A Daughter’s Story: My Dad’s Life After A Heart Attack

When your 58-year-old dad drops to the floor and dies of a heart attack in a hospital emergency room, you take notice.

The event that triggered this wake-up call for Meghan Dailey of Rochester occurred seven years ago. She talks about it as if it just happened yesterday. It’s that fresh and real in her memory.

The heart attack: the scariest hour and a half of my life

The day started out pretty ordinary as typical workdays go. Meghan was working at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in downtown Rochester. It was mid-October. It was one of those early fall days, when you just start noticing that the weather is getting a little cold.

What interrupted this otherwise unremarkable day was a call from her mom. She said that her father was in the emergency room at Unity Hospital in Greece. He had suffered a heart attack and collapsed right there in the ER. His heart had stopped beating. Doctors were trying to resuscitate him with chest compressions and the jarring shocks of an automated external defibrillator.

Meghan and her two sisters rushed to the hospital in time to witness their father’s revival. He was immediately wheeled in for surgery. The doctors inserted two stents to open up the clogged arteries in his heart.

“It was awful,” recalled Meghan. “Probably the scariest hour and a half of my life.”

He didn’t think he was having a heart attack

They sat in the waiting room with another group that was expecting word on their loved one. Meghan and her family never stopped praying even as they waited anxiously.

A doctor came in to tell the other group that their loved one hadn’t made it. Dailey thought their family’s turn would be next.

“Thankfully, our Dad made it through the surgery,” she said. “He was in the intensive care unit for another week and then was able to go home to recuperate.”

Meghan Dailey with her dad.

What’s not so unusual about this story is that Mike Schuth, Meghan’s dad, didn’t think he was having a heart attack. He thought the five- or six-hour pain he’d had in his shoulder was indigestion. According to his daughter, Mike decided to go to the emergency room only because he thought that’s where his doctor would send him.

Ever since Meghan could remember, she knew that her dad had high blood pressure. “Heart disease runs in the family,” she said. “My grandpa died of a series of heart attacks.”

The chef finds healthier ways to eat

Acknowledging that her father knew he should be careful with his health, Meghan is quick to point out that her father works as a chef.

On the job at Salmon Creek Country Club in Spencerport, he never thought twice about adding a little extra butter, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese to his fettucini dishes, or some additional salt to flavor his house specialty – steak with mashed potatoes.

“His favorite foods used to be linguini with white clam sauce, fish fries and macaroni salads,” said Meghan. Following the heart attack, his talent as a chef helped him find ways to modify the recipes he uses for himself and his family.

He’s learned to make more heart-healthy dishes without unnecessarily sacrificing quality and flavor. Scroll down to see his recipe for a lighter version of Alfredo sauce. Please add your heart-healthy recipes in the comments section below.

After a heart attack: walking, medication and golf

He watches what he eats and favors more fresh vegetables over foods like French fries But Mike also adheres to the medication regimen prescribed by his physicians to control his high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

He also started walking more. During winters spent in Fort Myers, Florida, Mike walks every day and golfs three times a week. Back home in Brockport, Meghan’s dad maintains the same routine.

Mike’s efforts at watching what he eats have paid off in spades. He lost 40 pounds in twelve months.

Being around for his grandchildren

Over the last couple of years, Meghan’s dad has gained added incentives to remain healthy. His three daughters have given him five grandchildren between them.

“There’s no doubt that he wants to make sure he’ll be around for his grandchildren,” said Meghan. “The kids adore him, and he loves being around them.” Her own two children range in age from 15 months to 3 years.

Since their father’s heart attack, the family recognizes the prevalent role that heart disease plays for them and keeps extra vigilant. “My sisters and I try to teach our children that veggies are an integral part of every meal,” said Meghan.

“We also try to maintain an active lifestyle and incorporate activities in everything we do,” she added. That comes in the form encouraging her daughter to pursue gymnastics, or to go outside to get some fresh air and play.

American Heart Association Rochester Heart Walk

One activity that the whole family, including grandpa and grandma, is actively involved in is the American Heart Association’s Rochester Heart Walk.

Meghan served as co-chair with Marty Cranmer, IT project manager, of the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Rochester teams that participated in the walk. This year, the event was held in April at Frontier Field. Meghan and her family were there, supporting an event that raises money for what she feels is the best cause. With around 60 members on the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield team, the group raised close to $6,000 for the cause.

