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A Veggie Wonderful Belated Birthday Treat

I know, I know, my birthday was almost a month ago and I already posted about it. But I just have to share this adorable and thoughtful gift I received from my Don’t (White) Sugar Coat It friend Elizabeth.

DSC_0062

She surprised me with this supremely adorable [veggie] tote with a broccoli floret right on it. So cute! Anything food related makes me so happy, so this tote clearly did the trick. It is from Food Tee, which I had actually seen featured in magazines. Check out some of the other clever items they have. I love the [stalker] design with a celery stalk. Ha! What’s your favorite?

I also got a jar of natural peanut butter from Iceland! That’s right – Elizabeth took a trip there this month and I have the creamy + crunchy peanut butter to prove it! I already tasted a scoop and it’s fab. I can’t wait to put it in my morning oats.

Thank you Elizabeth! If you want to check out just how awesome she is, head on over to her blog.

The Skinny on Dietitians

 011_skinny-nl-head3 (2)

Calling all Dietitians! I have a great promo I want to tell you about, right in the middle of National Nutrition Month! Have you seen the trendy and upbeat website Skinny in the City? I love it. It reminds me of Daily Candy with  nutrition, beauty, and wellness content. Registered Dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot, who also authored the F-Factor Diet, created this site for people to get information on nutrition as well as recipe makeovers, restaurant reviews and ordering guides, nutrition tips, Skinny’s obsessions and beauty and fashion advice. You can even sign up for the Skinny newsletter (which is awesome, by the way).

Tanya recently created The Skinny on Dietitians online directory. The Skinny on Dietitians is an innovative, super user-friendly website and search engine that helps people across the country find a qualified Registered Dietitian (RD) to meet their unique needs, budget and location.

The Skinny on Dietitians allows dietitians to create a personalized profile that includes information about their training, contact information, website, areas of practice and specializations in an eye-catching layout. For those RD’s who do not have their own online presence, the Skinny on Dietitians can fill that void. Unlike other directories, the Skinny on Dietitians allows RD’s to feature articles, links and upload videos about themselves and their practice, in a social media-friendly design. It’s practically like having your own website to advertise your services! This site is jam packed with media-savvy dietitian goodness.

The site offers one free and two low-cost ($10 and $20 per month – cancelable at any time) membership levels so that dietitians can choose the package that works best for them.

Here’s the even greater part: all Eat Well with Janel readers who Skinny Headshotare also Registered Dietitians get to try a one month trial with The Skinny on Dietitians! The promo code to use is JANELRD and it’ll be good for one month. All you have to do is email the Skinny people at: sierra at theskinnyondietitians dot com with JANELRD in the subject line to get your free 1 month membership beginning the day you sign up! Skinny will send you the necessary paperwork to fill out your profile, and you’re good to go with a sassy and sophisticated Skinny Profile!

My profile is up – check it out then go get yours!

Note: Promo code ends Sunday April 18, 2010

I am not being paid to promote Skinny in the City or The Skinny on Dietitians

Two favorites: Avocados + Biggest Loser

If you know me, you know I love the Biggest Loser. So much, that I have been known to avoid making plans on Tuesday nights during the BL season, and most definitely will not answer any calls during that time either. I know there is a lot of BL controversy – the contestants live in an unrealistic ranch without “real world” experiences, they promote Extra gum far too much, and they never actually show the staff dietitian, among other things – but the way I see it, if one television show can inspire a nation…heck, a whole world to get off their butts and DO SOMETHING, I’m on board.

I’ve worked in numerous corporate wellness sites where I’ve either witnessed or led Biggest Loser competitions, and I’ve seen first hand how it has inspired change. I also one day dream of being the Biggest Loser dietitian (that is, when Cheryl Forberg decides to fork over her awesome job to me), but for now I’ll watch every Tuesday, happy to see the message the show sends: if you move more, and eat better and less, you will lose weight.

