Caffeinated doughnuts: a teacher’s nightmare

“Wake up and smell the caffeine doughnut” was a recent headline in Raleigh’s News and Observer , with similar stories published nationwide.

Robert Bohannon, a Durham molecular scientist, has developed a way to add caffeine to baked goods without the bitter taste of caffeine. Each piece of pastry is the equivalent of about two cups of coffee. Read entire story.

Do we think caffeinated pastries are a good idea? If not, why are we giving Dr. Bohannon kudos for using his intellect to invent such a harmful product?

“We don’t need caffeine, but it’s become the most widely used drug in the world,” says Jim Lane, a professor of medical psychology at Duke University. As a former middle school teacher, my first thought after learning about caffeinated pastries was concern not only for children that could be exposed unnecessarily to this most widely used drug, but for their teachers. I do not believe that any advocate for children would condone such a product.

I cannot think of a worse idea than exposing our children to a caffeine-sugar buzz. Sugar by itself can cause changes in activity because it enters the bloodstream quickly, producing rapid fluctuations in blood glucose levels leading to increased activity followed by decreased activity. Adding caffeine to such pastries is a prescription for disaster. (Let’s ignore, for now, the fact that high-sugar foods are also foods low in nutrition that lead to obesity).

Imagine you are teaching a class of 30 sixth grade students, who each bring with them their own social and parental pressures. (Remember sixth grade when every social event was a crises). Now, picture several of these walking hormones have each consumed a high-sugar pastry. Their energy level will be high, until it drops about mid morning when you need them to pay attention. Then, further imagine those same students have also consumed the equivalent of two cups of coffee. You won’t be able to capture their attention with any amount of effort. Science equipment and any lesson plan you may have carefully constructed will erupt into chaos. And when their caffeine-sugar buzz wears off, your listless students will have no energy or desire to learn a little science.

It is hard enough to teach. Children already come to class with a variety of different needs and abilities. They have enough insecurities and distractions without adding more. Let’s not add exposure to caffeine to the challenges facing our teachers.

Dr. Bohannon, there is no market for your caffeinated treats that will ever be acceptable in the eyes of this former teacher.

Announcing Ten Dollar Tastings wine column

To all of you fellow wine lovers,

This is to let you know about a new wine column, Ten Dollar Tastings, which debuted last month and is now online at Beyond the fact that this column is written by my husband, who brings a witty conversational style to the subject of wine tasting, the column explores good affordable wines … the arts and music … wine history and facts … and provides a good time for all.

On a separate note, I have not posted for some time because I went to Atlanta for a week on business. Mistakenly thinking I’d have time to write I took a laptop computer and a memory stick filled with current projects. As it turns out I had little time for anything but work and some sleep.

I am excited that the introduction to the book that I started for middle school science teachers, The eccentric middle school science teacher: methods for success has been accepted for publication by Science Scope Magazine. Look for the introduction to the book as an article in an upcoming edition of Science Scope Magazine entitled, “Methods for success as a middle school science teacher.”

China faces population imbalance crisis

Times Online Jane Macartney in Beijing

China will be short of 30 million brides within 15 years, according to an official report into the country’s burgeoning population. About one in every ten men aged between 20 and 45 – equivalent to almost the population of Canada – will be unable to find a wife, it has projected.

The findings, from the State Population and Family Planning Commission, outline bleak prospects not only for bachelors. The report says that the inevitable gender imbalance could result in social instability – a threat that the ruling Communist Party regards as the greatest risk to its grip on power. Read entire story.

This article is disturbing to me — not because of the social instability that may result from the larger percentage of men — but rather because women are so devalued that female fetuses are aborted. When I think of what life must be like for a girl living in China, I am not surprised that China has the highest rate of female suicide in the world, with a higher rate in less well-educated rural backgrounds. I cannot imagine living in a country where my status would be low simply because I was born a female.

At least women in China no longer acquire status by the custom of foot binding from the 1300s when as many as 4.5 billion Chinese women were subjected to this painful art. Chinese women were tortured from the age of four in the process of making their feet smaller and then kept captive for life afterward in their own homes because they could not walk. I don’t know which is more disturbing, the painful binding of women’s feet to prove their wealth and status or the gendercide of women that is currently practiced in China.

Self-imposed famine: why diets fail

Now that the holidays are over, many of us are left with extra pounds gained from the beef Wellington, crème brulee, eggnogs and other holiday treats that we indulged upon during the holiday season. What do we do to compensate? We diet when we should be eating. Cutting our caloric intake only triggers our body to slow down its metabolic rate and store dietary Calories as fat, not the result we had hoped for. In fact, many people who try to lose weight fail because they do not eat enough.

Let’s examine the science behind this. A Calorie is a unit used to measure the energy in food and scientifically refers to 1000 calories, or a kilocalorie, abbreviated kcal. One kcal (Calorie) is the amount of energy needed to increase the temperature of 1 kg (about 2.2 pounds) of water by 1 °C.

Our body needs a minimum amount of energy (1500 to 2200 Calories a day) to perform the metabolic functions of digestion, respiration and circulating the blood. If we consume less than the 1500 – 2200 Calories needed for metabolism, our body goes into starvation mode, slowing down all its functions to conserve energy. The brain and central nervous system slow down and the rates of digestion, circulation, and breathing decrease. By reducing our caloric intake during a diet, we trick our body into storing Calories as fat, and gain the lost weight as soon as we stop dieting because our body continues to store Calories anticipating that the famine will continue.

We do not need to starve ourselves. Instead, we need to make sure that we eat enough to speed up our metabolism without eating excess Calories that will be stored as fat. The key — burn more calories than we eat.

