles, but also Miracle Treat Day, Tim Horton's Smile Cookies, DQ Cake Day, McHappy Days, and then many one-of events like the one that had BC Children's Hospital Foundation selling chocolate bars.

The argument generally used to defend junk food fundraising is simple dollars. Hospitals need money and if they don't get it from junk food fundraising, where are they going to get it from?

Well I may have an answer.

It's called FundScrip.

The way Fundscrip works is simple. Organizations sell gift cards for stores people go to already (pharmacies, gas stations, supermarkets, clothing stores, coffee shops, etc.). People who purchase the gift cards use them just like cash. The organization gets a cut.

According to their webpage, if a hospital were to enroll just 500 families a year to use FundScrip to buy their annual groceries and gas the hospital would raise $171,000/yr - an amount likely far greater than any hospital's total annual junk food fundraising haul.

Given a medium sized hospital has at least 2,000 staff and sees over 70,000 patients a year, recruiting 500 families to use FundScrip in the name of ejecting junk food fundraising and/or simply in the name of fundraising seems like a very doable goal.

Moreover, if the Canada wide Children's Miracle Network, the network responsible for both Miracle Treat Day and Slices For Smiles, were to champion year-long FundScrip campaigns in their stead, I've little doubt they too could give junk food fundraising the boot and in so doing, raise more money than do their current awful offerings.

Selling illness in the name of health is an oxymoron, and doing so when there are non-junk food means to raise the same amount of, if not more money, is inexcusable.

Hoping to see leadership from hospitals (and health foundations/networks) in putting an end to junk food fundraising - who better than them to lead the charge?

[And if you want a quick sense of just how pervasive junk food fundraising is, have a peek at my modest collection of posts on same]

Monday, April 25, 2016

Has Public Health Ever Affected A Population-Based Increase in Activity?

Last week I read a piece in the New York Times that spoke to the seemingly impossible task of getting people to move more.

And there have been no shortage of efforts. From school-based efforts that despite absolutely increasing school-based activity levels didn't lead to increased overall activity levels (as kids more active at school were found to be less active out of school), to the regular publication of national guidelines (and with them national scoldings), to decades long branded awareness campaigns like ParticipACTION, to regular news pieces telling us we're all sloths, etc.

Yet have any worked to affect a sustained population-based increase in activity?

And if the answer is, as I believe it to be, a resounding "no", that no public health intervention has ever led to a population sustaining an increase in their level of physical activity, what do we do with that? I'm not asking because I think I know the answer. I definitely don't. Do we stop trying? Do we try harder? And if we are to continue trying, what does that even look like, as clearly what we've been doing hasn't worked.

And what a shame too as exercise, regardless of weight, is as I've said many times before, the world's best drug.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Friday, April 22, 2016

Rube Goldberg's Passover Seder

Happy Passover to those celebrating!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Real Life Weight Loss: 3 Years, 3 Kicks at the Can, 38% Loss

Sometimes it takes more than one swing at change to make it stick. The key to success in anything at life is perseverance. The whole if at first you don't succeed try, try, again adage really is true.

Whether it's relationships, school, work, and yes, weight management and lifestyle change, you're going to have swings and misses. You're also likely to have bad weeks, bad months, and potentially even bad years. If you want to see long term success however, dusting yourself off, picking yourself up, and trying again is key.

Take the graph up above. It's from a lovely real life patient my office has been working with for the past 4 years (and who has kindly agreed to allow me to write about her). As you can see, her path has been anything but straight.

Her first two kicks she was mired in diet-world. She punished herself with all or nothing style thinking and number-centricity, and struggled with self-monitoring as it led her to feel defeated by imperfection.

But then something clicked. She stopped using her food diary as a means to punish herself, she stopped trying to always be "on" her "diet", and instead embraced two things - consistency in self-monitoring, and imperfection in her efforts.

All told she's lost 38% of her peak weight (graph's in kgs) and has seen her BMI drop from 35 to 22.9. It's been two years now with her current approach and she denies that she's "dieting", allows herself regular dietary indulgences, doesn't beat herself up if real life gets in her way, keeps a non-judgmental food diary, and has cultivated a love affair with cooking.