IMG_0552I got word from the people at Avocados from Mexico that on this week’s episode, there will be some talk about the benefits of avocados. Halleluiah! The show definitely needs some chatter about the benefits of eating healthy fats, like those found in avocados. I can’t wait to watch. Healthy fats have a place in every diet, even if you’re trying to lose weight. They can improve heart health, reduce bad cholesterol, improve mood, leave you feeling more satisfied – the works! So tune into BL to learn more and while you’re at it, hop on Twitter and you can win a great prize from Avocados from Mexico!

From the Amazing Avocado website:

Ten lucky winners will receive a copy of the new book “The Biggest Loser: 6 Weeks to a Healthier You” – 2 chances to win! On March 15th and 16th you can tweet with The Biggest Loser dietitian Cheryl Forberg, RD and Avocados from Mexico for a Nutrition Q&A on Twitter. Follow Cheryl (@CherylForbergRD) and Avocados from Mexico (@AmazingAvocado) on Twitter. If you tweet ‘em, you’re entered to win the book! For more info click here and see official promotion rules here.

Want my all time favorite avocado recipe? I’ve used this as a dip as well as a sandwich spread. It’s sweet and spicy, creamy and chock full of nutrients and heart healthy fats. Dig in !

1 ripe avocado, mashed
1t agave
1T lemon juice
chipotle powder to taste (watch 0ut – it’s hot!)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and enjoy!

My Top Tips for Registered Dietitian Day!

Today is National Registered Dietitian Day – hooray! Yes things like this actually get me excited because I absolutely love my profession, the work I get to do, the people I get to meet, and of course…talking about food all day! This year I’m participating in RD Blogfest and want to answer the question:

If you could give only one message, what would that be?

I want people to know how darn easy it is to eat and cook in a healthy way. I’m not talking about choosing only organic produce from Whole Foods (but by all means go ahead and eat it if you choose to). I’m not talking about going vegan-raw-gluten free-calorie counting-measuring portions-giving up all your favorite foods- eat well. And I’m not talking about becoming the next Food Network star. I’m talking about incorporating a few healthy staples into your everyday diet and cooking and eating at home. That’s all. For most people, their diets don’t even need a complete overhaul. Just some simple changes to make big improvements.

Most of us can start by adding a serving of fruit or veggies to every meal and snack. It’s simple – try this:

  • Berries in your morning cereal
  • Apple slices dipped in yogurt for your AM snack
  • A homemade veg wrap for lunch stuffed with spinach and thinly sliced zucchini or portabella mushrooms
  • Carrots and hummus for an afternoon snack
  • A banana with peanut butter before you go to the gym

And a big ol’ serving of steamed, sautéed, or baked veggies with your dinner du jour.

Bam! You just hit 6 servings of fruit and veggies and probably more if your banana was a big one (2 servings) or dinner veggies took up half of your plate. There now, wasn’t that easy?

Now for the cooking part. If you have a well stocked kitchen and some functioning kitchen appliances (read: stove, oven, running water) you can cook. Or at least put together some well rounded meals. If you’ve been an Eat Well with Janel Blog reader for a while, you know I use recipes for inspiration but tend to make my own adjustments based on ingredients I have on hand. Following a recipe is not necessary, but making a well-rounded meal is. So always make sure your meals have three key components in the kitchen:

1) vegetable

2) starch (whole grain, please)

3) protein (lean meat, beans, tofu, etc.).

You can keep your kitchen stocked with a variety of whole grains (pasta, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, couscous, buckwheat, etc) and protein (different canned beans, chickpeas, lentils). Keep fresh produce and lean meat (if you choose) in the fridge and always have frozen veggies on hand for when the fresh runs out or starts to go bad. Now let’s think of some combo meals:

  • Brown rice (grain) + beans (protein) + jar of salsa (yep – veggie) rolled up in a whole wheat tortilla with some lettuce and tomato for a Mexican burrito.
  • Baked potato with skin (starch) + black beans (protein) + diced corn and chopped broccoli (veg) topped with salsa for a baked potato meal.
  • Whole wheat spiral pasta (grain) + can tuna packed in water + bag of cooked frozen mixed vegetables (veg, duh) + some sort of dressing (like olive oil or a light vinaigrette) makes a 1-pot pasta meal in minutes.

