Monday, August 26, 2013

Sugar Update

Did word get around Qatar that I was cutting down on sugar? Yesterday I was at Costa Coffee chatting with a colleague when the lady behind the counter came over with a free serving of cheesecake for us. Then later at Tim Hortons, I wish I was kidding, the manager came over and gave me a free white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. What the heck? Apparently it’s the Murphy's Law of dieting, as soon as you go on a diet that's when all the treats come out. I'm expecting tonight to get a phone call inviting me to a chocolate tasting.

Today I stopped by the supermarket to see about low-sugar alternatives. First up was bread. I like bread and I like eating it with meals. I don't want to give up bread. But how much sugar is in the stuff?

Luckily I did find a local bakery that puts the nutritional information on its bread packaging – Qbake.

QBake says on its packaging there’s no added sugar, the ingredient list appears to agree, and one piece of whole wheat pita bread has only 1.4g of sugar in it. Other QBake breads (white pita, sliced loaves) also say there's no added sugar in it. I think 1.4g fits the low sugar diet I'm aiming for so I'm glad that QBake put it on their label. That's not to say it's a wonder food, there's around 140+ calories per pita and maybe around 4 grams of fiber, but it's still a decent bread for an occasional snack or maybe to have one with a meal. It’s certainly better than snacking on cereals.

Okay, that's bread solved, what about yogurt? Surprisingly it varies a lot from brand to brand. Many have added sugar, some have added pectin (a type of sugar), some have aspartame or other artificial sweeteners and a few have no added sugar/sweeteners at all. If the yogurt has added fruit then the sugar content is even higher. I looked at one mango yogurt and a tiny one-serving cup had 21g of sugar. You can find yogurts with <1g of sugar.

So yogurt is okay if you read the label and make sure it doesn't have any added sugar. I also looked at laban and that seemed to be fine too, none of the ones I looked at had any added sugars.

I recall Dr. Lustig was okay with eating fruit as even though it naturally contains sugar it also has fiber, which helps to counterbalance the sugar. I think in yogurts the fruit has been processed enough that I doubt there's much fiber left in it -- better to buy a plain yogurt and add fruit yourself.

The quest for low-sugar continues, we’ll see how easy it is to eat out and miss the sugar.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Cutting Down on the Sugar

A friend of mine sent me a link to a YouTube video he wanted me to look at. The video was by a Dr. Lustig, a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California and the video appears to be getting a lot of buzz.

The video was an hour and a half long and I really didn't have the time to watch the whole thing so instead I put my critical thinking cap on and did an internet search for Dr. Lustig. I found some news articles, interviews and a youtube video excerpt from 60 Minutes covering his theory. In a nutshell -- people eat way too much sugar so need to cut down sugar intake, especially fructose (which is in a lot of processed foods). Sugar is largely responsible for the current obesity epidemic and as far as he is concerned is essentially toxic in the amounts that we are eating. He also says that the food industry has been steadily increasing the content of sugar in foods to make them tastier and to compensate for removing fat from foods due to the move towards “low-fat” eating. There is also some related items regarding calories and how a sugar calorie differs from other calories but I think that's a secondary concern to the overall call to lessen sugar intake.

Now “sugar is evil” and “processed food is bad” is nothing new and is banded about sometimes by alternative medicine circles who love to go on about the dangers of refined sugar or processed sugar, instead promoting natural alternatives. Given I am not a doctor or nutritionist instead it's better to take a critical look at the quality of the messenger and the message.


Dr. Lustig is:
• a qualified physician with a lot of experience specializing in a relevant field of medicine related to what he is discussing
• not trying to sell you special treatments, expensive medicines or trips to his clinic
• trying to use evidence-based methods to support his hypothesis (not a ton of studies out there right now but there is some experimental evidence supporting it)
• not recommending extreme measures that can be common in alt-med circles: like discontinuing current treatments or avoiding/distrusting the medical establishment
• not heavily pushing for people to buy his book. Alt-med people might give you a teaser and you need to buy their book to get all the relevant information. Dr. Lustig appears to be giving you the overall information you need and if you want more granular detail or food recommendations you can buy the book. Appears more interested in getting the message out than book sales.
• not recommending banning sugar, just cutting back on it a lot.
• not mentioned by the internet site Quackwatch.


