Away From the Bench

The world outside of the lab

Archive for the month “October, 2012”

Five Chins

I first heard about Five Guys on NBC’s Inside the Obama White House a few years ago, in which Obama went there and picked up lunch for his staff.  I’m sure that happens all the time (ha).  It was apparently one of Obama’s favorite places to eat.  Soon after that special, I noticed Five Guys restaurants started springing up around town.  One came into our neighborhood recently, so my husband suggested we walk up the street (about a half mile) and try it out a couple of nights ago.  Boy, I’m glad we walked there.

The staff was friendly and loud, and yelled a kind of a statement-and-respond thing.  When you walked in the door, the counter guy would say, “Two in the door” and the response from the cooks was, “Got it”.  There were no descriptions on the menu, but I decided a burger was fairly straightforward.  I ordered the cheeseburger and was happy with all of the available veggies to add for free: lettuce, tomato, mushrooms, pickles, onions, and green peppers.  Then the counter guy asked if we wanted to split a fry – a regular fry, not a large.  I thought – wow, this guy isn’t trying to upsell us and I actually don’t need a lot of fries with this burger anyway.  I was wrong.  The fries came out in a cup, which was a large amount of fries, but then the whole bottom of the paper bag was covered in fries too.  It was enough fries for 4 people.  AND the cheeseburger was a double patty and double cheese sandwich.  I looked at the menu and saw they had a “little cheeseburger” which apparently means “normal size”.  So after we ate most of our burgers and only half of the fries between the two of us, we walked rolled home and I decided to look up the nutrition facts online.

I was pretty shocked.  The cheeseburger has 840 calories (500 of those from fat) and 55 g of fat (26.5 g of those are saturated).  I was actually grossed out by reading these numbers.  The most surprising part?  The fries are listed as “regular” and “large”.  The nutritional information actually states, “one serving of fries (approx. half of regular order)”.  I could not believe that they do not sell individual servings of french fries.  They don’t even offer it.  Everything was super-sized there, and it didn’t need to be.  I’m not sure how many people could even eat all of the food presumed for one person there.  I’m guessing there is a lot of food wasted at that restaurant.

They did have a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine, which was fun.  It is a machine that you can use to mix in flavors with your soda or water.  There are apparently 127 different combinations possible between the base flavors and the mix-ins (orange, cherry, lime, raspberry, lemon, strawberry, grape, peach).  This is a good marketing strategy for Coca-Cola and making Coke “new” without having to make New Coke (remember that?).  I was wondering if the raspberry Coke Zero we shared (which was pretty tasty) was still calorie-free.  Five Guys didn’t have nutritional info online for any drinks, but I did find that info elsewhere and was happy to see that all of the mix-ins were zero calories, or 5-10 calories if you drank 20 oz. of the stuff.

That said, I will probably not go back there again.  Other fast food restaurants have burgers and fries that are not healthy, but still contain less fat and calories than Five Guys.  I don’t want to support restaurants that contribute to the obesity problem in America without giving people a choice to enjoy food that is properly portioned.  When my husband wants to go there again (I know he will), I’ll suggest we go to the cafe next door that just opened and was handing out flyers when we walked by.  There’s no way their Thai veggie wrap has the majority of my day’s worth of calories and fat, but it’s probably just as tasty.

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Hotspot to the Rescue

Last week, my friend Lauren asked me to talk to her 5th grade class about my job as a research scientist.  Her class was learning about the scientific method and that not everything may be as it first seems.  When they were asked to draw a scientist, they drew very Einstein-looking men with white, crazy hair.  When the class brainstormed questions to ask me, one of them was, “Do you wear glasses?”  She was able to massage that one into “Do you wear safety glasses?”, but you can see how these kids were thinking.  She wanted to break those stereotypes and show her class that anyone can be a scientist.

Her school is a solid hour away from my lab, so she thought a video chat would be the best idea.  She had never tried to video chat from her classroom before.  She tried Skype, which didn’t work.  She tried Google video chat, which didn’t work.  I tried to Google video chat from my computer on the hospital network, but I couldn’t get it to work on my side either.  It amazes me that in 2012, places where free video-conferencing should be used often (schools, hospitals) are denied access.  I understand that there’s only so much bandwidth available on certain networks (or only so much they want to pay for), but blindly denying access to certain sites makes it very hard to communicate.  There is also the security aspect of video-chatting in schools, but Lauren told me that her public school district restricts internet access much more than her Catholic school did 4 years ago.  (The Catholic school was under the impression that kids are going to go home, go on the internet, and find websites that aren’t appropriate.  Why not teach them how to use it properly at school?)  Nevertheless, teachers should be able to access internet sites they find helpful for their classes, regardless of student access.

I have an Android phone and knew I could connect my computer to video chat via hotspot over my cell network.  Unfortunately, she had an iPhone that couldn’t hotspot.  Apparently you have to pay for such service on iPhones (except maybe some plans on the new iPhone5).  Luckily, her husband’s jailbroken iPhone could hotspot.  So we video-conferenced between a school and a hospital using 2 hotspots and a borrowed phone.

This is what it felt like:

In the end, the connection was successful, if not a little jerky with an intermittent humming sound.  I think the kids enjoyed it (especially seeing the magnetic stirrer in action).

Magnetic stirrer

And it gave me a good feeling inside to think that I may have planted the seed for one of those kids to become a scientist someday.

Or maybe not.

Eat Your Nerd Grenades

There is an obesity problem in America.  Educating children about eating a balanced diet is the most important thing we can do to prevent further increases in obesity.  As a child, I had to stay at the dinner table until I ate all my vegetables.  I remember one time that I sat at the kitchen table at least an hour after dinner was over, pouting over my turned-cold broccoli.  I eventually choked it down.  I learned that it’s important to eat a balanced diet, and now I choose to eat my broccoli.  Thanks Mom and Dad.  If children eat fresh fruits and vegetables from an early age, they will actually like to eat some of them.  Just ask my 7-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew if they like beets and brussel sprouts.  (They do).  Any headway made on reducing childhood obesity depends on parents taking responsibility for their children’s diet and educating them about it.

Courtesy of eatnearrockford.blogspot.com

Several studies based on exposing children to healthy foods by their parents increase children’s acceptance of that food.   Giving a bite of vegetable to a child every day for 2 weeks exposes them to that food and increases the consumption and likability of that food.  Dr. Lucy Cooke of the University College of London recently demonstrated that exposure to a healthy food followed by a tangible reward of a sticker increased their intake and liking of that food as well.  (Not to brag, but I had a pretty big sticker box as a kid – and I never got any for eating vegetables!)  There has been a lot of media coverage lately on a study claiming that children’s food choices were affected when silly names were associated with vegetables. Although the authors conclude that the silly names increased vegetable intake, I don’t think the experiment was well-controlled.  The baseline vegetable consumption of the control group before the intervention was 1.8-23.5-fold higher than that of the treatment group, depending on the vegetable.  That means, the children who were served the silly-named vegetables were eating a lot less vegetables at the beginning of the study (and intake at the end of the study was still less, for 3-out-of-4 vegetables, in the treatment group than the control group without the silly names).  For example, if Paul in the control group ate 4 carrots at the beginning of the study, and he ate 5 carrots at the end, that would be a 1.25-fold increase.  If Sally ate 1 carrot at the beginning of the study, and then they called carrots “X-ray Vision Carrots” and she ate 3 carrots, that’s a 3-fold increase.  Look what happened when you gave carrots a silly name!  You just can’t compare these groups well with the simple statistics they used.  Perhaps these conclusions were made because the people who performed the study were marketing guys (and I believe, marketed loose data to the public).  Nevertheless, children are influenced to some extent by marketing, but they are influenced more by what those around them (parents and peers) are doing.  It’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their children are eating a healthy diet.

Along the same lines, there is an uproar over the new government regulations for subsidized school lunches.  I found the clip below from The Daily Show to be humorous (and fairly accurate) – it spawned this post (and the title).  Children need to learn to eat healthier, but if parents and schools don’t teach them that, then the obesity rate will keep on rising.  Advice to children in the immortal words of John Stewart: Eat your motherf*cking lunch.

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