Catch my drift? None of these require a recipe and the extent of “cooking” is boiling water, heating an oven or opening a can of beans (don’t forget to rinse them off to remove most of the sodium!). And always make enough for leftovers. That way you have lunch ready the next day or dinner the next night so if you’re not a fan of cooking, you only have to do it a few times a week if you cook in big batches.

As a dietitian, I find nothing more gratifying than seeing my clients adopt healthy habits that work for them. I hope my healthy eating and cooking tips work for you, too. To the dietitians out there, Happy RD Day! Keep up the good work!

Here are some links to other great dietitians who participated in RD Blogfest:

Beyond Prenatals (Debra) – Vitamin D in Pregnancy and Beyond
Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, MS, RD –
Can Dietitians Have Real I.M.P.A.C.T?
Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, LD –
Changes Worth Making Take Time
Carrie Miller –
What Nebraska Dietitians Are Saying
National Dairy Council-
Nutrient-rich foods build a healthy diet
Janel Ovrut MS RD LDN –
My Top Tips for Registered Dietitian Day!
Heather Pierce, MS, RD, CDE –
Enjoy Food
Robin Plotkin, RD, LD –
Give a Kid a Fish, Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Kid to Fish, Feed Him for Life
Elizabeth Rahavi, RD –
The Art of Nutrition Messaging
Shelley A. Rael, MS RD LD –
Food Is LIFE, Nutrition is HEALTHY Life
Kerry Robinson, RD –
A Food Safety Message with IMPACT
Marianne Smith-Edge, MS, RD –
RDs are the Premiere Food and Health Communicators
Kris Sollid, RD –
Unintended Consequences of Simple Messaging
Angie Tillman, RD, CDE, LDN-
Take Time to Care for Yourself

Ask me anything: Food and Nutrition Edition


If you’ve been around the blogosphere, you may see that many bloggers are hosting “Ask me anything” posts where they answer personal and professional questions. But since many of my readers come to Eat Well with Janel Blog for recipes, nutrition tidbits, or possibly even to see what Funk thinks of my latest recipe, I’d rather answer questions you have about…food! Here is my first Food Q&A. Have any food or nutrition questions you need answered? Write them in the comment section and I’ll see what I can do!

Q: I keep my nail polish in the fridge to make it last longer. Could this affect everything else in the fridge with the fumes?

A: I think you’re safe as long as you don’t leave the nail polish bottle open or go painting the inside of your fridge a nice shade of Opi Tickle me Pink.

Q: I store potatoes in a cabinet. I went to get them out after a few months and there were 1″ roots or something else coming out of them. Does this mean it’s trash? How long can they stay in a cabinet for? Is there a better way to store them rather then the bag it comes in?

A: I’ve wondered this myself. The roots are fine, though you probably don’t want to eat them. I just cut mine off and as long as my potato is still firm – not soft and wrinkly – it’s good to eat. Avoid eating potatoes that have turned green or have green sprouts as this can actually be toxic!…but you’d have to eat a good amount of green potatoes for this to happen.

Proper potato storage is key and the general recommendation is to keep taters in a cool, humid, dark environment. This is a great piece from the University of Idaho about potato storage – who knew there was so much to it?!

Try to buy only the potatoes you plan to eat in the next few weeks to avoid potato overload with roots growing everywhere.

Q: What’s the deal with sponges? How often are you supposed to replace them? Is it true you can put them in the microwave or dish washer to sanitize them? Should you have separate sponges for different purposes; toilets, bathroom, washing dishes, counter tops, etc.?

A: Good question – sponges gross me out. I’m no expert here, but I’ll offer my best advice. Sponges are absolute breeding grounds for grossness – germs, bacteria, the works. I like to keep a separate sponge for dishes, one for countertops, and other sponges/wipes for other cleaning purposes like bathrooms. If you’re wiping up raw meat ingredients, like raw egg or juice from a raw kitchen, a disposable wipe is best – don’t use the sponge. I replace mine when they start to look ratty, well-used, and/or just plain old dirty. It could be a month, could be more or less. But I do microwave the sponges to help sanitize them which has been shown to kill 99% of bacteria on sponges. Make sure you put a soaking wet sponge in the microwave (to prevent fire!) on high for two minutes then let it cool, as it will be too hot to touch for a while. You can also sanitize them in the dishwasher. Every time you use a sponge, make sure to ring it out, rinse out the soap, and leave it to dry on a rack out of the sink.