One newspaper interview with Dr. Lustig contained a few statements entering into the conspiracy theory area -- that the food industry was hand-in-hand with the U.S. Government and they silenced Michelle Obama or something like that. (If you’re reading this Dr. Lustig my advice is to stay away from this kind of thing, keep the debate focused on the evidence and the medical findings. Conspiracy accusations just allow opponents the ammo to dismiss you as a “conspiracy-kook” instead of looking at the evidence.)

So overall a lot of positives and almost none of the red flags that would generally indicate quackery. Hopefully the lengthy youtube video is similar but the other items I reviewed support the above.

Conclusion: an informed hypothesis that is certainly worth study and debate.

So given that the main thing to do is simply cut back on sugar I figured I would give that a try as part of my attempt to slowly lose weight. I'll admit I've been more focused on calories and fat but don’t see any reason not to be more “sugar mindful”, this is not exactly radical, fad-diet stuff here. I figured I’m on the right track already – I never add sugar or sweeteners to coffee or cereal, in fact I don’t touch a sugar bowl. My cereals are typically high-fiber whole-grain cereals (but I do add a bit of those sugar/honey cereals for flavor, that’s going to stop). I've already been cutting back on desserts as part of trying to slowly lose weight, only drink diet sodas, get juice from a juice stall where it’s blended fruit, and I rarely drink alcohol.

So I’ll cut out the bit of sugar cereal and go off the soda, even diet ones (maybe a psychological thing, I think drinking a sweet drink might make you just want to have sweet drinks more). That should about do it.

Until I read the labels on my food.

What do you know, a high-fiber cereal has added sugar. Why would you add sugar to a high-fiber whole-grain cereal? One of them discloses that for every hundred grams of cereal I’m eating 20 g of sugar (for comparison a banana has 12g and apples around 10g). 20% sugar! Huh? And my healthy Dorset high-fiber muesli? 27.5g! (though it’s likely from the dried fruits in it, there does not appear to be any added sugar).

Um, so I guess I’ll cut the cereal down by half and replace the half with an apple or banana. I think Dr. Lustig won’t have an issue with bananas or apples.

I like breads but apparently many of them have a lot of sugar, and I have no way to know how much since the breads have no nutritional labeling. Guess I’ll reduce the bread intake too.

My favorite “healthy lunch” is a vegetarian pasta dish from Vanellis that has a red sauce – their website indicates the sauce likely has around 6-8g of sugar based on the amount of sauce I get. Okay, that’s not bad, but maybe I’ll try to cut down the sauce even more.

I like low-fat yoghurts but they appear to have added sugars – I’ll see if I can find one that doesn’t.

Suddenly this is looking harder than I thought. But I’ll stick with trying to lower the sugar intake and see what happens.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Ezdan Mall Update – 21st August 2013

[Sorry, this is no longer the most recent update: there is one more update, click here]

So I went to the mall last night to see what was open.

Now open: the kids’ amusement park. Sorry, no pictures, it was actually pretty crowded with families including lots of Qatari ladies so I didn't try to take any pictures. The amusement park is nowhere near as big as the ones found in malls like Villagio and City Centre but it looked pretty popular. It's geared towards little kids though.

Costa Coffee is also open.

Not open: WH Smith. I took a picture of the inside as well.

Mado (a Turkish café/restaurant chain). It still might be a while, based on a picture took through a gap in the door.

Any restaurants: the only full restaurant open is Royal Tandoor, otherwise there’s a few places in the food court open.