Though I've no doubt she'll have some ups and downs with weight and life in the future (just as I will), I'm not worried about her long term success as the approach she's found that's working for her doesn't involve suffering.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Cookbook Review: Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking (Spoiler - It's Terrific!)

A month or so ago, our office's chief RD, Rob Lazzinnaro, brought a copy of Michael Solomonov' Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking into the office.

After a quick peek, I rushed to my computer to order it. A bunch of weeks later and I'm so glad I did.

For those who aren't familiar with Israeli cooking, plainly, it's amazing and eclectic, as like Israel, it's a mishmash of cultures, countries, and religions. Having lived in Israel for a year when I was 14, I developed a taste for the region, and who better than's 2014 chef of the year, 2011's James Beard best chef of the Mid-Atlantic, and owner/operator of Philadelphia's Israeli cuisine Zahav restaurant Solomonov to bring Israeli cooking to global kitchens?

I do though, find it difficult to describe Israeli cooking. It's a broad collection of flavours and tastes, all kissed by the the spices of the Middle East. Salads and mezze feature prominently, and so too do seminal dishes and condiments like hummus and tehina. Hummus, the chickpea based dish I'm sure you know, but I'm not as sure you'll know tehina - even though it serves as the basis of hummus. And boy is Zahav's tehina amazing. It was the first thing I made from the cookbook, and I've made a new batch every week since. Given it's been published elsewhere online, I think it's safe to share.

1 head garlic
3/4 cup lemon juice (from fresh lemons ideally)
1.5 teaspoons of kosher salt
2 generous cups tahini sauce (you can find this base sesame seed paste in the middle eastern section of any supermarket)
1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin
Break up the head of garlic and throw unpeeled cloves into a blender. Add the lemon juice and 1/2 of a teaspoon of salt. Blend on high for a few seconds until you've got a coarse puree and then let puree stand for 10 minutes.

Pour the puree through a fine mesh strainer over a large mixing bowl and with a spoon, press on the puree to extract as much liquid as possible. Toss out the solids and add to it the 2 generous cups of tehini, the cumin, and the remainder of the salt.

Whisk this mixture together until smooth adding ice water a few tablespoons at a time to thin it out (ends up being somewhere around 1.5 cups of water). At the beginning, the sauce will be very thick, but as you add water, it'll thin out and lighten in colour.

Your final product should be smooth, creamy and thick, coming off in ribbons from your whisk as you raise it. It'll keep for a week refrigerated and it can be frozen for up to a month.
Honestly, I could eat this stuff on anything. I've tried it with the obvious - falafel and shawarma, but also on grilled fish, just on it's own as a dip, and of course as a base for other recipes. That photo up above from Zahav is 4 parts this tehina sauce and one part harissa (recipe in Zahav, but also easily buyable in middle eastern markets) along with fried potatoes. It's ridiculous.

I've made Solomonov's hummus, multiple ways (that photo up above is from Zahav and shows the many different ways Zahav teaches you to prepare hummus), his version of Yemenite hot sauce (zchug), his chicken soup with ghondi (think chickpea and chicken dumplings) that my kids now want included in our regular rotation, and I'm never buying pita again given his recipe only needs an hour rise, is delicious, and not one has failed to puff while baking. What's also exciting is just how accessible Zahav's recipes are.

There's so much more for me to cook from this book, and given it's summertime, I know I'm going to give his "Live Fire" chapter a workout.

Thankfully absent from Zahav is nonsensical health hype. Missing though is nutritional information - something that I think should be standard practice in this day and age. For readers here, that tehina recipe up above clocks in at roughly 90 calories per tablespoon coming primarily from sesame seeds' mono and polyunsaturated fats.

Given it's soon to be both Mothers' and Fathers' day, if you're looking for a fabulous and very different than we're used to here in North America cookbook, look no further. If interested, here's an Amazon Associates link to buy (and if you're Canadian, here's one from Amazon Canada - though it may still be cheaper to order from US even with exchange and shipping) where a full 90% of the reviews are 5 star.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Saturday Stories: Sugar Conspiracies, Abortion, Nature, and Aging

Katherine on her Nutrition Wonk blog with a great piece exploring "the sugar conspiracy", Ancel Keys, Yudkin, and more.