Q: What kind of cheese do you recommend to go along with crackers? Lately, I’ve been getting the Cabot 75% Reduced Fat Sharp.

A: Although I’m not a big cheese eater, I recommend to all my clients Cabot reduced fat varieties. You’ve got good taste! They’re the best reduced fat cheeses I’ve tried and I love the different flavors. Keep in mind a serving of cheese is 1 ounce, and just because its reduced fat doesn’t mean you can eat more of it! Cheese is high in the unhealthy saturated fat, so eat sparingly. Some of the more potent (and stinky) cheeses are great to use because even a little bit adds a lot of flavor. My rule for cheese is this: if the meal/recipe doesn’t require cheese, leave it out. That means unless you’re making grilled cheese, mac and cheese, lasagna with cheese, etc. – leave it off. Sandwiches, soups, pasta, etc. don’t need the added fat and calories from cheese, but if you love the added flavor, use it in moderation.

Q: What if you don’t know what temperature and how long to cook something in the oven? Is there a safe approach? Like 350 degrees?

A: This is where google comes in handy! Cooking meat, especially, needs to be done properly to avoid eating uncooked meat. I think my college food safety professor would not be happy with my current lack of knowledge in this area (hey, I don’t cook meat!) but when in doubt – look it up. And, get a meat thermometer. It’ll take the guesswork out of when a food is done. This website and chart are very handy – so print it out and tack it onto you fridge for reference.

Have any more food and nutrition questions? Send ‘em my way!

Heart Health: 'No Risk Factors' Doesn't Mean 'No Risk'

I don’t normally post more than once a day, but Friday, February 5th is National Wear Red Day to show support for the fight against Heart Disease, and I want to get the message out. One of my clients has a personal story that had a huge impact on my life, and hopefully will on yours too. I’ve posted this before, but it’s always worth a re-read. Please spread this message, and have a happy and healthy heart!

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Melissa, who had a story to share about her heart attack experience that had an instant effect on my life. Her story can be read below, and on theAmerican Heart Association’s Go Red For Women website. Melissa generously agreed to let me share her story on my blog so it can continue to educate others. When I read her story, I could not understand how a healthy, fit woman with no heart risk factors and a total cholesterol of only 105 could suffer a heart attack. This picture-of-health person sitting in front of me, who sneaks ground flax seed and wheat germ into her son’s grilled cheese sandwiches and adopted a vegan diet, is a heart patient?…Why?

Because of a cold medicine she was using at the time that contained the ingredient pseudoephedrine, which is widely used and easily available at drugstores. There is very little information out there about the effects of pseudoephedrine, but you might recognize the word ephedrine, which was in a popular weight loss drug several years ago that killed many people.

I instantly went to my medicine cabinet to find that the seasonal allergy medicine (Claritin D) I had Funk buy the night before contained this ingredient. And the DayQuil and Advil Cold + Sinus tablets I depend on when I have a cold went right into the trash too. The only warning on these medications is that “those who have high blood pressure should speak to their doctor before using.” What they do not warn is that use of these medications can result in a heart attack. And for Melissa, they did. Funk put it best when he said, “I’d rather have a stuffy nose than a stuffy heart.”

The past few days I have been consumed by this ingredient and shocked at the number of times I’ve taken it in medicine. I have been researching to find out where else it lurks, and trying to warn everyone I can to get it out of the house. Now. Check out your medicine cabinet and don’t take any risks. I invite you to read Melissa’s story and please pass it along to educate others.

After a quick google search I found the following medications that contain pseudoephedrine or pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (HCL). (This is not a final or official list – check each and every medication to be sure). Pay close attention to those medications that act as decongestants as these are likely to contain the harmful ingredient.

Cenafed, Chlor Trimeton Nasal Decongestant, Decofed, Dimetapp Decongestant, Drixoral Decongestant Non-Drowsy, Elixsure Decongestant, Genaphed, Kid Kare Drops, Ridafed, Seudotabs, Sudafed, Sudrine, Suphedrin, Triaminic Softchews Allergy Congestion, Unifed, Advil Cold + Sinus, Actifed, Claritin-D (and drugstore version), Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D, DayQuil.

