April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, the perfect time for women to learn more about eye issues that affect them more regularly than men.

Women, here’s what you should know about your eyes

Dr. Shaista Vally

Dr. Shaista Vally

Written by Shaista Vally, OD, an optometrist at UK Advanced Eye Care.

Eye health and vision issues can affect everyone, but there are certain conditions that are more common in women than in men. April is Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month and a great time for women to learn more about the issues that uniquely affect them.

Dry eyes, migraines

With women’s hormonal changes being so frequent throughout their lifetime, including changes associated with birth control, it’s no wonder that women experience eye and vision issues linked with hormonal changes. Two such issues include dry eyes and migraines.

Dry eyes can be annoying and debilitating, but the good news is that they are easy to treat. Artificial tears, emulsions, gels and ointments can offer relief for dry eyes. If heavy lubrication with artificial tear eye drops is not working to manage your symptoms of burning, redness and irritation, speak with your eye doctor about alternative treatment options.

Migraines are severe, painful headaches sometimes accompanied by symptoms of nausea, numbness, light and noise sensitivity, and vomiting. But they can also cause visual disturbances known as scintillating scotomas. These moving lights and patterns, sometimes called a visual aura, can mimic the signs of a retinal detachment or tear. If you see flashes of light or spots in your view, be sure to have a dilated eye exam within 24 hours of these symptoms.

Eye issues linked to obesity

With diabetes and cardiovascular disease on the rise, Americans – both men and women – are struggling with obesity. However, overweight young women of child-bearing ages are at an increased risk for a condition known as idiopathic increased intracranial pressure, or pseudotumor cerebri. This condition causes an increase in brain pressure, damaging the optic nerves and potentially leading to blindness.

Women with pseudotumor cerebri often complain of headaches, ringing sounds in their ears and mild visual blurriness, though sometimes visual symptoms are not present at all. If you think you may be at risk for this condition and are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.


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benefits of breastfeeding

Breastfeeding gives your baby the best possible start

The decision to breastfeed has a wide array of benefits for both mom and baby.

Breastfeeding provides warmth and closeness, and the physical contact helps create a special bond between you and your newborn. In addition, research shows that breastfeeding and breast milk can lead to better health for mothers and their children.

Benefits for babies

  • Breast milk is easier for your baby to digest.
  • It doesn’t need to be prepared.
  • It’s always available.
  • It has all the nutrients, calories and fluids your baby needs to be healthy.
  • It has growth factors that ensure the best development of your baby’s organs.
  • It has many substances that formulas don’t have that protect your baby from diseases and infections. In fact, breastfed babies are less likely to have:
    • Ear infections.
    • Diarrhea.
    • Pneumonia, wheezing and bronchiolitis.
    • Other bacterial and viral infections, such as meningitis.
  • Research also suggests that breastfeeding may help to protect against obesity, diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, eczema, colitis and some cancers.

Benefits for mothers

  • Breastfeeding releases hormones in your body that promote mothering behavior.
  • It returns your uterus to the size it was before pregnancy more quickly.
  • It burns more calories, which may help you lose the weight you gained during pregnancy.
  • It delays the return of your menstrual period to help keep iron in your body.
  • It provides contraception, but only if these three conditions are met:
    • You are exclusively breastfeeding and not giving your baby any other supplements.
    • It is within the first six months after birth.
    • Your period has not returned.
  • It reduces your risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
  • It keeps your bones strong, which helps protect against bone fractures in older age.

UK HealthCare is Baby-Friendly

At UK HealthCare, we’re committed to ensuring a happy, healthy start for newborns and their mothers. In fact, we’re a Baby-Friendly USA® hospital, which is a prestigious acknowledgment of the top-notch care that we provide.

Baby-Friendly USA is a global initiative sponsored by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The initiative encourages hospitals to provide breastfeeding mothers with information, confidence, support and skills necessary to initiate and continue breastfeeding.

Find out more about the Baby-Friendly initiative.


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Kentucky’s death rate from cervical cancer ranks among the top 10 in the nation. But many of these deaths are preventable by regular Pap smears.

Pap smears: Your best weapon against cervical cancer

It’s an unfortunate fact that Kentucky has one of the highest cervical cancer death rates in the country. The good news is many of these deaths are preventable through regular screenings called Pap smears.

Pap smears collect cells from the cervix, which are examined under a microscope to find cancer and pre-cancer. If pre-cancer is found, it can be more easily treated, stopping cervical cancer before it really starts.