Dr. Jen Gunter on her own blog clearly demonstrates the fact that she's both a remarkable writer and a badass in her must read piece on sex selective abortion.

Annick Rbsn on her own Facebook page and with an inspirational story on predatory marketing that induces self loathing in women.

Yvette d’Entremont on her blog SciBabe reminds us that nature doesn't care if you live or die (but with more swear words).

Friday, April 15, 2016

Punctuation Matters - Even When Reading The News

Today's Funny Friday might as well be a lesson in grammar.

And only 7 seconds long!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Best $100 You Could Ever Spend On Your Health Or Weight

A second freezer.

Available on your local buy and sell, a spare freezer is an incredible asset to health and weight. Buy one and suddenly you'll have a place to stock up on sale priced foods (and you might use an app like Flipp to find them), and more importantly, a place to store your own homemade convenience meals.

Simply put, every time you cook, double or triple the recipe and save yourself the need to order in takeout or head out for a meal because you're too tired to make it yourself. You'll save boatloads of calories and shaker-fulls of salt.

The price is right too. I've even seen some advertised as first come first served free. And if buying one allows you to avoid even 5 takeout orders a year, it'll easily pay for itself, and use it regularly and it'll pay for itself many times over.

[One more tip, this one for soon to be parents, before your baby's born cook up 3 months worth of dinners and freeze them. You'll thank me later.]

Monday, April 11, 2016

Chips Ahoy Cookies Are The Official Snacks of Canada Soccer #NotTheOnion

Well to be fair, Canada Soccer's official snacks also include Belvita breakfast cookies and Ritz crackers.

Other Canada Soccer "proud partners" include Coca-Cola, Nutella, and Powerade

Again, I wonder how many more years it'll be before the junkification and partnership of sport by and with the food industry is no longer considered acceptable?

My bet is within the next 20.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Saturday Stories: Curing Cancer with Vodka, Rationalizing Terror, and Fentanyl Addiction

Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn recounts tale of Dr. Vincent T. DeVita who explores the story of whether vodka and a particular Russian root cure cancer

Nick Cohen on his own blog on how terrorism is not something that can be rationalized.

Karen Howlett, Justin Giovannetti, Nathan Vanderklippe, and Les Perraux with one heckuva piece of journalism in the Globe and Mail that explores how Canadians became addicted to fentanyl.

Friday, April 08, 2016

A Visit To Dr. WebMD (It's Fantastic!)

Thanks to Danielle Robertson for sending this fabulous video my way - I don't know how I've missed it!

Today's Funny Friday is what would happen if WebMD was an actual MD.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Avocado Pit Eating Is Nutritional, Feel-Good, Magic Foodism.

Photo Credit Flickr's arsheffield
Let me be extremely clear.

There are no studies demonstrating actual health benefits to the consumption of avocado pits.


Yet that hasn't stopped breathless articles like this one that I saw on Monday from exclaiming,
"Current research suggests that avocado pits “may improve hypercholesterolemia, and be useful in the treatment of hypertension, inflammatory conditions and diabetes. Seeds have also been found to possess insecticidal, fungicidal, and anti-microbial activities."
Or this piece that reported,
"Dieticians [sic] say that consuming small quantities of that teeny-tiny seed can also help protect against sun damage, boost the health of your hair and nails and fight “bad” bacteria and inflammation in your gut"
So where are we on avocado pit research?

Well according to the same paper linked in that first breathless piece as being the "Current research" that informed their reporting,
"scientific research on the phytochemistry and biological effects of avocado seeds is in the nascent stages"
Where "nascent", if you don't know, means, "just coming into existence", or "embryonic".


Honestly, if you care so much about your health that you'd be willing to risk your blender by pulverizing "exceptionally bitter" avocado pits into dust to add to smoothies (the primary way that articles mention is doable), while doing so probably won't hurt you, to suggest that you'll get health benefits above, beyond, or in place of those that you'd get by ensuring that you're cooking the majority of your meals from fresh whole ingredients, minimizing ultra-processed foods and restaurants, exercising regularly, not smoking, and cultivating sleep and friendships, is simply an exercise in nutritional, feel-good, magic foodism.