“No Risk Factors” Doesn’t Mean “No Risk”

Contributed By Melissa

I’ll never forget that night.

It was just before Christmas 2006, and I was standing at my laptop in the kitchen when I felt back pain, like lightning flashes, shooting down m
y shoulder blades to the center of my back. I turned to my husband, Scott, in the living room and said, “I’m having strange pains that I’ve never felt before.” The pain didn’t go away when I changed position, and I was starting to feel scared. Just to be on the safe side, we called 911. At the emergency room, doctors gave me baby aspirin and ran tests, including an ECG, chest x-ray, and blood work. All of the test results were normal, and after a few hours, I was sent home with the diagnosis of “back spasms.” I was prescribed ibuprofen and told to follow up with my primary care doctor in the morning. In the meantime, the pain had disappeared. Everything seemed fine.

Of course, everything was fine. It couldn’t possibly be anything serious. After all, I was under a lot of stress — between fighting a bad cold, being busy at work, getting ready for the holidays, and chasing after my two-year-old son, Aidan. I was 37 years old, in excellent health. I’d never smoked, never taken any illegal drugs, and didn’t have diabetes or any medical condition. My blood pressure and weight were normal (I’m 5’4″ and 122 lbs.). My total cholesterol was 105, and I limited the saturated fat in my diet and regularly exercised at a gym several times each week. Since I’d managed our employee wellness program at work for several years and considered myself educated on how to stay healthy, I’d earned the reputation of being a “skinny health nut.” There’s no incidence of early heart disease in my family and all of my grandparents lived to age 90 or beyond. And most interestingly, since I’m a participant in the Framingham Heart Study (my grandfather was one of the original research subjects in 1948), I’d had a complete Heart Study exam in 2003, which included a cardiac CT scan that can detect early calcification in the arteries — a medical test few people my age receive. All normal. I was probably healthier than most of my peers.

So, I assured myself, I could rest easy. After coming home from the ER, I went to sleep thinking the pain I’d felt was indeed back spasms from putting up the Christmas tree earlier that day.

Imagine my shock when a strong wave of pain shook me awake five hours later. I sat upright in bed and grabbed Scott’s arm. The pain was back, but now it was changing — it was more intense, it was migrating to my chest, and I had broken out into a sweat. Scott was reluctant to call 911 again, but I begged and pleaded. Something was definitely wrong. I returned to the ER, where the same crew of doctors re-ran the same tests. But this time, one of them came into the room and said “We think you’re having a heart attack.” After that, everything moved in slow motion. I was stunned, to say the least. I thought for certain that I would die, and all I could think about was how I’d never see my little boy again.

Upstairs in the cardiac catherization lab, the team found significant left main stenosis with occlusion of the proximal LAD artery and diagonal branch. (I found out later that stenting was not possible due to the location and unstable nature of the blockage. The type of blockage I had is sometimes referred to as “the widow-maker,” and many folks don’t even make it to a hospital.) When a surgeon appeared at my bedside soon after, the pain medication being pumped into me could not dull the rising fear as I struggled to grasp his words. Through the haze, I thought I heard him say “I’m recommending we do an emergency cardiac bypass — probably a triple bypass.”

“A bypass — like you do on elderly men?” By now, I was crying hard and gasping for air. I knew that a bypass was major, risky, open-heart surgery. On me — the skinny health nut! I thought, this cannot be happening to me. One minute, we’re putting up the Christmas tree — and the next minute, I’m here?
“Yes, it’s the same procedure,” he said.
“I guess I have no choice?”
“Not really,” he replied gently, and he handed me the waiver to sign.

The surgery was performed the next day, and I was released from the hospital a week later, on Christmas Eve. My postoperative course was predictable, and I recovered from a medical and physical perspective. But in some ways, my ordeal had just begun.