There are no obvious symptoms of cervical cancer until it reaches advanced stages, so having regular Pap smears is important. Federal guidelines recommend women ages 21 (or three years after first intercourse) to 65 have a Pap smear every three years during their annual pelvic exam. Individual circumstances can vary, so talk to your doctor about how often you should have a Pap smear.

Ways to improve test results

According to the American Cancer Society, there are several ways to make your Pap smear results more accurate:

  • Try not to schedule an appointment for a time during your menstrual period. The best time is at least five days after your menstrual period stops.
  • Don’t use tampons, birth-control foams or jellies, other vaginal creams, moisturizers or lubricants, or vaginal medicines for two to three days before the Pap test.
  • Don’t douche for two to three days before the Pap test.
  • Don’t have vaginal sex for two days before the Pap test.

Check with your doctor

Because Pap smears are often done during pelvic exams, many people confuse the two. The pelvic exam is part of a woman’s routine checkup that may help find other types of cancers and reproductive problems. During a pelvic exam, the doctor examines the reproductive organs, including the uterus and the ovaries, and may do tests for sexually transmitted disease.

Be sure to check with your doctor to see if you had a Pap smear during your pelvic exam.


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In 1987, Dr. John van Nagell began the Ovarian Cancer Screening Program. Now in its 30th year, the program is as successful and strong as ever.

Markey’s Dr. John van Nagell celebrates 30 years leading the Ovarian Cancer Screening Program

As a native Kentuckian, Dr. John van Nagell has always appreciated the impact UK has in the Commonwealth.

Van Nagell earned his undergraduate degree at Harvard University and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, but his goal was to return to Kentucky to practice medicine.

“I always wanted to come home,” van Nagell said. “And when it came time for me to decide where I wanted to undergo further training, the University of Kentucky had just opened an outstanding new medical center.”

Specializing in gynecologic oncology – the diagnosis, research and treatment of women’s cancers – van Nagell joined UK HealthCare as a resident in 1967, about 16 years before the creation of the UK Markey Cancer Center. He’s spent his career at UK treating patients and mentoring young doctors, but his lasting legacy will likely be his research.

In 1987, van Nagell started Markey’s Ovarian Cancer Screening Program, an ongoing research endeavor that provides free ovarian cancer screenings by transvaginal ultrasound to women across Kentucky.

‘Committed as ever’

Now in its 30th year, the program has provided free screenings to more than 46,000 women and found 775 ovarian tumors and 103 malignancies. Screenings are provided to women over the age of 50 and to those over the age of 25 who have a family history of ovarian cancer.

“We’ve been able to detect ovarian cancer at an earlier stage in many women, rather than just waiting for symptoms to occur,” van Nagell said. “The survival rate of women in our program who have ovarian cancer is roughly double that of women who didn’t get screened.”

Although the use of transvaginal ultrasound as a screening method has been controversial – with critics suggesting it may lead to unnecessary surgeries – van Nagell emphasizes that newer technologies such as molecular genetic testing will help doctors identify at-risk women who could most benefit from screening. The research program has also taught physicians more about finding malignancies, van Nagell said.

“We now know, because of this screening program, that certain ovarian cysts are always benign,” he said. “What we’re saying is more research needs to be done, and we’re doing it. And if we can provide free screening along the way to an at-risk population, that’s beneficial.”

With 50 years of experience at UK under his belt, van Nagell says he remains “as committed as ever,” still dedicated to perfecting the work he began three decades ago for his patients.

“All you have to do is go back into the clinic and see one case after another of ladies coming in with advanced ovarian cancers who had no early symptoms, and by the time their symptoms developed, their disease was incurable,” he said. “And the most fulfilling part is just seeing women who didn’t realize something was wrong but had a potentially fatal disease, which we were able to detect through screening, successfully treat, and now they’re fine.”

Dr. van Nagell honored by his peers

Regularly cited as one of the “Best Doctors in America,” van Nagell recently received another major accolade from his peers. Earlier this month, he attended the 2017 Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer in Baltimore, where he was presented with the Society of Gynecologic Oncology’s Distinguished Service Award. This award recognizes individuals who, over an extended period of time, display a continuous outstanding meritorious service in the field of gynecologic oncology.

“To be honored by your peers is very special,” van Nagell said. “And I believe that – at least in some small way – this validates what we have tried to do here, and that is to improve the early detection of a very serious disease. To me, it’s all about the lives of people who have been changed for the better by the screening program.”