“I support the American Heart Association because my Dad and I are really close.” she said. “I’m so lucky that he’s still alive, and I feel blessed that he is.”

Heart-Healthy Recipe

Here is Mike Schuth’s recipe for heart-healthy Alfredo sauce.

Light Alfredo Sauce

¼ cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups skim milk
1 package low-fat cream cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add cream cheese and garlic to butter, whisking until melted.

Add milk, a little at a time, while whisking to smooth out lumps.

Stir in Parmesan cheese and pepper until smooth.

 

The Meaning Behind the Teal Pumpkin: Help for Children with Allergies on Halloween

Some of my favorite memories as a kid are from Halloween. I remember dressing up as a witch to go trick-or-treating with friends while hoarding  all of the peanut butter cups and refusing to listen to my parents when they told me to wear a jacket (Hey Mom and Dad – you were right about needing a jacket. Upstate New York gets pretty cold by the end of October). Thanks to food allergies, not every child is able to create those same memories. One in 13 children has a food allergy and Halloween can be one of the most frustrating and dangerous times of the year for them. But a teal pumpkin is trying to change all that.

The author dressed as witch, ca. 1998. Provided by Christine Leavenworth

The author dressed as witch, ca. 1998. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

The Teal Pumpkin Project

The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to provide non-food items for trick-or-treaters so that kids with food allergies can participate without facing risks to their health.  Some of the treats that are handed out include glow sticks, rubber balls, vampire fangs, etc.

Paint a pumpkin teal, put it on your front step the night of Halloween, and kids with allergies will know that your home is safe to visit.

A teal pumpkin indicates a house that is giving out allergy-safe items to children with allergies on Halloween. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

A teal pumpkin indicates a house that is giving out allergy-safe items to children with allergies on Halloween. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) started this international campaign in 2014 to “create a safer, happier Halloween for all kids.” It began as a local activity by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee that has morphed into an international awareness event.

Last year, households from every state in the U.S. and 14 countries participated in the Teal Pumpkin Project.

“One bite of the wrong candy by these kids could cause life-threatening allergic reactions,” said Matthew Bartels, M.D., chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield.  “We’re thrilled that our communities are rallying around these kids so that they can also indulge in special ‘treats’ and have fun, just like everyone else.”

A parent of children with food allergies is grateful for the Teal Pumpkin Project

Colleen Garofalo of Madison County is a mom to two kids who have food allergies. Her daughter is allergic to peanuts and her son is allergic to shellfish and tree nuts. Garofalo heard about the Teal Pumpkin Project from one of FARE’s email newsletters.

“As a parent, the Teal Pumpkin Project means inclusion,” said Garofalo. “There are so many times during school or birthday parties when my kids have to be careful about what they eat. They might feel left out if they can’t have something the other kids can have. The teal pumpkins allow them to have another option.”

Children with food allergies are now able to participate in Halloween thanks to the Teal Pumpkin Project.

Olivia and Anthony Garofalo are ready for an allergy-free Halloween. Credit: Colleen Garofalo

When Garofalo’s kids go trick-or-treating, they still collect all of the candy. But when they get home, they go through the candy to ensure that it’s safe to eat. She’s spotted a few teal pumpkins in her neighborhood, but hopes to see more as the word gets out about the campaign.

“The smaller candy that is handed out at Halloween doesn’t typically list the ingredients,” she said. “If I’m not familiar with the candy, it either gets thrown away or I have to research it to see if it’s OK for my kids to eat.”

“I’ve called manufacturers before to ask if a product that doesn’t contain peanuts is made on the same line as another product that does,” she added. “Then I have to ask about the cleaning process for the machines as well.”

Join the Teal Pumpkin campaign

Some of the most common allergens for children are nuts, milk, wheat, egg and soy. Many candies contain at least one of those ingredients.

If you would like to take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project and offer a non-candy treat to trick or treaters, you can either buy a teal pumpkin or paint your own.

Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., for example, sells paint specifically for the Teal Pumpkin Project. The paint can be found in the seasonal section, near the pumpkin carving kits, and a portion of the proceeds benefit FARE.

Teal pumpkin paint is available at local grocery stores, including Wegmans in Rochester. Provided by Joy Auch

Teal pumpkin paint is available at local grocery stores. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

“We are so happy to be able to support this initiative,” said Wegmans Nutritionist Trish Kazacos, RDN. “It’s a simple approach that allows children with food allergies to safely enjoy the holiday with their family and friends.”