One of the most difficult things about my heart attack was the identity crisis that followed. I felt as if I’d suddenly been thrust into a demographic I didn’t belong in — my identity as a young person, a healthy person, even my identity as a woman — it was like my identity disappeared in an instant. While I knew several people my age who had battled cancer (three in my neighborhood alone), I knew no one else who’d had a heart attack in their thirties… not a soul. And I personally knew no women who’d had a heart attack, let alone bypass surgery! I felt defective, like a freak of nature… it was a confusing, frightening, incredibly lonely time. Cardiac rehab only added to my sense of isolation. It was intimidating and strange to find myself among men thirty and forty years older than me. At first, the group thought I was a visiting medical student — I couldn’t possibly be a heart attack survivor! — and I almost dropped out that day. Somehow, though, I stuck with it and over time, rehab helped me to tap into a network of caring professionals who supported me and helped me put my life back together.

I realize that having a heart attack in your thirties is unusual. But with heart disease now epidemic, my story is one that women need to hear — especially young women, because they think it can’t happen to them. Some lessons I learned:

– Of course, manage your cardiac risk factors if you have them. But just because you have no known cardiac risk factors doesn’t mean you have no risk for heart disease or heart attack. I assure you: if someone with my medical profile can have a heart attack, ANYONE can. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

– Don’t ignore symptoms. Any strange pain that doesn’t have a clear cause should be evaluated by a doctor. Recognize that women absolutely do have heart attacks, and we may have atypical symptoms, like back pain (as I did). Not all heart attacks look or feel like the so-called “Hollywood heart attack” (where the person clutches his chest and collapses in agony).

– Don’t be dismissed at the emergency room. It might not be just anxiety, and you’re not necessarily overreacting. You may have to advocate for yourself in a medical setting if you don’t “look” like a typical heart attack patient or you don’t have risk factors. Doctors may not believe you; insist on a cardiac workup if you feel something is wrong. I’m certain of one thing: if I had been too embarrassed to return to the ER the second time (“what will the neighbors think?”), I would surely be dead now.

Several months later, we learned the likely cause of my heart attack: a common over-the-counter cold medicine triggered a coronary artery spasm, which produced a blood clot in my artery. I’m still amazed that this chemical, pseudoephedrine, is still widely available while an identical substance, the weight-loss drug known as ephedra, was banned several years ago for causing heart attacks and stroke in healthy people. Pseudoephedrine almost killed me, and its dangers are well-known and well-documented. I’m angry that it’s still on the market in this country, because no one else should have to endure the hell I’ve been through. This “skinny health nut” is now a “heart patient” for the rest of her life — and all because of a cold medicine I bought at the drugstore for five bucks.

Since my heart attack, I’ve resumed my life and I don’t take a single day for granted. These days, when I’m keeping up with my busy schedule at work, doing somersaults with my son at his tumbling class, or powering through a workout at the gym, I often think “I made it… I’m alive… I’m a survivor.” As you can see from the photo of me, Scott, and Aidan, I have a lot to live for — and I plan to be around for a long time!

Heart Health: ‘No Risk Factors’ Doesn’t Mean ‘No Risk’

I don’t normally post more than once a day, but Friday, February 5th is National Wear Red Day to show support for the fight against Heart Disease, and I want to get the message out. One of my clients has a personal story that had a huge impact on my life, and hopefully will on yours too. I’ve posted this before, but it’s always worth a re-read. Please spread this message, and have a happy and healthy heart!

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Melissa, who had a story to share about her heart attack experience that had an instant effect on my life. Her story can be read below, and on theAmerican Heart Association’s Go Red For Women website. Melissa generously agreed to let me share her story on my blog so it can continue to educate others. When I read her story, I could not understand how a healthy, fit woman with no heart risk factors and a total cholesterol of only 105 could suffer a heart attack. This picture-of-health person sitting in front of me, who sneaks ground flax seed and wheat germ into her son’s grilled cheese sandwiches and adopted a vegan diet, is a heart patient?…Why?

Because of a cold medicine she was using at the time that contained the ingredient pseudoephedrine, which is widely used and easily available at drugstores. There is very little information out there about the effects of pseudoephedrine, but you might recognize the word ephedrine, which was in a popular weight loss drug several years ago that killed many people.