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Fainting

Women who experience a fainting spell should talk with their doctor

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Written by Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Health Program.

Syncope, the medical term for fainting, is not uncommon in women. In fact, more than 40 percent of women will experience a fainting spell at some point in their life. Syncope refers to a temporary loss of consciousness and shouldn’t be confused with dizziness or feeling lightheaded.

The good news is that syncope is usually benign. Most of the time, it occurs in response to a trigger, such as standing too long, overheating or emotional stress. This is known as a vasovagal episode. Individuals with vasovagal syncope may feel lightheaded, have pale and clammy skin, be nauseated, have tunnel vision, feel warm all over, yawn, or have blurred vision before actually losing consciousness. This cause of syncope is best treated with lifestyle modification including adequate hydration.

However, it is important to consult with a physician after experiencing a fainting spell  particularly for patients who are 70 or older, as serious cardiac causes are more common in this age group.

Earlier this month, the American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association and Heart Rhythm Society released the 2017 Guidelines for the Evaluation and Management of Patients with Syncope. If you experience a fainting spell, your cardiologist will follow these updated guidelines in order to evaluate you. Your physician will perform a physical examination and obtain a detailed medical history, which can provide the most reliable information regarding the cause of syncope. An EKG may also be performed to check for problems with the electrical activity of your heart. In older women, risk factors for syncope include atrial fibrillation, heart failure, aortic stenosis and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Participation in competitive sports is generally not recommended for patients experiencing syncope until a serious underlying cause has been excluded.

If you have a serious underlying medical condition (for example, a congenital heart problem) and experience syncope, hospitalization may be necessary, especially if syncope is related to this condition.


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A routine checkup could save your life – just ask Claudia Hall

While battling a cold and trying to prepare for her daughter’s college graduation party the next day, Claudia Hall considered skipping her annual checkup with her gynecologist in May 2014. The Lexington resident figured she would simply postpone the appointment a week or two. But after finding out the next best appointment time for her was nearly three months away, she decided to go ahead with the checkup.

“I said, ‘No, I don’t want to let that go that long,'” Hall said. “And I tell you that because it saved my life.”

At the appointment with UK HealthCare OB-GYN Dr. Wendy Jackson, Hall underwent the usual tests and checks, including a digital rectal exam, generally performed on female patients over the age of 40. The exam revealed some troubling news: a large mass in Hall’s rectum.

‘A whirlwind’

Jackson made an appointment for Hall to see UK Markey Cancer Center colorectal surgeon Dr. Sandra Beck the following week. Despite the news, Hall said her weekend continued as planned.

“We went on with my daughter’s graduation – that’s something she can’t do over,” she said. “But I was in Markey that next Tuesday, and from then on it was sort of a whirlwind.”

After several rounds of testing, Hall had a diagnosis: squamous cell carcinoma. The news came as a shock to the healthy, fit mother of two who had no family history of colorectal cancer and had received a clean colonoscopy just three years before.

“I was pretty much asymptomatic,” Hall said. “The only problem I had was sort of a pain on the right side of my hip.”

At Markey, Hall first underwent one chemotherapy infusion, a round of oral chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments over the course of six weeks, all in an effort to reduce or eliminate her tumor prior to surgery.

Team of experts works together

The tumor’s location made it tricky to determine whether its point of origin was the colon or cervix, but it was fortunate that the tumor had not spread elsewhere in her body, Hall said. However, the disease had affected such a large area of her gastrointestinal tract that much of that tract couldn’t be salvaged. After she had recovered from radiation, Hall was scheduled for a complex combined surgery to remove all the areas where the tumor had been, including the entire rectum, anus and the back of the vaginal wall. Beck, along with Markey gynecologic oncologist Dr. Rachel Miller removed the diseased areas, while UK plastic surgeon Dr. James Liau reconstructed the vaginal wall using skin and muscle from her abdominal wall.

“This surgery is not very common, but we often do combined procedures for complicated tumors like this at UK,” Beck said. “It’s great for us to have all the experts in these fields to be able to provide this level of care for our patients.”

As a result of her extensive treatment, Hall is now in remission and has been cancer-free for more than two years. The surgery has left her with one major side effect, though: a permanent colostomy, which is an opening in the body (known as a stoma) that connects the colon to the surface of the abdomen.

Dealing with such a major alteration to the body can be hard for many patients, but Hall is eternally optimistic – and realistic – about her lifelong need for the device.

“It’s been life-changing,” she said. “But I’m blessed. I’m grateful for it, because without it, I can’t live.”

Working to help others

And although the bubbly, energetic Hall describes herself as a “talker,” she says she initially didn’t share many details of her battle with cancer.

“Part of it could have been the type of cancer, because you know not everybody wants to hear it,” Hall said. “I didn’t share it with many people, just my family and a few close friends.”

In 2015, Hall joined Markey’s Patient Advisory Group, a committee of cancer survivors who meet once a month to discuss issues and offer ideas on various facets of the patient experience at Markey. Meeting other survivors and hearing their stories inspired her to be more open about her personal ordeal.

“I thought I might be able to help somebody with my story,” she said. “And I started talking about it just a little bit more here and there.”

Through her connection with the advisory group, Hall was one of a small group of patients to attend Markey’s Cancer Moonshot Summit last summer, held in conjunction with the national Summit hosted in Washington, D.C. More than 100 people attended the summit, including cancer physicians, researchers, staff, patients, caregivers, philanthropists and others who play a role in cancer care. As an attendee, Hall worked with a team of healthcare staff to discuss barriers to cancer research and care, creating a list of specific problems and suggested solutions that were sent directly to the White House for consideration.

She’s also become passionate about educating others about another procedure that has made life with the stoma a little easier – a process called irrigation, which allows the patient to regulate their bowel movements to a schedule, reducing the need for the actual colostomy bag. Now that she’s familiar with the process, she says she sometimes gets called in by her doctors to counsel other patients dealing with similar issues. Her willingness to accept the changes to her body and move forward makes her an inspiration to others, Beck said.

“No one wants to have their body altered to fight cancer,” Beck said. “But she has really taken ownership of her health and embraced the ‘new Claudia.’ She has remained positive and has always worked with us as part of her team.”

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At UK HealthCare, you’re a part of a team

The “team” aspect of Hall’s care is important ­– in total, six different specialists and their respective staffs cared for Hall throughout her treatment. From Jackson’s initial discovery and referral from Hall’s annual exam, to the chemo prescribed by Markey medical oncologist Dr. Philip DeSimone and the radiation schedule given by radiation oncologist Dr. William St. Clair, to the combined surgeries performed by Beck, Miller and Liau, Hall experienced a range of care that only the most advanced medical centers in the country can provide. As the “lead” on her care, Hall says Beck gave her a pep talk on the importance of being part of the team before treatment began.

“Initially when I went to see her – I’ll never forget this – she said, ‘We are a team here,'” Hall said. “‘I’m your coach and you’re my quarterback.’ And we really are a team at UK.”

These days, life has largely returned to normal for Hall, who still maintains an active lifestyle. She and her husband regularly boat on Lake Barkley, and she enjoys cooking, exercising and watching after her “grand-dog,” Kona. She stresses the importance of being proactive in your own healthcare, noting that knowing about any potential health risks is far better than not knowing.

“I was doing everything right, and it just happens sometimes,” she said. “But I’m very thankful I didn’t skip that appointment that day, because I’ve often wondered what would’ve happened if I’d waited.”


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Even as a child, Rachel Miller knew she wanted to be a doctor

Making the RoundsWe’re joined by Dr. Rachel Miller for our latest edition of Making the Rounds. Dr. Miller is a gynecologic oncologist at the UK Markey Cancer Center who specializes in ovarian cancer screening and treatment. She’s also the co-director of Markey’s new Molecular Tumor Board, a powerful tool in the fight against cancer.

When did you know you wanted to be a doctor?

I think I knew in elementary school. I was very interested in doctoring from an early age. My mom actually saved my Fisher-Price doctor kit and cleaned it up and gave it to my son. So it is well-worn. I did a lot of physical exams when I was between the ages of 4 and 6, I think.

I was a chemistry major, and I thought I might spend some time in the lab. And I was interested in pharmacy, too. So it’s been a long-standing desire. [The challenge] was just trying to figure out what aspect of healthcare and medicine and interaction with people would work best.

What’s your favorite food?

Spaghetti and meatballs. It’s comfort food, and actually, it’s one of the first dishes that my husband made for me when we were dating. It was a birthday dish.

How would your friends describe you?

I think they’d describe me as energetic, active. Kind of crazy in that I may have a little higher work-to-off-time ratio than most of my friends, but we make the most of our time together.

Describe your ideal weekend.

