Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Black Rice Sushi Salad

Here's a recipe I wrote for the lovely PsAZZ support group's newsletter - you can read about this great bunch of psoriatic arthritis-ers here. Having people you can share triumphs and tribulations with is hugely important if you suffer from any chronic illness so do look them up and see if you can support them in any way. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients for the salad, it’s extremely quick to make and also travels well for pack lunches.

Black rice is incredibly high in antioxidants thanks to the phytochemical anthocyanin which makes it that rich dark burgundy-black colour. Anthocyanin is the same plant pigment that makes blueberries blue and blackberries black. Studies suggest that it may help reduce inflammation and even protect against cardiovascular disease but there isn’t enough evidence yet to say how much anthocyanin we need to eat and how effectively it is absorbed by the body. Black rice is also an excellent source of fibre as unlike white rice it hasn’t been hulled. Fibre is great for your body if you suffer from psoriatic arthritis as it helps keep your bowel healthy and keep your blood sugar levels stable. You can find black rice in most supermarkets now but you could use brown rice if it’s not available.

Salmon is also an excellent lunchtime choice. It’s a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids which have been shown to help reduce pain and inflammation in all types of arthritis. If you can afford it, buy wild salmon over farmed as it has a much higher ratio of healthy omega 3 fats to unhealthy omega 6 fats.

If you don’t like or can’t find frozen soybeans (although Birdseye sell them now), you can use frozen peas. I prefer soybeans as not only are they more authentic, but they are also little nutritional powerhouses. Soy beans are rich in protein, fibre, B vitamins and are a good source of omega 3 fats. They are also packed with isoflavones which some research suggests have anti-inflammatory properties.

For those of you with bad hands or who find chopping difficult, I make a very quick, no-chop version of this on flare days that uses tender stem broccoli and fine french beans in place of the cucumber and peppers. Just throw them in the pan with the rice for the last 5 minutes of cooking time. I also find it much easier to chop the spring onion and smoked salmon with scissors rather than a knife.


120g Thai black rice
100g cooked or smoked salmon cut into bite sized pieces
1 spring onion, chopped
100g cooked soybeans
100g cucumber chopped into cubes
1/2 red or yellow pepper, sliced into dice

1tbsp mirin (or 2tsp honey mixed with 1tbsp water)
2tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp wasabi (or more to taste - you can also use horseradish sauce)
1 tsp fresh grated ginger (or you can use paste from a tube or jar)
1 tsp sesame oil

To serve:
Toasted sesame seeds and sliced nori seaweed sheets (optional)

Makes enough for 2 people

First cook the rice by simmering it in boiling water for 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the dressing. If you find this difficult with a fork, you could use a small, lightweight milk frother.

Now add the salmon, cucumber, pepper, spring onion and soy beans to the rice. Add the dressing and give everything  good stir until evenly mixed.

Top the salad with a good sprinkle of sesames seeds and crumbled nori sheets and serve.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Share Your Day - National Arthritis Week

As part of National Arthritis Week, Arthritis Research UK are asking everyone living with arthritis to share their experience as part of their 'Share Your Day - Shape Our Future' campaign. By describing the daily pain and challenges you face you can help them shape future research into new treatments.

I think it's an incredibly brave campaign. Arthritis is often dismissed as just aches and pains but anyone who suffers from it will know that that pain can be all encompassing and soul-sapping. However, describing the way it affects you can be incredibly difficult. I don't really like to talk about how hard I find living with arthritis. When I've been interviewed about the blog I always say that I don't want to talk about the negative aspects of the illness too much. Partly, it's because I prefer to try to be optimistic - there are worse conditions and I've seen plenty of close friends and family affected by them, and partly, it's because I'm simply not brave enough to describe how it feels. Daily pain is draining. I manage most days with a handful of painkillers and sheer bloody mindedness. The days that I have struggle to play with my daughter, wash my hair or get a spoon in my mouth are the days I want to forget. I'm sure many of you are the same. How many times when the consultant asks how you are have you said 'fine thanks, and you?' before realising that wasn't really the answer needed? 

