Thursday, 25 September 2014

Arthritis-Friendly Recipe: 5-A-Day Pasta Sauce

Contrary to a lot of what you might have heard or read on the internet, there is no robust scientific evidence that cutting out the 'nightshade' vegetables (such as peppers, potatoes and tomatoes) has any benefits for people with arthritis. It's sometimes claimed that they are high in oxalic acid and the alkaloid solanine and that these chemicals might aggravate joint inflammation - neither of these claims are true. In fact, the nightshade vegetables are actually a fantastic source of anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants and phytochemicals 

This healthy pasta sauce recipe is packed with 5 different veg, including pepeprs and tomatoes. It is a wonderful vitamin boost if you are beginning to feel a bit run down with Autumn aches and pains. Better still, I'm yet to meet someone who doesn't like it - both my tomato-hating husband and 7 month old daughter will eat bowl after bowl of this - so it makes a good family meal.

You can use the sauce thinned down with a little stock as a soup (as pictured) or scoff it on pasta. Throw in a can of mixed beans and it also makes a good vegetarian chilli. You will need a hand blender or jug blender to make it but otherwise there is very little fiddly chopping involved - just cut the vegetables into whatever rough sized chunks you can manage. 

400g tinned tomatoes
2 sticks of celery
2 medium carrots (if they are organic then you can skip peeling them)
1 red pepper
1 medium onion
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
250ml water

Serves 4

Prepare the vegetables: cut the pepper, celery, onion and carrots into large, rough chunks. Peel the garlic.

Pour the oil into a large saucepan and add the onion. Cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes or until it begins to soften, then add the carrots, garlic and celery. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pepper, tomatoes and water. Bring up to a low simmer and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and puree the sauce with a hand blender until smooth. Serve.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Ginger Sesame Chicken

I love Autumn: the soft golden light; the crisp, crunch of russet leaves; and that sense of festivities around the corner. Autumn, however, does not love me - for as long as I can remember I have had an arthritis flare in September and this year is no exception. I've come to associate the first flurry of horse chestnuts with that familiar twinge in my feet and hands as Arthur makes his seasonal appearance.

The practical upshot of all this is that I want to cook quick, satisfying food that makes me feel better and regular readers will know, that for me, comfort food is generally anything with rice. This ginger sesame chicken is easy to make but also packed full of anti-inflammatory ginger and cold-busting garlic. The sesame seeds add a lovely crunch and a calcium boost. Serve it with wholegrain rice or noodles.

2 skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 clove garlic
Thumb sized piece of ginger grated, or you can use ready-made paste
Handful of chopped spring onions
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
250g pak choi (or you could use any other greens)
1 carrot grated (optional)
1 tablespoon sunflower oil

Serves 2-4

Heat the sunflower oil in a large wok or frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger and spring onions and stir-fry for a minute, then add the chicken, pak choi and carrot and cook for a further 5-10 minutes (or until the chicken is done).

Tip in the soy sauce, sweet chilli and sesame seeds and give everything a good stir. Serve immediately.

Arthritis diet notes:
Sesame seeds are a great source of calcium and magnesium - both important minerals for healthy bone maintenance and especially for people with arthritis. Try sprinkling them on your morning cereal, in stir fries or using ground sesame seed paste (tahini) as a spread on toast.

You can read more about the potential effects of ginger on arthritis and the most recent research here.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Acid, Alkaline, Arthritis - Do alkaline diets or apple cider vinegar work for arthritis?

There are many 'alkaline' diets around claiming to help cure arthritis at the moment. Or, you may be familiar with the old classic cure of honey and cider vinegar - favoured by Margaret Hills and much loved by the adventurer Ranulph Fiennes.

The theory on diet, arthritis and acids goes something like this: proponents believe that arthritis is caused by the build up of too much uric acid in the body (as happens in gout) and that by avoiding certain foods (often dairy products, wheat, certain fruits and vegetables and animal fats are cut out) the body can be restored to its natural alkaline state and arthritis inflammation reduced. Doses of vinegar are supposed to help regulate acidity levels in the body and aid the 'alkalising' process.

So does it work? Well, these kind of diets might help arthritis but not for the reasons they suggest. Firstly, acid is not the cause of arthritis. Whilst it's true that in gout, joint inflammation occurs because of too much uric acid this isn't the case for most other types of arthritis. Moreover, the build-up of uric acid in joints isn't due to dietary acid levels but is caused by chemicals called purines. In fact, if you have gout eating an 'acidic' orange will help you because vitamin C can reduce the severity of gout attacks.