Remote controls, hand free phones, ear buds. Technology is single-handedly eliminating almost every reason to move our muscles. Yet exercise can build muscle mass, which in turn increases overall metabolic rate, forcing your body to burn more Calories while you rest.

The body uses energy (Calories) for three purposes:
1. basal metabolism
2. physical activity
3. thermal effect of food

Basal metabolism
Basal metabolism is the minimal energy expended to keep a body that is resting awake and alive. Your basal metabolic rate, or BMR, is the rate at which your body burns calories to perform its normal functions of digestion, breathing, keeping the heart beating, and temperature control. For sedentary people, this requires about 60-70 percent of total energy use by the body. The main reason people are overweight is because their basal metabolic rate is lower than it should be, causing them to burn fewer calories. A low BMR means muscle, liver, brain and kidneys have low energy needs, causing food Calories to be stored as fat.

The good news is that you can speed up your metabolism. The BMR is generally higher in people with greater amounts of lean body mass than in those with large proportions of fat. Here are some tips to speed up your metabolism from:

• Do not skip meals. Always eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast sends the message to your body that you are starving because you haven’t had food in 18 hours or more (dinner the night before to lunch the following day). As a protective mechanism, your metabolism slows down.
• Do some type of aerobic exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, stationary cycling, aerobics, etc.) on a daily basis.
• Tone your muscles with weight training. Toned muscles supercharge your metabolism. This can be accomplished at a gym or at home with a few sets of dumbbells.
• Look for ways to be active. Park as far from the store as you can rather than looking for the closest parking spot. Use the stairs rather than the elevator, etc. Look for the “hard” way to do things!

Energy for physical activity
An excess of 3,500 Calories of energy consumed by our body will be converted into one pound of stored fat. Our body must burn that same 3500 Calories of energy in order to lose one pound of fat. Without exercise, we can only metabolize about 2,000 Calories per day, the same 2,000 Calories consumed, so burning fat is a slow process.

This is why moving your muscles is so important. Physical activity increases energy expended above basal energy needs by as much as 25 to 40 percent. We can easily burn an extra 200 to 300 Calories of energy per day with exercise. This means that if we expend 250 extra Calories per day above and beyond normal daily activity, while controlling energy intake, we can easily lose ½ pound of adipose tissue per week, accumulating to 25 pounds per year. And all without dieting.

I am burning 118 Calories per hour while I write this blog. Add up 29 ½ hours of typing on this keyboard and I will have lost 1 pound of ugly adipose tissue doing something that I love. We can choose various forms of exercise to fit our lifestyle. Playing basketball can burn 680 Calories per hour, bicycling 659, running 897, and walking 299. You can burn117 Calories an hour simply by driving your car. There are many activities to choose from: football, bowling, skiing and tennis. Anything that gets our muscles moving will increase energy expended. If we can find something that we consider fun enough to keep doing it, it will become a habit. Even a small start of 15 minutes of walking 2 to 3 days a week will burn excess Calories.

Results take time. A pound at first will hardly be noticeable — a thickness the width of a piece of paper lost from your body.

Thermal effect of food (TEF)The thermal effect of food is the energy the body uses digest, absorb and process food nutrients. Your body uses about 5 to 10 percent of the total energy that you eat to metabolize food. As a result, in order to supply the body with 2000 Calories for basal metabolism and physical activity, we must eat between 2100 and 2200 Calories.

We can raise the TEF, and thereby lower the Calories our body stores as fat, by eating more protein and carbohydrates and less fat. Because protein is less efficiently digested and absorbed, our body must burn more energy to consume protein than carbohydrate or fats. In fact, we use 20 to 30 percent of the Calories consumed from protein just to metabolizing the amino acids. Our body uses only 5 to 10 percent of carbohydrates Calories and 0 to 5 percent of fat Calories for metabolization. Complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, bread, rice, pasta, and potatoes) contain about half the calories of fat, by weight. And, it is more work for the body to convert carbohydrates to body fat.

What type of diet loses body fat best is a question asked by millions worldwide. Experts suggest consuming less fat (especially saturated fat and tans fat), while others suggest consuming less carbohydrate, especially refined carbohydrate sources. Both have triggered diets specifically tailored to that line of thought, like the Atkins and South Beach diets.

Doctors Yao and Roberts from Tufts University reviewed 25 scientific studies than dealt with diet and weight loss: They found that in studies longer than 6 months, consuming low fat and high fiber was associated with 3 times the weight loss compared to those that consumed low fat only. Therefore, the best foods to eat to lose weight seem to be those that are low in fat and high in fiber. This is quite different to the average western diet comprised of foods high in fat and low in fiber, which are usually meats and low fiber baked goods. This is the same reason why those in western societies such as Australia and the US, often suffer from obesity. Replacing some of the fat in our diet with protein such as chicken breast or tuna in water may help to reduce fat.

Alcohol is a concentrated calorie source and contains few nutrients. It actually reduces the body’s ability to burn fat.

In summary:
• Do not get caught in the yo-yo diet cycle of starvation followed by gaining back the lost weight.
• Energy in should equal or be less than energy out.
• Eat. Do not skip meals. Make sure that you consume enough energy to speed up your metabolism.
• Be a food connoisseur. Read nutrition labels and eat high-fiber, low-fat meals.
• Exercise to build lean body mass and increase energy output. Toned muscles supercharge your metabolism.

6 Reasons why diets fail:

Few Drawbacks to Following a Low-Fat, High-Fiber Diet:

High Protein – Low Carb Diets: Why these Diets Fail:

Lose Weight:

Low cost high fiber recipes for a healthy diet:

Low fat eating may still not be enough to lose weight. Eat high fiber also:

Perspectives in Nutrition, 6th edition. Wardlaw, Hampl, DiSilvestro. McGraw-Hill: New York. 2004.

Speed Up Your Metabolism: