Julia Kagan

Making Doctors Listen

September 30, 2009 at 2:11 pm , by

l_12759779What really makes me crazy (angry, to be completely truthful) is reading yet another story of a woman who almost died because her doctor refused to check up when she complained something was wrong. I saw the latest one yesterday in a story proposal— she had a melanoma that wasn’t biopsied for a year because the professional decided it was nothing. The biopsy only happened because the patient demanded one.

It brought back some other stories that made my blood boil (unprofessional, I know). The University of Arkansas found many women with heart disease were misdiagnosed with stress. “One woman’s symptoms went unrecognized until she actually had a heart attack on the exam table in her doctor’s office,” Jean McSweeney, Ph.D., the study’s lead author told us. And the amazing but infuriating true story of how Barbara Goff, M.D., had to use volunteer statisticians and money raised from patients because no traditional funder would pay for the study that eventually documented that women do have early symptoms of ovarian cancer. That’s why we gave Dr. Goff one of our Ladies’ Home Journal Health Breakthrough Awards.

It’s been my pleasure to work with many terrific doctors, but what do you do if yours won’t listen? Try the following.

Document your problem: When did it start, how often do you get it, is it related to something like what you ate or how much sleep you got the night before? Bring your notes with you.
Tell your story clearly and calmly, with details. As Marianne J Legato, M.D. wrote in LHJ: “’I have a headache,’ doesn’t say as much as: ‘I have a dull throbbing pain in my forehead that began four days ago. Tylenol relieves it only briefly and I find it difficult to sleep because of the pain. I’ve never had this kind of headache before.’”
If the first remedy doesn’t help, push for another. There could be a number of reasons for your headache or recurring stomach problem. Read up on your problem online and ask for more tests if you think you need them. Mayo.com is my favorite starting place.
Go for a second opinion. If you should be feeling better, but still aren’t, use the web to find a doctor near you who specializes in your problem.

In Search of Sweet: Recipes for Diabetics

September 16, 2009 at 11:50 am , by

3825303348_f3da0e3740I’m not a doctor. I don’t even play one on TV. But when you write about health for a living you do get asked a lot of health questions. Which is why I find myself on a hunt for diabetic desserts. It would be the Jam Man—the person with the biggest sweet tooth in my family—who got chosen for this disease. The Carnivore, who could devour an entire Marcella Hazan roast lemon chicken if dieting would permit it, was not hit. Nor were Pasta Guy or the Chocolate Twins.

So far, various family members have tried making granulated Splenda versions of some of our favorite pies and cakes—it did a particularly nice job on apple crisp and made a tasty linzer torte, but doesn’t taste quite like sugar. It also made delicious, but rather fragile, peanut butter cookies. Haven’t tested the sugar blend or  brown sugar versions, but I’m already finding web advice that recommends adjusting baking times and ingredients when baking with some sweeteners.

3782467373_ea66d6f81c_tWith one glass of alcohol a day on the diet, we tried a fresh lemon whiskey sour with agave nectar (blue agave is the succulent used for tequila). One dietitian green-lighted the nectar for its low glycemic index, which makes it digest slowly. The American Diabetes Association puts agave on its list of sweetener options but there’s still a lot of controversy about how healthy it is, especially for diabetics, because it has a high fructose content. The light agave has a very natural taste so I’m hoping to use it more when I find out more about it.

I also converted the famous Weight Watchers pumpkin mousse recipe (this blog has the recipe I remember from my WW class about 10 years ago) by using frozen raspberries (a Jam Man favorite) food-processed with a little milk in place of canned pumpkin. It tasted pretty good, but was more gluey than I remembered the original mousse being. Note for next time: Try just 1 box of pudding mix and stir in some Greek yogurt.

Do you have any great diabetic or sugar-free recipes? Please share them in the comments—we really need them!

In the meantime, I’m getting Jam Man a subscription to Diabetic Living magazine, which is owned by our parent company—and a good family to join when diabetes strikes someone you love.

Jam photo by amiefedora. Agave photo by oonaghs_eye.

The Health Director Goes to the Salad Bar

September 2, 2009 at 6:22 am , by

salad-barI’m Julia, the editor who gets the free vitamins and veggie power bars, not the free lipsticks. Whose husband peers into the murky depths of the newest antioxidant smoothie in the fridge and says, “What did you bring home this time?”

Giving out health advice for a living is like I have a voice in my head that says everything I eat should be healthy—especially at lunch where my co-workers can see what’s on my desk.

That’s why I love salad bars. Instead of watching the broccoli get all yellowish at home, you can grab just as much as you need, fresh today, plus 3 or 4 more other vegetables. Remember that a serving’s only half a cup (or 1 cup of leafy greens), so it’s not hard to get your minimum five a day. How much do you need exactly? You’ll be surprised.

It’s also easy get those two weekly servings of grilled or steamed fish you’re supposed to eat—at least where I go for lunch—even if you’re not all that good at cooking fish yourself. You do have to beware of obvious hazards like sweet-and-sour anything and oil- or mayo-drenched salads—the reason I usually stick to steamed or raw vegetables. And buy only from a bar with sneeze guards over the food and a staff that replenishes food frequently.

Here’s what I ate yesterday: roast turkey (couldn’t resist a slice of dark in addition to lean white meat), 3 raw asparagus spears; 3 raw broccoli florets; 2 big red pepper rings; small spoonfuls of hearts of palm, broccoli rabe in soy and sesame sauce, and red kidney beans (extra fiber). Dessert was 2 slices of mango and some raspberries.

I wasn’t hungry for hours—until that plate of chocolate cookies walked out of the test kitchen, right past my office to the table where we sample the food. I had to try one. OK, two. Chocolate has antioxidants, right?

Photo via JOE M500

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