Monthly Archives: September 2011

Looking forward

Image by Garretttaggs55, via Wikimedia Commons

The one thing I wish my mother had taught me was that the sooner you jump on top of any health issues, the easier they are to correct or control. Alas, she is a radical feminist, so I have always known that as a woman, I can do anything, and that I need a man like a fish needs a bicycle (NB, quite keen on men, fish, and bicycles), but it’s taken me into my forties to start being serious about good health,

I’m lucky in many ways. Pale skin means I’ve always worn sunblock and sunglasses, I’ve never smoked, and I can’t drive, so I’ve spent my life walking and riding bicycles, when not running for trains and buses. But age is definitely taking its toll beyond laugh lines and the bum of doom that resists all my gym efforts at shrinkage. Standing at a bus stop a few months ago, I saw a bus in the distance and was peering to make out the numbers when a young lad beside me announced to his mate, ‘It’s the 428!’  It took me until the bus was about 50m closer to be able to make out the giant yellow numbers on a dark background.

Resisting the urge to turn around and mutter ‘Cheeky young whippersnapper!’, I decided that it might be time for an eye test.

One of the glories of life in Australia is that Medicare covers regular eye tests, so the basic check was free. But OPSM offer an additional service called a Digital Retinal Scan that costs about $30 and can be done in five minutes without any drops or prep. You just look into a lens, hold still, and they take a photo of your retina. The photo is then checked by the in-store optometrist, and then held securely on file so that future scans can be compared with the original DRS.

Now I thought this was a great idea in itself, because the retina is such an important part of the eye and you can spot a whole lot of vision problems by having a good look at it. For me, it was extra useful, because I had a bad head injury while cycling some years back, and wanted to be certain that all was still well in the eye that came off worst (it was).

But as it turns out, Digital Retinal Scans (or DRS-es as the pros call ’em) are able to show up far more than just trauma. Early signs of diabetes often show up in the retina, where tiny blood vessels can be easily damaged. Similarly, age-related macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma can all be spotted early and treated or managed before their symptoms become obvious.

The week after my test, I was watching the news and a research scientist came on saying that they had found that DRS-es were a useful tool in helping to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, too. Apparently, the size of the veins at the back of your eyes is a good indicator of plaques building up in the brain, and that changes in a person’s DRS year on year are a good indicator that they should investigate further.

How amazing is that? A photo of the back of your eye could give you warning that something is amiss and help get you into treatment ages before symptoms become obvious, prolonging your good health and quality of life. And it’s only $30!

I had my DRS at OPSM, who have the new fast scanners in their stores. Most other optometrists can also provide you with a DRS, but some will require drops and a longer exposure time. Still, completely worth it for the peace of mind, or early warning!

And on the topic of warnings, I’ve added it to the advice spiel that I share with all the young people in my own life: Never date a politician; never trust a taxi driver when you are on a bicycle; always wear clothes that will look OK in photos 20 years from now; always get your eyes and general health checked once a year!



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A little sweetness doesn’t hurt

I’ve got a confession to make: I hardly ever watch television.  Obviously I catch the staples, like the news and the editor’s staple Media Watch/Q&A treat of Monday nights, plus Supersizers on SBS and Grey’s Anatomy when it’s on, because Dr Owen is a beautiful, beautiful man …  but on the whole, I’d rather curl up with a good book or grab some much-needed family and friends time when I’m not at work.

Which is why I was startled yesterday when in an advertising meeting one of the girls turned down a biscuit from our Christmas issue food testing and said that she’d been scared off sugar by something she saw on A National Show. Quick spot of investigating later and I realised Australia is having a bit of a backlash against sugar at the moment.

Which, on the one hand, yeah, we do eat too much junk these days. I know I sometimes have to force myself to graze from my bag of health food shop almonds rather than dive into the office lolly jar. But on the other hand, a biscuit or a bit of cake now and then is really not a quick march to obesity and tooth decay.

I couldn’t help feeling sorry for our ad girl as she sat there in denial (especially as the rest of the team showed no such restraint). Imagine deciding to cut yourself off from the joy of opening up the oven to the glorious fragrance of freshly baked chocolate cake or ginger biscuits, or refusing the treats offered by your loving family – or slightly eccentric colleagues as the case may be.

And it’s not a denial borne out by the facts. Yes there has been in increase in the amount of sugar the average Australian consumes over the last 40 years, but most of that has not come in the form of baked treats. Instead, it’s slipped in through overly processed food that uses sugar as a preservative and through our increasing over-consumption of soft drinks and fruit-based drinks. A can of Coca Cola contains 39g of sugar, the Shortbread heart biscuits in our upcoming Christmas issue are made from a recipe that contains 140g sugar, but makes 40 buiscuits – that’s 3.5g per biscuit, or 7g for two with a nice cup of tea. The same amount of apple juice contains 42g of sugar, which is a few grams more than you’ll find in one of our big Christmas meringues – easily the sugariest thing in the next issue.

So why are some people saying no to a beautifully homemade biscuit, but still yes to a massive cup of store-bought juice or can of fizz? I think it’s because a biccie or a bit of cake is so obviously a treat, while we’ve been trained to think of juice and soft drinks as ‘just’ drinks. It’s a terrible double standard because it not only doesn’t solve the initial problem of needing to put a brake on unhealthy eating, it creates a new problem of cutting ourselves off from traditional foods that are prepared with care and love and that are, in the quantities we consume them, really not that bad for us.

Think about the difference between sitting down with someone you love to chat over a slice of cake and guzzling a can of fizz as you run for the train. Sugar-wise, you’re better off with the cake, and fat and calorie-wise it is only a little worse, while the sheer spiritual joy of a well-made baked good consumed in pleasant company is more than enough to counter any mild temporary lift in your cholesterol. And because you will remember that you did sit down and have a slice of cake, while you’re likely to forget all about the drink you slammed down, when it comes time to head to the gym, you’re far less likely to blow it off in favour of watching Time Team (OK, so I may watch a little more TV on Mondays than I let on …)

So stick to fruit as fruit, rather than in an expensive massive plastic cup, grab a bottle and refill it with water (try one of the Fill2Pure bottles if you’re worried about tap water) rather than slamming down fizz on a hot day, and say yes to baked goods! Because God knows life wasn’t meant to be easy, but it also wasn’t meant to be faced without a good spot of cake every now and then!


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