Please stop.

Monday, April 04, 2016

Amazing Circle With Disney Gives Parents Internet Peace Of Mind

Do you worry about your kids' online safety and/or fight with them about the time they're connected? I know my wife and I did. At least a bit, and it was getting worse. Our 11 year old had saved up her own money to buy herself a laptop and suddenly she was online all the time. She loves exploring YouTube videos, playing online games, and just plain surfing, and to us it seemed to be getting a bit out of hand.

Concerned, I started looking around for solutions. I bought a new router that supposedly had parental controls, but they were rudimentary, difficult to set up, and glitchy. I explored OpenDNS, which admittedly looks fantastic and powerful but also complicated and confusing. Then I came across Circle with Disney, and after reading the ridiculously glowing online reviews, I ordered one - that was a little over a month ago.

Circle is amazing. It's a small, might as well be magic, $99 box that gives parents incredible control over their children's internet abilities across all of their devices. Set up was a breeze. Plug it in, connect your wireless router to it by following a few simple instructions and you're up and running.

Circle's controls are app based, and are available for both iOS and Android smartphones. With them you can set time limits for specific websites or platforms (eg. Facebook, Minecraft, Netflix, Games in general, YouTube, etc.), overall time limits and bed times, as well as filter content automatically (with filter levels set for Pre-K, Kid, Teen, Adult, or None).

Content filtering is terrific and it gives you nearly complete control allowing you to turn on and off such things as automated ad blocking, Google safe search, YouTube restricted mode, as well as whether or not they're allowed to shop online, use social media, chat, etc. Circle also will provide parents with site visit histories, a categorized pie chart of time spent online, and will allow you, with a click, to completely "pause" your child's entire net access (until she's done cleaning her room for instance).

Here's a brief video from Circle showing off some of these features:

What's especially amazing, is that their internet time and settings are shared by all of your child's devices, so if yours, like mine, use a laptop and an iTouch, they'll both fall under the same umbrella of Circle settings. And Circle even has a built in battery, so if your kid unplugs your Circle, it'll continue to work. And should the battery fully drain, Circle will send your phone a notification. Circle also reports that coming this year will be the ability to extend your child's Circle settings to their cellular data (if they have it) as well, which means that your kids' days of texting and snapchatting all night may be numbered.

When we bought Circle I had a chat with my 11 year old. She agreed that at times she found it hard to tear herself away from the net, and also that it was annoying when I or my wife pestered her to get off or questioned how long she'd been on. I explained to my daughter clearly what Circle did, and how using it might prevent us from getting into irritating arguments about net time and use. I then asked her what time limits and settings she felt were reasonable. She suggested an hour each per day for gaming and YouTube, an internet bedtime of 9:00pm, and no overall limits as she uses the net to do homework and write. We gave her full access to YouTube, but left Google safe search on. We also agreed that if down the road she felt the settings were unfair or unwieldy, that we could revisit and revise them if necessary.

So far, Circle has worked wonderfully and we're seeing my daughter's beautiful face a bit more often, and she's doing more than just playing online on weekends. My only two minor complaints are that as it stands, there's no way to create different settings for weekends vs. weekdays (Circle reports that this will be worked into future app updates), and that games that don't use the net aren't filtered or tracked.

I give Circle with Disney 5 stars. I can't recommend it highly enough.For a one-time cost of just $99 (there are no monthly subscriptions after purchase), I think this little box provides great value, and a huge sigh of relief for parents. If you're interested in one for your family, here's an Amazon Associates link.

[Fellow Canadians - clearly you can buy and use Circle in Canada, but it's a bit more complicated. For some reason the Circle app is not available on the Canadian iPhone app store. Consequently, if you want to use one, you need to set up an American app store account (instructions here) and download the app from there. You'll also have to ship the Circle to the US and arrange for pickup.]

Friday, April 01, 2016

How Is This Not An Actual Show?

I would definitely watch full length editions of today's Funny Friday video featuring Snoop Dog.

Have a great weekend!