Secondly, the acidity levels in your body vary according to the function of different body parts. Saliva is slightly alkaline to help prevent the acids from food damaging our teeth. The stomach is highly acidic to breakdown food and kill bacteria. Your body happily controls and regulates all these different acidity levels independently of what you eat or drink.

Why are there so many fans of 'alkaline' diets for arthritis then? Put simply, the food you eat on these diets is good for you. Most plans encourage you to cut out foods that aren't so healthy, like processed meats, saturated fats and sweets, and instead make wholegrains, fruit and vegetables the focus of your diet - all things we know can help improve not just your arthritis, but also your overall health.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Quick Caramel Mousse

Do you ever find your arthritis very, very boring? I'm so over mine at the moment. I'm enjoying playing with my 5 month old daughter and discovering things through her eyes and, frankly, I don't have the time for sore wrists, hips or feet. It's enough to make me want to cry like a baby! 

One way of tackling the frustration has been to concentrate on eating well and having fun. The two don't always go hand-in-hand, but I know that when I eat well and relax well I'm more able to cope with arthritis pain.

This caramel mousse delivers on both counts. It's relatively healthy and fun to make. It's full of calcium-rich greek yoghurt, low in fat and contains much less sugar than a commercial product. Calcium is so important for those of us with arthritis: It helps safeguard our bones and may even delay the progress of osteoarthritis in women, although not men (!), according to a recent study. Eating plenty of low fat dairy products, pulses, sesame seeds and fortified non-dairy products is the best way to meet your calcium needs or, for a change, you can try this fun caramel mousse. 


500g 2% fat Greek yoghurt (choose a brand with a firm 'set')
2 egg whites (if you are on immune suppressants, like me, then I recommend using the pasteurised kind that comes in a carton)
1 tablespoon light brown soft sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup (or you can use molasses or treacle for a stronger flavour)
1tsp vanilla extract

Serves 4

In a large bowl, gently fold the sugar, syrup and vanilla extract into the yoghurt until everything is just combined. Don't overmix.

Whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then fold these into the yoghurt mixture. 10-12 folds should do it!

Divide the mousse mixture between four glasses and leave to chill for 2-3 hours before serving. This is best eaten on the day it is made otherwise it will begin to separate.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Arthritis Diet Friendly Recipe: Full of Beans Fish and 'Chips'

Would someone please explain to me where the phrase 'full of beans' comes from? It's an odd English way of saying someone is bursting with energy, but I've always wondered how anyone came up with it. Is it because beans are such tiny little powerhouses of nutritional goodness that they leave you with a spring in your step? Because, whilst they are, they seem to more often have a reputation for being bland, boring and basic. They don't need to be. Roasted like this the humble cannellini (or navy) bean becomes both creamy and crispy. Add some arthritis fighting fish to these roasted beans and you have the healthiest one-pan version of fish and chips you will ever come across - I guarantee it will leave you feeling 'full of beans'!

A few notes on the ingredients, I use frozen fish fillets as they are both economical and convenient. If you want to use fresh fillets, simply add them nearer the end of the cooking time.


2 sustainably sourced frozen white fish fillets
400g can tin of cannellini/navy beans (250g drained weight)
2 small sweet peppers
1/2 tsp paprika (I used smoked paprika)
1/2 tsp dried garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a little to drizzle over the fish.
Black pepper and parsley to season

Serves 2

Roughly slice the peppers into strips and place in a roasting dish with the drained cannellini beans.

Add the oil and spices to the dish and give everything a quick mix together.

Place the fish fillets on top of the spiced beans and peppers and drizzle with a little extra olive oil

Bake at 180C/375F for 20-25 minutes or until the fish is opaque and flakes when gently speared with a fork. The peppers should be softened and the cannelinni beans crispy around the edges.

Garnish with freshly ground black pepper and parsley to taste and serve immediately.

Arthritis diet notes:
Cannellini beans are bursting with folate, iron and magnesium - all micronutrients that are particularly important for people with arthritis. Patients with all types of arthritis are often deficient in folate (folic acid) and iron due to poor diet, the nutritional consequences of chronic inflammation and drug-nutrient interactions (see this post for more details). Magnesium is essential for strong bones and can also help alleviate muscle cramps.


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