I’d get out of work at a reasonable time on Friday and probably have some Mexican or Indian food or sushi for dinner – some sort of special treat for Friday night. And then on Saturday, I’d wake up – I have a 3 1/2-year-old – so I’d wake up with him in a really good mood and we’d play and have a nice, quiet breakfast. I’d go out for a run, and then we’d have an afternoon of maybe swimming in the summertime or the YMCA in the wintertime. We’d get a babysitter at 6 p.m., and I’d have an evening with my husband. Really, it’d be a quiet weekend at home. I feel like more and more we treasure the downtime and the routine family time at home.

What’s your favorite part about being a mom?

There are so many great parts about it. I think it’s just that my son challenges me in ways that I didn’t realize a 3 1/2-year-old could challenge me. I thought I had a hard job until I became a mom, and I realized that is so much more difficult at times. I just enjoy watching him grow and seeing how every day is just loaded with new experiences for him and how he approaches those experiences, watching him learn language, hearing him laugh – just the day-to-day interactions.


Watch our video interview with Dr. Miller below, where she describes the types of patients she sees at Markey and talks about why she enjoys practicing medicine in Kentucky.


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Dr. Gretchen Wells writes a lot of prescriptions and orders a lot of tests. But she says the most rewarding thing she dispenses is hope.

Video: Dr. Gretchen Wells talks hearts and her passion for women’s health

Dr. Gretchen Wells writes a lot of prescriptions and orders a lot of tests. But the most rewarding thing she dispenses is hope, she says. As director of the Women’s Heart Heath Program at the UK Gilll Heart & Vascular Institute, she helps Kentucky women enjoy longer, fuller lives with healthy hearts.

In Kentucky, the mortality rate from heart disease is among the nation’s highest, and Wells understands that in the fight against women’s heart issues, prevention is especially important. There are other issues to tackle as well, she says, including:

  • The biology of heart disease is different in men than in women, so new ways of detection and treatment need to be explored to address those differences.
  • More women are surviving breast cancer only to develop heart problems relatedto chemotherapy.
  • Young women with pregnancy complications such as pre-eclampsia are at higher risk for heart disease later in life.

All of these and more are what bring Wells to the office every day. She spends her time collaborating across campus to establish testing, identify biomarkers and explore treatments tailored specifically to the needs of women with heart disease.

But Wells says the best part of her job is developing relationships with her patients. “They teach me about family, they teach me about forgiveness and they teach me about love,” she says.

Watch the video below to see why Wells says “the best is yet to come for the women of Kentucky.”


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10 things to know about women's heart health

Top 10 things to know about women’s heart health

By Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Health Program.

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, but it often goes unnoticed until it’s too late. Part of that comes from the fact that women’s hearts are different from men’s in certain ways, which can affect the way women develop heart disease and experience heart attack symptoms.

People assume all heart attacks feel like a crushing in the chest, but often, and for women in particular, the symptoms of a heart attack can be quite different. That’s why it’s so important to teach women what to look for and how to take the best care of their hearts.

Check out my top 10 list of things women should know about their hearts, and be sure to listen to an interview I did recently about heart health below!

1. Know your symptoms

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
  • If you’re having symptoms, call 911!

2. Quit smoking. Just do it. You know you should. UK HealthCare has resources to help you quit. Check them out.

3. “Waist it.” Watch what you eat! Women have an increased risk of heart attack if their waist circumference is big.

4. Move it! The Nurses’ Health Study demonstrated that women who exercise (brisk walking) 30 minutes five out of seven days a week reduce their risk of a heart attack by 50 percent.

5. Know your numbers! Know your blood glucose (sugar), cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. If these are abnormal, talk to your healthcare provider about ways to improve them.

6. Don’t be sweet! If you’re diabetic, get treatment. This is a far greater risk factor in women than in men.

7. And while we’re at it – treat your blood pressure, too.

8. Talk to your doctor about whether or not you should be taking an aspirin (or any other medications for that matter). Women over the age of 65 should take a daily aspirin for prevention. The recommendations vary in other groups.

9. Don’t worry, be happy! The type-A personality has been strongly associated with heart attacks in men, and we’re learning more about optimism and positivity in women.

10. Call your mother (that’s my mother’s suggestion). Find out from her about your family history. Heart disease runs in families. Find out exactly what type of heart disease your family has and discuss it with your doctor.