Once you have your teal pumpkin, place it in front of your house to let trick-or-treaters know that you have non-food items available. FARE also provides free printable signs to explain the meaning behind the teal pumpkin and a list of ideas to give out to trick-or-treaters.

Supporting the Teal Pumpkin Project and handing out non-food treats doesn’t mean that you have to give up the Halloween tradition of giving out candy. You can hand out candy and allergy-safe items and then let the kids choose which one they’d like.

If you’ll be putting out a teal pumpkin this Halloween, be sure to add your address to the crowd-sourced fever map and let your local community know that you are participating.

11 Easy Snacks to Help You Sleep Better

Almost everyone loves to grab a snack before they go to sleep. But what you choose to eat could determine whether or not you fall asleep right away.

Before you begin nighttime noshing, ask yourself:

  • What’s your motivation?
  • Are you bored? Stuffing emotions? Munching while watching TV?
  • Or, are you really hungry, and if so, how hungry?

If you’re eating just to eat – or to cure boredom or make you feel better – you might want to think twice before indulging.

But if you’re really running on empty, opt for snacks that won’t add extra pounds or result in a restless night.

Large portions and high fat foods (like French fries) interfere with falling asleep. Spicy foods slow down digestion. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy and have a relaxing effect at first, then cause you to wake up because it interferes with deep sleep and interrupts the sleep cycle. The stimulant powers of caffeine, found in coffee, tea or chocolate, take several hours to wear off. Even decaf has some caffeine. High-sugar foods and overeating can also interfere with your ability to sleep.

Not all bedtime snacks are bad for you. Some can help you take in more nutrients that you still need for the day. Going to bed hungry can actually keep you awake.

If you’re considering a bed time snack, try incorporating foods that help boost your levels of serotonin, the calming and “feel good” hormone. You could consider:

  1. Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios
  2. Seeds, such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  3. Lean protein, such as chicken, fish and low-fat cheese

Choose a small snack with protein and carbohydrates – these types of foods either contain or help create an amino acid called tryptophan that can cause sleepiness.

Try these protein and carbohydrate combinations:

  1. Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk
  2. Peanut butter on whole-grain toast
  3. Low-fat cheese with whole-grain crackers
  4. One ounce of turkey or chicken on a slice of whole grain bread

Other snack options could include:

  1. Bananas and other foods high in potassium, which helps you to stay asleep

Foods high in calcium also contain certain sleep-causing hormones, such as tryptophan and melatonin. So don’t feel bad if you grab a snack that consists of:

  1. A container of low-fat yogurt
  2. A cup of low-fat milk
  3. A slice of low-fat cheese, such as mozzarella.

Good snacking and good night!

For more advice on what to eat at night, go to:
sleep.org
health.clevelandclinic.org
sleepassociation.org
sleepfoundation.org

From Foster Child to Child Advocate

When Nina Hoyte was six months old, she and her then two-year-old brother were placed in foster care.  Young Nina’s mom had been neglecting her and her brother.

Nina and her brother continued to visit her mother for years,  and Nina remembers wanting to be with her. But then a foster family adopted Nina and her brother. It was the first foster family that they had lived with. Despite the initial struggles, Nina said they were lucky.

“I was fortunate,” she said. “Not everyone has that same experience, but I was fortunate to only have one foster home.”

Nina Hoyte

Nina’s experience as a foster child is why she wanted to bring that unique perspective to CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) Rochester. Nina, who is now an accounts services consultant at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in Rochester, helps at CASA by using her own experience to help foster kids who are going through what she has already dealt with.

A connection with the kids

CASA trains and supervises a diverse group of volunteers, such as Nina, to advocate for children who have been abused and/or neglected.

Liz Caldwell, Director at CASA, notes that the advocate role brings the best interests of the children to the forefront of the discussion in Family Court, foster homes, visits, schools, and with community providers. The overall goal is for all children to have a safe, permanent home, as soon as possible.

When Nina is assigned a case, she meets with all the parties involved in the foster child’s situation. This can include the child, the biological parents, the attorneys, the caseworkers, the foster parents, and the school’s caseworkers.

She learns about the child’s well-being and history. She also observes how they’re doing with the visits with their biological parents, and how they’re doing in foster care. Then, she reports this information to the Family Court Judge. This helps the judge make an informed decision about the child’s future. If the judge rules that the home environment is safe, the child remains with their biological parents. However, if it isn’t safe, the child will be permanently moved into a safer home.