It’s taking a long time for the other restaurants to open. Ezdan really needs to get those moving, I think it’s the biggest flaw in the mall right now. (That said I’d probably only go to Tim Hortons anyway unless I wanted a big meal.) Many stores still aren't open but I think if there were more restaurants the mall would feel a lot more complete.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

What is in a Name ... Continued

A while ago I commented about how my name was confusing to people who speak languages other than English. “Glen” is particularly troublesome as many languages do not have “Gl” as a syllable, nor is “Mc” used outside of Gaelic areas like Scotland or Ireland. This is led to all sorts of interesting combinations: “Gu-ren” in Japan, “Gren” in at least two Chinese languages, and “Say what?” in Bermudian. (I’m kidding about the last one :) ).

Arabic can really struggle as they do not have a “g” nor an “e”. Egyptians handle it better than others because in their dialect they pronounce “j” more like a “g” but for other Arabic speakers it's a bit of a struggle. I have had “Qlin”, “Klin” and “Grrrlin” though I prefer “Jlin”, and it is written that way on Arabic business cards. It has its downside though, I once received mail naming me as “Jaline”.

Turkish also struggles with my name, like many languages it does not have a “gl” sound. Some Turks, once they hear my name a few times, go “Gulent”, which isn’t bad. A couple of elderly Turkish ladies decided to call me “Bulent” as that is an existing Turkish name (my Turkish friends occasionally joke about this and they’ll call me Bulent for laughs). But an incident buying a bus ticket to Bursa has taken name confusion to a new level. When I went to buy the ticket they asked for my name, I said it slowly and even spelled it out. They gave me my ticket and then I boarded the bus. While on the bus I decided to read the ticket, and saw the following:

It might be difficult to read (it was really hard to take a picture of the ticket) but under name instead of “Glen McKay” it reads:

“Given Macey”


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Doha Skyline 2006

Recently Dohanews posted some photos of West Bay in 2004. That got me thinking a bit as to how much things have changed in Doha. I always tell people who have recently moved here about all the construction and all of the things that weren't open when I first arrived (like the “new” Souq Waqif, the Museum of Islamic Art, Villagio Mall, Al Waab Street, three-quarters of the buildings in West Bay, most of the luxury hotels, the Al Shammal freeway, Katara, the Pearl and so on). It only took seven years to build all that. Amazing isn't it? It's also why I'm not concerned about whether Qatar can build the 2022 infrastructure in time -- they've managed to build so much in seven years they shouldn't have much of a problem doing it in nine.

Anyway, here's some pictures of Doha from 2006 to early 2007. Enjoy.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back From Eid Vacation

I’m back from Turkey. Had a great time but on unpacking I realized that I left my camera cord behind so now I can’t transfer the pictures into the blog. My friend is still there so he will bring it when he comes back in a few days after which I will post some pictures.

Otherwise, as someone who likes tennis, I was thrilled to hear that Canadian tennis players did really well at the Masters tournament in Montréal. We now have a Canadian player ranked in the top 10 and another in the top 40, up until a couple of years ago I think the best a Canadian had managed in the rankings was in the top 50 and now here we are with two above that. To top it all off Canada is in the Davis Cup semifinals, something that even a few years ago the tennis world would have written off as a complete fantasy. They'll have their work cut out for them though (they play Serbia headed by World Number 1 Novak Djokovic), but that they even made it to the semis shows just how far Canadian tennis has come in the last few years.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Ramadan 2013 - Last Day, Eid Mubarak

Since I was not traveling yesterday I fasted and that extra hour of fasting really made a difference -- it was tough. Weather outside was hot & sunny, around 30 degrees, so I couldn't go out much. Found by the afternoon I was feeling a bit weak, and by 8:00pm I was starving.

After iftar my friend and I went for a long walk on the corniche for exercise. It was pretty busy, I guess thousands were out enjoying the evening. Even after midnight there were a lot of people. My friend had it tougher as he definitely had to go to morning prayer as it was the first one for Eid, which meant getting up at 4am. It is also tradition to go to the barber for Eid so we went to one for shaves -- at 1:30am (yes, they were still open, it's the busiest time of the year.

I then went to bed and slept until breakfast. Eid is a time for visiting relatives so my friend's in-laws were coming over for a traditional breakfast

Weather is sunny and warm, plans are to go into town and enjoy the seaside, as well as being able to eat and drink during the day.