The truthful answer, that description of the way the pain colours your day, can be harder to articulate but that's the answer that medical professionals, researchers and policy makers need to help improve the lives of people with arthritis. And, as easy as it is to say ' I'm fine' it's not always the way to spare others feelings. Sometimes friends and family need to hear how your arthritis affects you so they don't take it personally when you say you can't manage something.

So, this National Arthritis Week, be a bit brave, if not for yourself then for others, and help Arthritis Research UK by sharing your story. 

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Red Velvet Brownies, National Arthritis Week and Time for Tea

The fourth ever National Arthritis Week is just around the corner. From the 12-18th the various charities, support groups and professional organisations around the UK will all be doing their bit to raise awareness about arthritis.

Obviously I'm biased but I think it's a great idea. Arthritis affects 1 in 5 people in the UK but remains something of an unglamorous cause. Osteoarthritis is on the increase as life expectancy increases and rates of overweight and obesity rise. The daily pain of living with the condition causes immense suffering yet, too often people are told it is just something they have to put up with or an inevitable part of growing older. 

Similarly auto-immune arthritis is poorly understood: I still get told I'm too young for it or have I tried emu oil/cutting out peppers/doing yoga. There are some amazing new treatments around now and some exciting breakthroughs being made but auto-immune arthritis can still affect everything you do and not just your joints. When I was pregnant I was actually amazed by how few medical professionals understood the condition or the medications and I often felt like I was having to teach them - which isn't something you particularly want to do when you are a mess of raging hormones!

I'll post a bit about all the different awareness raising activity going on but I wanted to start by blogging about Arthritis Care's Time for Tea campaign. They basically want you to get together, have a natter, gobble some cake and raise some money for the work they doing supporting people with arthritis. I remember phoning Arthritis Care's Helpline before I was first diagnosed - I was confused, in pain and slightly at my wit's end. The lovely lady I spoke to gave me some information and basically told me to refuse to leave the GPs until I got referred! Thanks to that advice I got seen by an excellent team and started on proper treatment. So, to show my gratitude, I'm holding my own Time for Tea party and serving these brownies.

It's the easiest brownie recipe ever! There is no melting of chocolate, cracking of eggs or beating butter, which makes it a doddle to make even on a flare-day. Simply stir all the ingredients together and bake for an impressive and delicious red velvet brownie.

Instead of measuring the milk and oil out in a jug, you can pour weigh them directly into the mixing bowl: 1ml of milk is the same as 1g. I’ve not specified the amount of food colouring as I have found red food dyes differ massively - I suggest you add a few drops and give the mixture a stir and then add more as necessary. You want a good strong red colour as the intensity fades in the oven.

You could also make a raffle prize to raise money for ‘Time for Tea’ by mixing all the dry ingredients for these brownies together in a nice jar. Tie a ribbon around the jar and add a label with instructions to add oil, milk and bake.


220g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
1tsp salt
200ml milk (you could use almond milk for a vegan cake)
75ml sunflower or rapeseed oil 
1.5tsp baking powder
150g chocolate chips or buttons 
Red food colouring 

Makes 16 brownies

Put the flour, sugar, salt, cocoa and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Stir the dry ingredients together a few times and then pour in the oil, milk and food colouring. Give everything a good mix and then finally stir in the chocolate chips.

Pout the mixture into a greased 20x20cm baking tin and cook for 25-30 minutes or until the top is shiny and slightly cracked. Remove from the oven and let the brownies cool in the tin for 20 minutes before slicing.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Can following the Paleo diet help arthritis?

The 'Paleo' diet (short for paleolithic) is in the headlines a lot at the moment but it's not entirely new; there have been various similar diets around since the 1970s with names like the 'caveman' diet (always makes me think of Fred Flintstone) and the stone-age diet. Followers of the Paleo diet believe that we should stick to the diet of our ancestors pre-agriculture so plenty of meat, vegetables and fruit but no grains, legumes or dairy. They argue that the diet of our distant ancestors is the one that we are genetically optimised for.