I instantly went to my medicine cabinet to find that the seasonal allergy medicine (Claritin D) I had Funk buy the night before contained this ingredient. And the DayQuil and Advil Cold + Sinus tablets I depend on when I have a cold went right into the trash too. The only warning on these medications is that “those who have high blood pressure should speak to their doctor before using.” What they do not warn is that use of these medications can result in a heart attack. And for Melissa, they did. Funk put it best when he said, “I’d rather have a stuffy nose than a stuffy heart.”

The past few days I have been consumed by this ingredient and shocked at the number of times I’ve taken it in medicine. I have been researching to find out where else it lurks, and trying to warn everyone I can to get it out of the house. Now. Check out your medicine cabinet and don’t take any risks. I invite you to read Melissa’s story and please pass it along to educate others.

After a quick google search I found the following medications that contain pseudoephedrine or pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (HCL). (This is not a final or official list – check each and every medication to be sure). Pay close attention to those medications that act as decongestants as these are likely to contain the harmful ingredient.

Cenafed, Chlor Trimeton Nasal Decongestant, Decofed, Dimetapp Decongestant, Drixoral Decongestant Non-Drowsy, Elixsure Decongestant, Genaphed, Kid Kare Drops, Ridafed, Seudotabs, Sudafed, Sudrine, Suphedrin, Triaminic Softchews Allergy Congestion, Unifed, Advil Cold + Sinus, Actifed, Claritin-D (and drugstore version), Allegra-D, Zyrtec-D, DayQuil.

“No Risk Factors” Doesn’t Mean “No Risk”

Contributed By Melissa

I’ll never forget that night.

It was just before Christmas 2006, and I was standing at my laptop in the kitchen when I felt back pain, like lightning flashes, shooting down my shoulder blades to the center of my back. I turned to my husband, Scott, in the living room and said, “I’m having strange pains that I’ve never felt before.” The pain didn’t go away when I changed position, and I was starting to feel scared. Just to be on the safe side, we called 911. At the emergency room, doctors gave me baby aspirin and ran tests, including an ECG, chest x-ray, and blood work. All of the test results were normal, and after a few hours, I was sent home with the diagnosis of “back spasms.” I was prescribed ibuprofen and told to follow up with my primary care doctor in the morning. In the meantime, the pain had disappeared. Everything seemed fine.

Of course, everything was fine. It couldn’t possibly be anything serious. After all, I was under a lot of stress — between fighting a bad cold, being busy at work, getting ready for the holidays, and chasing after my two-year-old son, Aidan. I was 37 years old, in excellent health. I’d never smoked, never taken any illegal drugs, and didn’t have diabetes or any medical condition. My blood pressure and weight were normal (I’m 5’4″ and 122 lbs.). My total cholesterol was 105, and I limited the saturated fat in my diet and regularly exercised at a gym several times each week. Since I’d managed our employee wellness program at work for several years and considered myself educated on how to stay healthy, I’d earned the reputation of being a “skinny health nut.” There’s no incidence of early heart disease in my family and all of my grandparents lived to age 90 or beyond. And most interestingly, since I’m a participant in the Framingham Heart Study (my grandfather was one of the original research subjects in 1948), I’d had a complete Heart Study exam in 2003, which included a cardiac CT scan that can detect early calcification in the arteries — a medical test few people my age receive. All normal. I was probably healthier than most of my peers.

So, I assured myself, I could rest easy. After coming home from the ER, I went to sleep thinking the pain I’d felt was indeed back spasms from putting up the Christmas tree earlier that day.

Imagine my shock when a strong wave of pain shook me awake five hours later. I sat upright in bed and grabbed Scott’s arm. The pain was back, but now it was changing — it was more intense, it was migrating to my chest, and I had broken out into a sweat. Scott was reluctant to call 911 again, but I begged and pleaded. Something was definitely wrong. I returned to the ER, where the same crew of doctors re-ran the same tests. But this time, one of them came into the room and said “We think you’re having a heart attack.” After that, everything moved in slow motion. I was stunned, to say the least. I thought for certain that I would die, and all I could think about was how I’d never see my little boy again.