Eid Mubarak everyone!

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 27, Travelling

Vacation has started. I got to the airport to catch a 3:45am flight to Turkey. I was a bit surprised to see that even at the airport lounge there was no alcohol available as it was Ramadan – looks like Qatar has become strict about alcohol during the Holy Month.

After landing in Istanbul

I grabbed a bus to Bursa, which uses a ferry to cross the Sea of Marmara,

and from Bursa made my way to the seaside town of Mudanya, where my friend lives.

Because we are farther north the day is longer, iftar here doesn’t start until 8:20pm so it was a long day of fasting for my friend (I didn’t fast today because I was travelling). Unlike Qatar it is not as strict here for Ramadan, restaurants are open throughout the day and many people were eating and drinking. I guess only some Turks fast during Ramadan. We had iftar at one of my favourite places in Mudanya – a kofte restaurant called Pinar Izgara. For dinner we had some of their famous kofte and for dessert a specialty of the house, kemalpasha (literally “General Kemal”, it’s named after Ataturk).

After we took a walk along the Corniche then went home to meet with friends. It’s 2am now so we’ve decided to stay up and have sohour at 3:30am before going to bed. I hope I can get my sleep schedule back on track once Eid arrives.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Ramadan 2013 - Day 25, Itikaf

Things are starting to quiet down since we are in the last ten days of Ramadan. This is because Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) used to worship more during these last ten days, even praying all night. So many Muslims dedicate more time to prayer on the last 10 days of Ramadan. If I have this right, prayer and doing good deeds at this time gives greater rewards in Heaven than at any other time. My Muslim friends are at the mosques a lot more now so I can’t hang out with them during the evenings. So for a non-Muslim like me things are simply quieting down. The fasting schedule is starting to wear me out as well - all of this sleeping during the day is messing me up again.

Some Muslims do a kind of 10-day spiritual retreat known as “Itikaf”. The time is spent worshiping, performing extra prayers, and reciting the Qur’an. Some Muslims practically live in the mosque for those 10 days and I've heard that some Qataris book vacation time from work to perform Itikaf. Many mosques will remain open for 24 hours a day so people can perform Itikaf.

There is also a belief that during the last 10 days of Ramadan there is a special night known as Laylat Al-Qadr. Prayers during Laylat Al-Qadr are worth 1000 months of prayer (Qur’an, sura 97:3). However it is not known ahead of time which night of the last 10 of Ramadan that Laylat Al-Qadr falls on (I am a bit confused on this point as I'm not sure how then people determine after-the-fact which night it was). This also encourages people to devote themselves to prayer on the last 10 nights, so they don't miss Laylat Al-Qadr.

Anyway I leave on vacation tomorrow night so I’d better prepare. The Qur’an says you don’t have to fast while you're traveling so I don't think I worry about my fast once I reach the airport.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Ramadan 2013 – Day 23, Traffic and Breaking the Fast

So on the first day of Ramadan I commented how the morning commute was excellent but that it was likely because I went to work earlier than the opening hours for government ministries and other offices. Turns out I was right. Yesterday I had to leave the office at 8:30am for a business meeting so I was leaving West Bay at peak time.

The traffic coming into West Bay was absolutely insane! Worse than a standard day when the schools are in. It got to the point where police were closing off parts of the roundabouts and diverting traffic away. Unbelievable. A bear that in mind for next year.

Now I must confess I've blown my fasting for today. Like I said, the weekends are the toughest time for me that I normally go to the office just to distract myself from food. Well today I got home early and started surfing around on the net. Next thing I knew I was eating a snack. It was like I couldn't help myself I just reached into the cupboard, grabbed some food and ate it. Pretty much the whole time I was thinking to myself, "Glen, what are you doing?” and yet I ate the food anyway. Sure, I was hungry but I wasn't starving so I'm not sure why I did it. *sigh* oh well, I guess everyone's entitled to one bad day.

Because I deliberately broke my fast (as opposed to accidently, like swallowing a bit of water when brushing your teeth) Islam would require an additional day of fasting at a later date to make up for this one.