I've lost count of the number of Paleo auto-immune protocols that I have read on the internet purporting to cure arthritis. Usually I try to be fairly open-minded about different dietary approaches but I think a lot of the information available about the Paleo diet is entirely misleading and irresponsible. For a start, the whole premise of the diet is that diseases like rheumatoid arthritis didn't exist in the Paleolithic era because they are diseases of affluence and linked to the consumption of grains, legumes and dairy. However, it is more likely that conditions like arthritis didn't exist simply because life expectancy was so short that acute infections, other humans, accidents or predators got to you before any chronic diseases had the chance to develop. Secondly, there if a lot of mixed evidence on what was actually eaten during the paleolithic period by our ancestors. Hunter gatherers were likely to be a lot more nutritionally flexible than the Paleo diet implies - when you exist hand-to-mouth you eat what is available. Your average cave man wouldn't have had the luxury of turning down available food sources in order to pop to WholeFoods. Equally, our ancestors diet would have evolved and varied over the 3.4 million years of the paleolithic period. It wouldn't have been set in stone (if you will excuse the terrible pun). In fact, recent research suggests that grains may well have been consumed by them. Moreover, if the consumption of grains and dairy is so unhealthy it is unlikely that we would have successfully evolved to consume them in our diets. Humans are endlessly adaptable and a wide range of different dietary patterns are followed successfully by different populations around the world.

For people with arthritis, foods like wholegrains, beans and dairy are an extremely important and useful part of the diet. They provide essential nutrients that help mitigate and protect against some of the effects of the disease. Although there is little robust research on the effects of diet on arthritis, most studies that have been conducted have concluded that a vegetarian diet or a Mediterranean diet may be most beneficial and several longitudinal studies have suggested that high consumption of red meat (as on the Paleo diet) may increase a person's risk of rheumatoid arthritis. A Cochrane Review (the gold standard of evidence in health interventions) suggested that any dietary intervention that involves cutting out food groups (like the Paleo diet) should be approached with caution by people with rheumatoid arthritis due to the risk of deficiencies and malnutrition.

Having said all that,  there are some positive aspects to the Paleo diet. the Paleo diet's insistence that we avoid all processed food and increase our consumption of vegetables and fish is a healthy habit for anyone, including those of us with arthritis. But, if you are looking for a great healthy diet for your arthritis, you don't need to look to the Stone Age to find it!

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Quick Berry Crumble

We're very lucky that we live by a bramble strewn park full of blackberries, so for the last few weeks the toddler and I have been picking our afternoon snack and coming home with berry-stained mouths and purple hands. We've picked so many that I've had to begin coming up with alternative uses for all of the blackberries we've scavenged - one of which is this easy crumble. It's barely a recipe - I can put this together even on days when my arthritis is as miserable as the weather and there is nothing quite like tucking into a wholesome, comforting home-cooked crumble.

This recipe is healthier than many traditional crumbles. Rapeseed oil replaces butter and keeps things light and crisp. It's high omega 3 content means it is good for your joints too. All dark coloured berries are a wonderful source of anti inflammatory anti-oxidants. The deep pigments that stain your hands and mouth are a phytochemical called anthocyanin.

Feel free to use whatever berries you have to hand. Frozen fruit works well too - simply defrost it before cooking and bear in mind that it may take slightly less time in the oven as the frozen fruit breaks down quicker. 


250g berries (I used blueberries and blackberries)
1tbsp golden caster sugar (no need to use if your berries are very sweet)
60g porridge oats
10g chopped nuts (or you can use seeds etc)
25g runny honey
1 tblsp rapeseed oil (I used Cooks&Co butter flavoured)
1/2tsp cinnamon (optional)

Makes 1 small crumble or 2 generous individual portions

Preheat your oven to 180C/375F. 

Place the berries in your baking dish and sprinkle over the sugar, if using.

In a small bowl, mix together your porridge oats, nuts, honey, oil and cinnamon until every thing is evenly mixed. Sprinkle this mixture over the berries and then pop the whole dish in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the crumble is golden.


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