“I felt as though I could relate to these children and I could help them on a level that some people would not be able to because they couldn’t truly understand what it was like to go through that experience,” Nina said.

“CASA will train eligible volunteers to do the advocacy work,” says Liz Caldwell. “Clearly when you have an individual like Nina, with her background, she can relate to the feelings, anticipate barriers for our CASA children, and provide real heartfelt advocacy for them. She has proven herself to be very effective.”

More eyes are watching

When she was growing up as a foster child, CASA didn’t exist, so there wasn’t an advocate to protect her. Nina first learned about CASA through another volunteer. Then, after seeing a news segment about the number of foster children in the United States, she knew she had to get involved.

A young Nina Hoyte.

Nina said her foster parents took great care of her. But she remembered another child she knew who didn’t have a positive experience with her foster family.  Nina’s friend was removed from her home because her biological mother wasn’t mentally fit to be a mother. Unfortunately, her foster parents were unkind to her. For several years in other foster homes, the foster parents didn’t properly feed her, stole from her, and lied to social workers. They fostered for the paycheck, said Nina.

“When I hear bad stories of kids placed in bad homes, it’s not usually a case in which CASA is involved,” Nina said.

When CASA is involved, Nina said, “There are more eyes watching so there are more good stories happening”. The volunteers insert themselves into every part of the child’s life. That way they can see if the child is unsafe or experiencing a toxic environment. Their involvement allows the child to have the chance to experience the love and joy that a good family can give.

Getting help

It can be difficult for young children to recognize they are in a bad situation when their biological parent is all they know, Nina said. They may have never experienced what a healthy, loving family is like. When children enter the foster care system and are in a foster home, they can start to see how kids are supposed to be treated.

They start being fed on a regular basis, going to school, and having parents who take care of them. This change encourages them to better connect with their foster parents. Nina admitted that she has no idea where the children’s’ lives would head without CASA—continuing the cycle of abuse, joining gangs, doing drugs, etc.—but “they are given a chance to have a productive life.”

Not all of the cases end with the separation of children from their biological parents. “Our immediate thought is to blame the parent,” Nina said. “But CASA teaches us that we can’t just blame the parent, because some of these parents never experienced what it is to be a parent.”

Being an advocate means figuring out what the best possible situation is for the child. Sometimes that means getting help for the parent so that the children can return home. “I have learned to be more understanding of people’s situation, and not immediately judge everybody’s house,” Nina said. CASA works with the parents to help them get the classes they need, just like they work with the children to get the home that they need.

It’s not their fault

Nina wants children in the foster system to know that “it’s not their fault that they’re in this situation and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And they’re not alone. It’s not the end of the story. They can make a difference, and they can still do and be whatever they want”. Nina added, “They can finally feel the love that they haven’t felt and they can be positive people even though the beginning of their story wasn’t so great. They can make a huge difference.”

Nina shared that volunteering with CASA Rochester is incredibly rewarding, but has its challenges. You have to be open to all different kinds of stories that will pass in front of you. However, added Nina, these stories motivate you to keep advocating for these children.

If you’re interested in joining Nina as a volunteer with CASA Rochester, click here.

Click here to donate to CASA Rochester.

Lori’s story: How I lost more than 250 pounds

Lori Dyer had struggled with her weight for as long as she could remember. She was 412 pounds and had tried every diet. However, she always gained the weight back.

She got sick a lot and struggled to walk down stairs. The extra weight contributed to health issues, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, back pain and knee pain.

“I didn’t know how not to be fat,” she said.

It wasn’t until Lori’s children said they “didn’t want to lose her” that Lori went through with a procedure that has so far has helped her lose more than 250 pounds.

(Click below to watch a video by Highland Hospital that highlights Lori’s story)

Gastric Bypass

Lori underwent gastric bypass surgery.

With the surgery, the doctor first makes the stomach smaller by stapling off a small pouch, which makes you feel full sooner. Next, the surgeon shortens your small intestine and attaches it to the small stomach pouch. This changes the direction of the food to bypass most of the small intestine so your body absorbs fewer calories.

When doctors look into bariatric surgery, they look at many options, including gastric sleeve surgery.

After gastric bypass surgery, patients need to rest and recover. After the operation, most people move from a liquid diet for a week, to a puree diet, to a soft diet where you can introduce other foods, to a balanced diet set out by a dietitian. These special diets run about two months before you are back to “normal” food.