Dr. Wells was recently interviewed on Behind the Blue, the University of Kentucky’s podcast. She was joined by Gail Cohen, a patient who experienced firsthand the dangers of undetected heart disease. Listen below to hear Gail’s story as well as tips from Dr. Wells about how you can improve your heart health.


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The celebration of women's heart health in Albert B. Chandler hospital featured giveaways, prizes and simple tips to make your diet more heart-healthy.

‘Gill Goes Red’ shares treats and tips in celebration of Heart Month

Kate Breeden closed her eyes as she took a bite, trying to concentrate on the flavors of the food she was sampling.

“Well, it’s definitely a brownie,” she said, “but I have no idea what the mystery ingredient is. Maybe carob instead of chocolate. Or dates? But I’m not 100 percent sure to be honest.”

Breeden was among dozens of women – and a few men – gathered on Feb. 3 to launch American Heart Month at UK with “Gill Goes Red.”

The celebration of women’s heart health in the Pavilion A atrium of Albert B. Chandler hospital featured giveaways, prizes, and simple tips and substitutions to make your diet more heart-healthy. But the most popular attraction? Free samples of tasty treats with a “secret ingredient” that made each treat more heart-friendly.

Taking baby steps to better heart health

“Every New Year, thousands of people resolve to eat healthier and lose weight, but lose their momentum within a few weeks and return to their old habits,” said Dr. Gretchen Wells, director of the Women’s Heart Health Program at the UK Gill Heart Institute, and one of the day’s speakers. “We encourage people to take baby steps to improve their diet as a long-term path to healthier eating and better heart health.”

Vanessa Oliver, a dietitian with the UK’s Health and Wellness program, shared with the audience her tips for making foods more nutrient-rich as a way to take those baby steps.

“Women’s risk of heart attack has been directly related to waist circumference,” Oliver said. “Making an effort to enhance the quality of the choices you make can be an effective way to reduce waist circumference without a sense of self-denial.”

Oliver suggested a few simple changes that can help achieve that goal, including eating brightly colored foods (usually fruits or vegetables) instead of “white” or “beige” foods, increasing dietary fiber by choosing whole grains over processed ones, and reducing sugar intake, particularly from sodas and fancy coffee drinks, which contain large amounts of “hidden” sugars.

“One of the best ways to start making those changes is to keep a food journal, either by writing it down, using an app or even taking a picture,” Oliver said. “Doing so can help you be aware of what you’re eating and identify places where you can make changes.”

The secret ingredients

At the end of the program, the secret ingredient for each treat was announced to a chorus of laughter and exclamations of surprise.

Jennifer Vissing, the nurse coordinator for the Gill’s Structural Heart Program, correctly guessed that the brownie’s secret ingredient was black beans.

“Black beans provide extra fiber and complex carbohydrates, which can improve blood cholesterol levels ” Oliver said. “The brownies are made with applesauce and blueberries as well, reducing the amount of refined sugar and adding a dash of antioxidants.”

The prize for correctly guessing that the chocolate chip “cookie dough” was actually a form of hummus went to Maria Kraemer, a postdoc in the Saha Cardiovascular Research Center.

“Chickpeas are a more complex carbohydrate than the white flour in traditional cookie dough, which makes you feel fuller longer,” Oliver said. “On top of that, the recipe is much lower in fat than the real thing, since it contains no butter or eggs.”

The granola was the true mystery treat, and no one was able to guess its secret ingredient.

“Most granolas are made with a lot of oil, which greatly increases fat content,” Oliver explained. “This granola is made with made with egg whites instead of oil.”

‘One of many ways’ to improve nutrition

Oliver reminded attendees that portion size is also important.

“You should be able to indulge every once in a while, and these are wonderful options, but even black bean brownies aren’t healthy if you eat half a pan,” she said. “Think of these as one of many ways you can improve nutrition for you and your family.”

Vissing, like many of the participants, voiced her enthusiasm for the day’s events.

“I really enjoyed learning more about how to make anything healthier, and it was fun,” she said.

Wells was pleased that attendees came away from the day with some real information to help them live healthier lives.

“We wanted to have fun, we wanted to celebrate women and we wanted to empower women to make changes in their lifestyle,” Wells said. “I think Gill Goes Red 2017 achieved all three.”

If you want to make these treats at home, the brownie recipe comes from Forks Over Knives, the granola recipe comes from Epicurious and the “Cookie Faux” hummus recipe comes from The Wannabe Chef.


Check out video footage and pictures from the event.

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