Upstairs in the cardiac catherization lab, the team found significant left main stenosis with occlusion of the proximal LAD artery and diagonal branch. (I found out later that stenting was not possible due to the location and unstable nature of the blockage. The type of blockage I had is sometimes referred to as “the widow-maker,” and many folks don’t even make it to a hospital.) When a surgeon appeared at my bedside soon after, the pain medication being pumped into me could not dull the rising fear as I struggled to grasp his words. Through the haze, I thought I heard him say “I’m recommending we do an emergency cardiac bypass — probably a triple bypass.”

“A bypass — like you do on elderly men?” By now, I was crying hard and gasping for air. I knew that a bypass was major, risky, open-heart surgery. On me — the skinny health nut! I thought, this cannot be happening to me. One minute, we’re putting up the Christmas tree — and the next minute, I’m here?
“Yes, it’s the same procedure,” he said.
“I guess I have no choice?”
“Not really,” he replied gently, and he handed me the waiver to sign.

The surgery was performed the next day, and I was released from the hospital a week later, on Christmas Eve. My postoperative course was predictable, and I recovered from a medical and physical perspective. But in some ways, my ordeal had just begun.

One of the most difficult things about my heart attack was the identity crisis that followed. I felt as if I’d suddenly been thrust into a demographic I didn’t belong in — my identity as a young person, a healthy person, even my identity as a woman — it was like my identity disappeared in an instant. While I knew several people my age who had battled cancer (three in my neighborhood alone), I knew no one else who’d had a heart attack in their thirties… not a soul. And I personally knew no women who’d had a heart attack, let alone bypass surgery! I felt defective, like a freak of nature… it was a confusing, frightening, incredibly lonely time. Cardiac rehab only added to my sense of isolation. It was intimidating and strange to find myself among men thirty and forty years older than me. At first, the group thought I was a visiting medical student — I couldn’t possibly be a heart attack survivor! — and I almost dropped out that day. Somehow, though, I stuck with it and over time, rehab helped me to tap into a network of caring professionals who supported me and helped me put my life back together.

I realize that having a heart attack in your thirties is unusual. But with heart disease now epidemic, my story is one that women need to hear — especially young women, because they think it can’t happen to them. Some lessons I learned:

– Of course, manage your cardiac risk factors if you have them. But just because you have no known cardiac risk factors doesn’t mean you have no risk for heart disease or heart attack. I assure you: if someone with my medical profile can have a heart attack, ANYONE can. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security.

– Don’t ignore symptoms. Any strange pain that doesn’t have a clear cause should be evaluated by a doctor. Recognize that women absolutely do have heart attacks, and we may have atypical symptoms, like back pain (as I did). Not all heart attacks look or feel like the so-called “Hollywood heart attack” (where the person clutches his chest and collapses in agony).

– Don’t be dismissed at the emergency room. It might not be just anxiety, and you’re not necessarily overreacting. You may have to advocate for yourself in a medical setting if you don’t “look” like a typical heart attack patient or you don’t have risk factors. Doctors may not believe you; insist on a cardiac workup if you feel something is wrong. I’m certain of one thing: if I had been too embarrassed to return to the ER the second time (“what will the neighbors think?”), I would surely be dead now.

Several months later, we learned the likely cause of my heart attack: a common over-the-counter cold medicine triggered a coronary artery spasm, which produced a blood clot in my artery. I’m still amazed that this chemical, pseudoephedrine, is still widely available while an identical substance, the weight-loss drug known as ephedra, was banned several years ago for causing heart attacks and stroke in healthy people. Pseudoephedrine almost killed me, and its dangers are well-known and well-documented. I’m angry that it’s still on the market in this country, because no one else should have to endure the hell I’ve been through. This “skinny health nut” is now a “heart patient” for the rest of her life — and all because of a cold medicine I bought at the drugstore for five bucks.

Since my heart attack, I’ve resumed my life and I don’t take a single day for granted. These days, when I’m keeping up with my busy schedule at work, doing somersaults with my son at his tumbling class, or powering through a workout at the gym, I often think “I made it… I’m alive… I’m a survivor.” As you can see from the photo of me, Scott, and Aidan, I have a lot to live for — and I plan to be around for a long time!