Bariatric surgery is not a magic pill.

Lori said the surgery changed her life. But after undergoing such an intense procedure, Lori had to dramatically change a lot of things. She has to regularly take vitamins and supplements, eat healthy practically all the time, attend follow-up appointments, exercise and participate in support groups for the remainder of her life.

Lori says, “It is hard,” but her only regret is, “not having the procedure done sooner.”

Lori had at one point accepted where she was. She was 400 pounds and didn’t want to leave her house. Lori said her decision was hard to make.

“When I had thought about surgery in the past, I didn’t want to do it because I always figured I would be missing out on so much,” she said. “But then the light bulb finally went off and I thought ‘what am I missing out on by NOT having the surgery?'”

Lori realized that the answer was life. “When talking it over with my kids, my daughter said, ‘We really want you around as long as possible.’ So yes… absolutely. I was going for it.”

Considering Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a major procedure, and should be part of a comprehensive program that includes exercise and nutritional education as well as mental health and well-being, said says LouAnne Giangreco, M.D., a Chief Medical Officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

If you are considering bariatric surgery, make sure you understand the side effects like infection, diarrhea, blood clots and even death.

“This type of surgery is only recommended if you’re very obese, your health is suffering and if all other diet and exercise options are not successful,” she said.

“Regularly eating healthy and exercising can have a bigger impact on your health than you think,” she added. “But, make sure you get the social support you need; having friends and family that support you is just as important as going through with the procedure.”

You may be able to look to your employer for support. According to Pat Salzer, a registered dietitian at Excellus BCBS, many workplaces provide health education programs at the work site.

“I am no longer just existing…I am living”

Lori wants people to know that bariatric surgery is not “cheating or the easy way out.” She stresses that “this is one of the hardest things I have ever done.” Lori found Highland Hospital in Rochester, a Blue Distinction Center for Bariatric Surgery. Hospital staff took care of her, educating her about the procedure and providing care before, during and after the surgery. These Blue Distinction centers help patients like Lori get back on their feet usually with fewer complications and hospital readmissions.

Lori has done things she never thought possible and is comfortable trying new things. Lori even went on a dating site last year and “found the piece of me that was missing. I totally would have missed out on him because I would have never put myself out there.”

Lori and Fred Shaughnessy

“Be ready for your life to change dramatically.”

Now, Lori is living her life the way she always wanted to. She is kayaking, mountain climbing, running 5ks and walking out the door, ready to take on her next adventure.  Lori stresses that the procedure “has certainly made, a huge, huge difference. It will affect everything you do, but in a good way.”

Lori with her kids, Mitchell and Rebecca

Lori’s Three Year Journey:

5 Tips for Cutting Soda from Your Diet

You drink over 38 gallons of soda each year.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), that’s how much the average American drinks each year, which is equivalent to eight 12-ounce cans of soda each week. This statistic shocked me, too.

But it also opened my eyes to my own soda-drinking habit. I typically drink at least two Mountain Dews per day and sometimes it’s more than that. After reading this statistic, I did a little more research.

The reality of soda

The CSPI reports that a typical 12-ounce can of soda contains nearly 9 teaspoons of added sugars and a typical 20-ounce bottle contains 15.5 teaspoons of added sugar. While this may not seem like a lot of sugar, it is. To put it into perspective for you, the American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of 6 teaspoons20 of added sugars for women and 9 teaspoons for men. This means that an average 12-ounce can of soda puts you at or above the recommended maximum daily intake of added sugars.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of blew my mind.

I have been drinking Mountain Dew regularly since I was in middle school. It’s probably contributed to cavities, stomach aches, and weight gain. I have tried time and time again to stop drinking it, but soda has a way of holding your affections. Mountain Dew is no exception.

I decided to track down the best ways to get rid of this habit. After doing a lot of research, I have come up with five tips and tricks for cutting soda out of your diet.

1. Start slow

You don’t have to quit cold turkey. Start by drinking less each day. If you usually drink two sodas a day, start by drinking only one.  The next week, try one soda every other day. And so on.

2. Set yourself up for success

If you don’t want to drink a lot of soda, then don’t buy a lot of soda. It doesn’t help if you keep putting it in your refrigerator. Take away the temptation and only buy the amount you are planning to drink. Another tip was if you only like to drink cold soda, then only put one in the fridge for the next day.

3. Find alternatives

It helps to fill the space that you’d be drinking soda by drinking something else. Drink water. If water is too boring for you, try flavoring it with fruit. Swap in coffee or tea if you’d like some caffeine. Flavored seltzer water may also be a good option if you like something with fizz. For many people, beverages can account for almost 20 percent of total calorie intake,  so it’s important that you find healthier alternatives. Plus, if you don’t find something else to drink, it will be that much harder to resist the call of the vending machine in the break room.

4. Exercise

If you drink soda for the caffeine, then try working out or simply getting some exercise to gain more energy along with some other great benefits. It’s much healthier for your body and has zero added sugars! Here are some great tips to help you replace your soda habit with an exercise habit.

5. Track your calories

If you’re a numbers person, it might be a good idea to sit down and track how many calories you’re drinking every day. Calories can be found right on the Nutrition Facts label. If you pay attention to the amount of calories you’re drinking, then you’ll see how quickly they add up. You could also track how much exercise you need to work off all the calories you’re drinking. The numbers may just motivate you to work harder on quitting. The MyFitnessPal app can be a useful tool to help with tracking calories.

After trying out all of these tips, the most helpful to me was finding alternatives. While I’d normally drink a soda with dinner, I’ve started drinking a glass of milk. When I’m thirsty at work, I drink water. Have any of these tips been helpful for you?

Still thirsty? Check out Is Diet Soda Healthier than Regular Soda?

Myth-Busters: Common Misconceptions About Food Labels

Jamie Moore is the Director of Sourcing and Sustainability at Parkhurst Dining. Moore is passionate about teaching people about common misconceptions about the labels we find on our food. He shares his guidance and tips on what to know about food labels.

Fact vs. Fiction

Food labels are designed to help us better understand our food purchases. However, according to Moore, a government agency does not regulate all of the claims on a food label. Without regulation or strict standards, some of these labels can, therefore, be misleading, he said. Most consumers don’t know the true meaning behind many of these labels and may purchase food thinking that the label means more than it does. Here are five common food labels that may be misleading you.

1. Cage-Free

It is generally thought that “cage-free” eggs come from a hen who lived outside of a cage.  However, according to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, seeing a “cage-free” label on eggs does not guarantee that hens were raised outdoors or even in large open spaces. In reality, most “cage-free” egg-laying hens were raised in hen houses where each hen has a space of about 8 inches by 8 inches.

Similarly, when “cage-free” is on a meat label, it may be thought that these animals are not raised in cages, but that doesn’t mean the animals don’t live in close quarters. For example, many “cage-free” chickens are raised in large, open structures called “grow-out houses”. These houses typically hold tens of thousands of chickens, and each chicken is given less than a square foot of space (about 10.5 inches by 11 inches per chicken).

Variation exists in what “cage-free” means because the “cage-free” claim is only verified sometimes. For example, while this label on eggs is supposed to be regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA),  the farms are not always inspected to verify the type of “cage-free” environment that the hens have access to.

2. Pasture-raised

When you see the label “pasture-raised,” you may picture animals who spend all day living in an open field, grazing on grass. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, however, a “pasture-raised” label on meat, poultry, dairy or egg products only means that the animals were raised for at least some portion of their lives on a pasture or with some access to a pasture. For example, “pasture-raised” dairy cows are given some access to a pasture, but primarily housed indoors and raised on a diet of hay, corn, and soy, not grass.

When it comes to dairy and eggs, there is no common standard for what “pasture-raised” means. This means that producers can decide the size, quality and access standards to the pasture. When it comes to meat and poultry, producers are required to explain what “pasture-raised’ means for their products. However, the USDA allows the producers to make their own definition of what it means. Producers do not necessarily have to stick to the same standard.

3. Free-Range

Much like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” hens and chickens are generally thought to have free access to the outdoors. However,  Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices explains that there are no standard requirements for the size or condition of the outdoor area that these animals have “free-range” in. Therefore, products can be labeled “free-range” as long as birds are given some kind of access to the outdoor area. Producers don’t have to report how accessible the area is to the birds or how often they are given access.

On beef products, the “free-range” label means that the animals were given free access to the outdoors for at least 120 days each year.  Again, there are no requirements for the size of the outdoor space or the quality of its condition. Like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” also doesn’t mean that the animals only at the grass on a range.

These products are only verified sometimes by the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

4. Locally-Grown

“Locally-grown” is a label that is not legally regulated. That means there is not a standard definition for what “locally-grown” means.

For example, when you hear about “locally-grown” produce, you may think the produce is grown right down the road. In reality, the produce could be grown 40, 60, or even 100 miles away. Producers can define what is “locally-grown” based on their own mission and circumstances. When you see that something is “locally-grown”, ask about what is “local” to that producer or grocer to learn more about where it came from.

5. Natural

The USDA defines this label as a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, this label is not verified. This means that there are no consistent standards to ensure that the label means what it implies to consumers. “Natural” is a label that companies can define for themselves and the definitions vary. Government agencies do not regulate the use of the “natural” food label, they can only provide guidance.

Organic food, on the other hand, is held to very rigorous standards. To learn more about the difference between “organic” and “natural” food labels, check out our article, What’s the Difference Between “Organic” and “Natural”?

Learn Before You Trust the Label

Moore emphasizes that many food labels can be confusing when there is a lack of regulation or standards for what a label means. That’s why it is important to learn more about the meaning behind a food label. By doing a little research or talking to experts like Moore, you too can be a more informed consumer at the grocery store.

If you’re interested in buying a product that truly has verified claims for things like having access to a pasture or being grass-fed,  Consumer Reports suggests looking for additional labels on the product. Some food labels are strictly regulated and provide meaningful standards for things like free access to the outdoors. These labels include:

 

What You Need to Know About Appendicitis

Do you know what it feels like to have appendicitis? I didn’t either.

I was attending my first year of college, living alone in a studio apartment in the big city and taking a full load of classes while working two part-time jobs to pay rent and support my cat. While I was lying on the couch watching Netflix one night, a dull pain started in my stomach. I figured it was just stress or maybe menstrual cramps. As a woman, I’m used to stomach pains because they hit me every month for at least three days. A little stomach pain is nothing.

But the pain gradually got worse, which was a little different than the norm. It made it painful to move or breathe. I grimaced as the pain escalated. I thought about going to the emergency department, but I instantly doubted myself.

What if I get there and find out that it’s just gas? That would be so embarrassing, was just one of the many doubts going through my mind.

I was a nineteen-year-old who had grown up in a no-nonsense family that believed if you’re not dying then you’re probably fine. I had never been to the emergency department and I didn’t think I was qualified to make this decision. So I spoke to three different mothers (mine, my grandma, and my best friend’s) and finally decided to go.

Once I arrived, I went through four hours of waiting in the emergency department, four different tests and a lot of medications before they diagnosed me with appendicitis.

I almost didn’t go to the Emergency Department

As a female who gets menstrual cramps once a month and has had stomach aches pretty regularly my whole life, I just assumed it was normal stomach pain that would go away. I was used to stomach pain and doubted that it could actually be something like appendicitis.

That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between everyday stomach pains that don’t require a hospital visit and something like appendicitis, which can be very dangerous.

What even is appendicitis?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix. Untreated appendicitis can rupture, which can cause you to become very ill with a fever, nausea, severe tenderness in your abdomen, and vomiting.

Appendicitis can have more than one cause, and in many cases, the cause is not clear. Some possible causes are:

  • Blockage of the opening inside the appendix
  • Enlarged tissue in the wall of your appendix caused by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract or elsewhere in your body
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, stool, parasites, or growths that can clog your appendiceal lumen
  • Trauma to your abdomen

So, how do you know when the pain in your stomach is appendicitis?

There are some classic signs and symptoms of appendicitis, but it is important to know that people can present very differently with this condition. When your appendix is inflamed, it can cause a pain in your abdomen that starts near your belly button and moves lower and to the right side. The pain can come on suddenly and can gradually get worse over several hours. Something that the doctor will do is push into the right lower side of your abdomen. This will cause a pain in the area.

If you’re still unsure, there are other symptoms of appendicitis that can follow the pain. Those symptoms can include:

  • Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A loss of appetite
  • A low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating

There are other medical conditions that can also lead to similar symptoms. Since appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose, call your medical provider to discuss any unusual abdominal pain that you are experiencing. Your medical provider can help you to determine the next best steps in diagnosing the source of your pain.

Get treatment, even when you’re unsure

Appendicitis is a medical condition that requires timely care. A doctor can help treat appendicitis and reduce symptoms and the chance of complications. It’s better to be safe and find out it’s just gas, than to have your appendix rupture and end up in a lot more pain than before. If you have appendicitis, it is vital that you are treated. If I had listened to my doubts that it was just cramps or gas, I would have ended up very ill and spending a lot more time in the hospital.

Know the difference between your usual stomach pains and a pain that feels unusual. Trust your instincts and seek the guidance of a medical provider in getting the care that you need.

Heat Illness: What to Watch Out For

As the year gears up for August, I’m plagued by memories of sweltering heat, affecting my focus, motivation, and workout schedule. This weekend, I tried to plan a day when I could run. But even in the early mornings, the humidity was soaking the air, making it hard to breathe. I almost went to the gym, but a treadmill sounded just as bad.

Are you like me and insist on exercising outdoors in the summer? If so, remember that exercising in the severe temperature can cause heat strokes, heat cramps and heat exhaustion, all of which can really hurt you.

Different Types of Heat Illness

There are three different types of heat illness.

Heat cramps are muscle pains and spasms that occur with strenuous activity. These cramps can occur during or after activity. Heat cramps can be treated with rest, moving to a cool place, cool cloths, giving a cool sports drink containing salt and sugar, and stretching.

Heat exhaustion is more severe than heat cramps. If you’re suffering from heat exhaustion, you may experience heavy sweating, paleness, fatigue, and even nausea. Anyone faced with heat exhaustion should drink fluids, take a cool shower, and be moved to an air-conditioned environment. If there is no improvement with these measures, the individual should go to an emergency department.

Heat stroke is the most severe type of heat illness. Heat stroke happens when a person’s body temperature reaches 103 degrees or higher. Symptoms include confusion, hallucinations, fainting, headaches, vomiting, and weakness. Heat stroke is a medical emergency. If you suspect heat stroke, call 911 or your local emergency medical service.

Risk Factors

Young, healthy people who exercise with a high intensity or long duration outside are susceptible to heat illnesses due to overexertion. Athletes, people working in hot environments and military should be especially careful.

Some athletes can adapt their body to warmer temperatures. It takes several weeks of exercise in the heat for our bodies to adapt and compensate for the higher temperatures. Our bodies will sweat more and start sweating earlier to help us better handle the heat. But make sure to pace activity to build up fitness, or you could get really sick.

Prevention

To prevent “exertional” heat illness, make sure to take frequent breaks, exercise in the morning or night when the temperatures are cooler, and drink plenty of fluids.

In almost all cases, young athletes should rehydrate with water, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Sports drinks are full of sugar and empty calories that can put you at risk for obesity and dental issues.

You should only consume sports drinks during “prolonged, vigorous sports participation or other intense physical activity,” according to the Academy. This is when you need to quickly replenish some of the carbohydrates and/or electrolytes you lose through intense sweating. Sports drinks are also appropriate to use with heat cramps.

Keep in mind, heat does not only affect athletes. Elderly people are also at risk of experiencing heat illness. Older individuals should stay hydrated and stay in air conditioning as much as possible, especially on very hot days. Looking for more tips for keeping older adults safe in the heat? Click here. 

Staying Active Indoors

When the heat rises, try to think of other ways to get in a workout. Swimming at the local gym, doing a spin class or yoga in an air-conditioned environment are great options that allow you to be inside and better control your body temperature.

How to Help Those with Depression or Suicidal Thoughts

I was saddened to hear of the two recent celebrity suicides. I was sad for their families and also for them.

But I was also anxious. I knew that I would soon be receiving texts and emails full of questions about, “why?”  I don’t know why these things happen. Each person’s story is unique. There may be certain risk factors and things that could be done to prevent suicide. But there is no simple formula to predict or prevent these types of things.

Many are also saddened to hear that suicide rates are climbing nationwide. In New York state, the suicide rate rose about 30 percent between 1999 to 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Things That Can Help

For me, I deal with all of this by focusing on what we can do to help people battling depression and suicidal thoughts. Some of the top ways include:

  1. Effective mental health treatment. Evidence-based-treatments – including cognitive behavioral therapy – could help. This therapy revolves around helping you handle mood fluctuations and stressful situations. Talk to your physician for more information.
  2. Connection to the world around you. This includes your connection to family, pets, caregivers, therapists, and church or spiritual communities. These connections provide you with a purpose, support, and something to live for. In dark times, it helps to wake up with a purpose and wake up to someone to love and/or to be loved by.
  3. Try to stay sober during sad times. Substances like drugs or alcohol can make you feel isolated or make obstacles appear insurmountable.

Additional Resources

Remember: If you need to talk to someone, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also offers additional suicide prevention information: