Friday, 14 December 2012

Arthritis Kitchen Gadget Christmas List

I make no apologies for this ridiculously fantastical list of expensive but arthritis-friendly gadgets. A girl can dream - and this one dreams of crazy, shiny kitchen machines. Frankly, being sore shouldered, wonky wristed and fumble-fingered should have a few perks... so this is my 'if I have to put up with arthritis please compensate me with kitchen toys' list.

Tefal Fresh Express - chops, grates and slices vegetables and can be cleaned in the dishwasher  No idea if it is any good but it looks pretty handy for those of us with arthritis.

Anything from Joseph Joseph - they prove that you can design user-friendly cooking equipment that looks great and is a joy to use. I've got the nest of bowls but I'm hankering after one of their lightweight chopping mats and the square colander. The switch peeler looks like it might be handy when I really should peel spuds for those Christmas roasties too.

Bosch Food Processor and Mixer - this is such a good idea. It's a kitchen mixer and food processor in one. No more messing about with lots of different pieces of equipment. I currently use a hand mixer and frankly don't need to mix stuff enough to justify a giant, expensive KitchenAid type mixer but this really appeals to my love of space-saving, multi-tasking gadgets.

Nespresso Machine - Um, I can't quite come up with a good arthritis-excuse for this one. Maybe I could legitimise it on the grounds that I smash cafetiere jugs so often due to my dodgy grip that this would be a cost-saving investment! Also, good coffee is essential when I feel like a tin-man with stiff joints first thing so it would be one step towards ensuring I was nice in the mornings...

Culinaire One Touch Can Opener - you know you have arthritis when you want a can opener for Christmas...

What's on your list?

Friday, 7 December 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Cheese Mini Muffins

The Christmas party season is upon us. People are already riding the tube home looking glazed from mulled wine with tinsel in their hair. Carols are being piped out in every shop and you can't move but for being offered mince pies.  If you are having people over or want to take a foodie gift to a party, try these mini muffins. They make a delicious nibble with drinks and are easy to make, even with arthritis. The great thing about muffins is you really only need to mix the batter until it is just combined, stirring too much makes heavy, gluey muffins so they are a great thing to bake if stirring hurts your joints.

I like the combination of cheese,mustard and black pepper in these but you could also try adding herbs, spring onions, ham or even paprika for a different flavour. Make them in advance and freeze them so you are party-ready - no tinsel required.

75g wholemeal flour
75g plain flour
150ml milk
1 egg
1tsp baking powder
40g grated half-fat cheese (plus extra to sprinkle - I buy it ready grated)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 tsp English mustard
Pinch of salt
Black pepper to taste

Makes 24 mini muffins or 12 large

Heat your oven to 180C and line a mini muffin tin with 24 cases (or a large one with 9, if you prefer).In a bowl or jug, lightly beat the egg, oil, mustardvand milk together (a milk frother is a good lightweight tool for this if you find whisking tricky). Mix the dry ingredients and cheese together in another bowl. Tip the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Spoon the mixture into the cases until 3/4 full. Top with a little extra cheese and then bake for 15mins for the mini muffins or 25 for the large. The muffins are cooked when well risen and golden. They are best eaten on the day they are made or you can allow them to cool and then freeze them. Reheat for 10 mins in the oven to serve.

Arthritis diet notes:
Christmas can be a challenge when you have arthritis. Preparing food for family and friends can be tricky when you are exhausted or in pain. Equally, the onslaught of festive food can leave you feeling stuffed and sluggish. Take a look at my how to stay healthy over Christmas tips for ways to enjoy the season without making your arthritis worse.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Butternut Soup

You will have to excuse the lack of posting recently - I've had pretty much every bug going and spent most of this winter curled up, dosed up and wrapped up. So there hasn't been much cooking or eating going on. As much as I love the arthritis tackling effects of Humira and other disease modifiying drugs, I'm not a big fan of how exposed they leave me to all the Autumn lurgies. 

One of the few things I have been able to stomach amidst all this is soup. There is only so much shop-bought soup I can deal with though, they pretty much all taste the same after a while, and there is something especially soothing about real home-made soup. This is a very quick, simple little soup that always hits the spot. It's like a hug in a bowl. Make a double batch and freeze the leftovers so when the lurgy strikes you have some on standby.

500g butternut squash (I use ready chopped, you could also use squash and sweet potato mixed)
1 onion
1 medium sized, think-skinned potato
700ml chicken or veggie stock (Kallo cubes are really good)
1 tablespoon olive oil

Peel the onion and chop into quarters. Pour olive oil into large pan and add onion. Throw in the squash and potato. Cover with the stock and bring to a low simmer. Cook for 20-30mins or until the vegetables are soft.  Whizz up with a hand blender and serve.

Arthritis diet notes
Onions have anti-viral properties and butternut squash is rich in betacarotene and vitamin C making this a good cold-busting soup for when arthritis drugs have left you lurgy ridden.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Can a Cup of Tea Help Arthritis?

Can a cup of tea possible help arthritis? Today 'Arthur Investigates' green tea.

Green tea is rich in two interesting compounds, EGCG (epigallocatchin gallate) and ECG (epicatechin gallate) that scientists have claimed can help prevent cancer, heart disease and even reduce body fat. More usefully for those of us with arthritis, these two chemicals may also have a beneficial effect on both osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis.

In osteoarthritis, several studies have shown that these chemicals inhibit the breakdown of cartilage helping prevent or slow the progress of the disease.Unfortunately these studies have all been cell or animal studies so it's unclear on whether the same effects would occur in humans.

Similarly, there have been some fairly early studies looking at how EGCG can help reduce the production of inflammatory cytokines and improve the symptoms of auto-immune inflammatory arthritis in mice. However, results in clinical trials have shown mixed effects of green tea on inflammation and there haven't been any robust trials testing green tea's benefits on inflammatory arthritis patients.

Ultimately the 'real world' benefits of green tea on arthritis have yet to be proven. We don't know how well the body metabolises the beneficial EGCG so it's also hard to know how much people would need to consume to feel if there are any effects. It's one thing to swap one cup of green tea for your usual English Breakfast but it may be impractical to have to drink 20 cups of the stuff a day.

Given that green tea is a good source of healthy antioxidants it might be worth trying - after all there really is nothing quite as soothing as a sit down with a nice cup of tea.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Cauliflower Cheese Soup

It's almost Halloween and Guy Fawke's night is just around the corner. It's cold and the clocks have gone back. It's back to mornings feeling like the tin-man and wishing you could oil creaky arthritis joints. It's the time of year where I start wearing fingerless mittens indoors and cooking just for the warmth of it.Standing over a big, hot pot of steaming soup suddenly feels like a lovely cosy thing to do and what could be more cosy than the classic cauliflower cheese turned into a thick, creamy soup. Try serving this as a quick supper before heading out for fireworks and it will keep you warm right through to the tips of those mitten fingers.

I make this extra arthritis friendly by using frozen cauliflower florets as they are ready broken up but you could use the same amount of fresh cauliflower. If you have an old parmesan rind kicking around, throw it in the pot for added cheesy flavour - just remember to remove it before blending. 

400g cauliflower florets
200ml semi-skimmed milk
400ml boiling water
1 onion 
1 clove garlic peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
50g cheese of your choice, roughly grated or in small chunks
1 tsp English mustard
Pinch nutmeg (optional)
Black pepper

Serves 4
Peel the onion and very roughly slice it (6 or so pieces is fine). Throw it into a large sauce pan with the olive oil and garlic. Set on a low heat and cook gently for 5 minutes until the onion is slightly softened. 

Add the cauliflower, milk, stock cube and boiling water. Stir well and bring up to the boil, adjust to a low simmer and cover. Cook for 25 minutes.

Turn off the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes. Add the cheese and mustard, then puree with a hand blender. Season with pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Serve with crusty bread and grated parmesan or topped with crispy bacon bits.

Arthritis diet notes
Cauliflower is part of a group of the 'cruciferous' vegetable family (along with brocolli, kale, cabbage and brussel sprouts). That slight sulphur-y whiff that they all can have is actually from the phytochemical sulforophane, which has powerful anti-carcinogenic (anti-cancer) properties and anti-oxidant benefits. Even better cauliflower is a good source of blood pressure lowering potassium and folate (which many with inflammatory arthritis need a little extra of). Obviously, cauliflower is particularly nice with a little cheese but you can also try it roasted with spices or even raw in salads.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Arthritis Diet Myths

Last week, as part of National Arthritis Week, Arthritis Research UK set out to bust some of the myths around arthritis and I joined in with a feature in the Richmond and Twickenham Times. It was a really great campaign as there is still a huge amount of misunderstanding about arthritis. Even some of the doctors I see get confused between osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis. Like me, I'm sure you find people say some pretty odd things to you out of confusion about the condition and even your nearest and dearest may struggle to understand it some times. My least favourite myths are the ones about diet though - over the last 10 years people have suggested that I could cure the arthritis by eating gin-soaked raisins, avoiding nightshade vegetables, cutting out wheat and dairy, only eating organic, fasting and consuming emu oil (yes, really!). I don't object to the idea that making healthy changes to your diet might help with some symptoms, I don't even object to the idea that for some people certain foods may exacerbate the condition but I really get annoyed when people suggest that you can simply cure arthritis with diet. Bluntly, it would be great if you could but you can't. Drinking emu oil can't grease your joints and no amount of carrots will cure crepitus. It's a serious medical condition and no whacky diet is going to kick it to the curb. To lay some of those myths to rest I've been digging about to find out what the scientific verdict is on them:

Avoiding nightshade vegetables - no clinical evidence for this myth. Some individuals may find a particular food makes them better or worse but vegetables from the nighshade family are packed full of anti-inflammatory anti-oxidants, phytochemicals and vitamins so cutting them out of your diet means you are missing out on their nutritional benefits.

Gin-soaked raisins, cider-vinegar etc - no evidence from any clinical trials. I'm afraid this one is all anecdote. Not going to do you any harm if you like eating your raisins with gin but it's probably only the alcohol relieving the pain!

Cutting out wheat - I've posted more extensively about this here. In a nutshell, probably not but it depends on what type of arthritis you have.

No starch/London diet/AS diet - one study has been conducted using this diet which did show positive results but it was with only a few patients and the benefits of cutting out starch haven't been found by other researchers. It's a very restrictive diet so definitely not one to try without discussing it with a dietician or doctor first.

Vegan diet - there is some evidence in favour of this for reducing symptoms in inflammatory arthritis based on a series of trials done by a Scandinavian research group. However, no-one else has replicated their results and a Cochrane Review suggested that patients on the diet actually were risking malnutrition in the long term as they weren't well-equipped to ensure they were eating a balance diet. It could be that the weight loss the patients on the vegan diet experienced actually helped reduce inflammation or possibly the diet itself. A vegan diet can be very healthy if its well-balanced so there is no reason to avoid one because of arthritis but probably no reason to choose to go vegan just for your arthritis either.

Diet does have a role in managing arthritis. Being a healthy weight and eating a balanced diet can help reduce some symptoms and improve your overall health. You can find my run down of how to have a healthy arthritis diet here.

Let me know your least favourite diet myths or whether you are actually a secret fan of gin-soaked raisins and emu oil salad dressings!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Pasta Puttanesca

I've been a little quiet on the blog recently thanks to getting a serious lurgy. As much as I love the way immune-suppressants fight the arthritis, I'm not such a big fan of catching every bug around. With a throat that feels like someone has stuffed razor blades down it, all I want to eat at the moment is fresh, quick and immune-boosting food. Luckily, this recipe fits the bill; it's lightning quick to make and satisfyingly tangy, spicy and salty - with a little kick from the chilli. You can adapt the recipe very easily to suit your own preferences, I leave out anchovies as we don't like them and add handful of almonds for texture and sweetness. You can try adding basil, parmesan, sultanas, pine nuts etc - pretty much anything goes. It's the perfect dish for when the cupboard is a little bare but you still want something special.


250g cherry tomatoes
2 tsp capers
1 tablespoon pitted, green olives
1 tablespoon whole almonds
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 peeled clove garlic
150g pasta

Serves 2

Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor (I use my hand blender) and whizz.

Cook the pasta and drain. Tip sauce over pasta and serve.

Arthritis diet notes
Fresh tomato, garlic and almonds make this a great healthy sauce. If you like anchovies, add two or three for a small boost of omega 3. Try wholemeal pasta for extra fibre and a great earthy contrast to the spicy sauce. 

Monday, 8 October 2012

Arthritis-Friendly Recipe: Oriental Poached Salmon

Stupidly I forgot to take a photo of this when we had it for dinner so you are getting a picture of this noodle soup instead. I read in the news recently that the anti-inflammatories used to treat arthritis can slow memory loss but they clearly aren't helping me. I was inspired to try this after watching the new Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery Course on Channel Four. He poached a piece of salmon in an aromatic stock and it reminded me just how simple and delicious poaching fish is. 

2 fillets salmon (skin on)
500ml fish, vegetable or chicken stock (from a cube is fine)
3 tablespoons white miso paste (I can get this easily in my supermarket but see the variation if you find it hard to get)
300g packet cooked noodles (I used rice noodles but you could use any)
300g packet stir fry veg (or a mix of baby corn, mushrooms, spring onions, broccoli and beans)
2 tsp grated ginger (from a jar or use 1tsp ground)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
Sesame oil to serve

Serves 2-3 

Spoon the miso into a large saucepan and then pour over the hot stock. Bring up to a low simmer, then slide in the salmon fillets. Cook them for about 8 minutes and then remove them from the stock with a slotted spoon and pop aside.

Toss the vegetables into the still simmering stock and cook for 3 minutes. Add the noodles and cook for a further 30 seconds. Splash in the soy sauce.

To serve, put a scoop of noodles, vegetable and a ladle-full of stock in each bowl and then top with the salmon fillets. Drizzle with sesame oil.

If you can't get hold of miso paste, instead use 1 tablespoon thai green curry paste or 2 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce.

Arthritis diet notes
Other than being a little bit high in salt, this is a practically perfect arthritis friendly meal. It has plenty of omega 3 from the salmon, antioxidants from the vegetables and a little anti-inflammatory boost from the ginger

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Cooking with Arthritis Gadgets: Good Grips POP Containers Review

If you have arthritis, then chances are getting the tops on and off containers is not that easy (understatement). Wrestling with tins, tupperware and ties is enough to get you cursing before you even start attempting to cook. For me the challenge is that I want to keep my rice, pasta and flour in proper airtight tins. You only have to find mites in them once or knock a whole bag on the floor to know that a peg just doesn't do the trick. However most airtight tins are really difficult to open and close. So difficult that I've been tempted just to smash them on the floor to get at the pasta in my hungrier moments. OXO Good Grips do a range of arthritis-friendly kitchen implements, including these POP Containers.

What do they do?
They are airtight, stackable containers designed to keep your dry food fresh. The lid comes off with a little push of a large round button in the middle and you can use the popped up button as a handle. They come in a huge range of shapes and sizes. I bought a 2.3litre rectangular container which is a good size for flour, sugar or cereal.

Do they work?
The containers are great fun to use and very easy to get in to. They stack neatly and because they are rectangular you can get lots in a cupboard. However, they are quite heavy to lift and I find the plastic a little slippery. Most annoyingly you can't wash them in the dishwasher.

Do they make it easier to cook with arthritis?
For me they are an improvement on jars with a levered, screw or clip opening. They are probably going to be useful for bad wrists or poor grip but if you have very sore hands lifting the top off may be tricky.  They are quite pricey at around £6-12 each compared to some containers.

Overall verdict?
A- I'd buy more simply to enjoy popping the lids up 

(PS - I bought and reviewed this just for fun. No-one paid me to or asked me to. I just like gadgets.)

Friday, 28 September 2012

Diet, Arthritis and Heart Health

I've ummed and ahh-ed a little about posting this as it's a tricky topic and I don't really want to worry anyone. However, heart health often gets overlooked in arthritis. 

Those of us with inflammatory arthritis are at a potentially increased risk of cardiovascular disease because of the systemic inflammation in our bodies. Luckily, the same medications that reduce our joint inflammation can help reduce our heart risk. For those with osteoarthritis, the risk is more to do with difficulties taking exercise or managing weight. For both types of arthritis, the best prevention is keeping your weight healthy, eating well, taking gentle exercise and getting your GP to keep an eye on your blood pressure, waist circumference and cholesterol levels. 

There are also lots of ways your diet can help keep your heart healthy:

1. Eat plenty of omega 3 -  from oily fish, linseeds (or flax), almonds and walnuts with the added bonus that it's great for your joints and brain too
2. Avoid saturated fat - in meat, butter and dairy. Instead choose lower fat options, lean cuts of meat and limit your serving size
3. Enjoy healthy fats - try olive oil and rapeseed oil for cooking and dressings
4. Fill up on fibre - eat pulses, beans, whole grains and plenty of fruit and vegetables
5. Avoid empty calories - cut back on sugary foods and alcohol
6. Watch your salt intake - try seasoning food with herbs, spices, lemons, limes and vinegars instead

All of the recipes on this site (other than the treats) are based on these principles. Generally, what is healthy for arthritis is also healthy for your heart so you can enjoy the arthritis-friendly recipes knowing they are good for all of you, not just your joints.

For more information, visit  the Arthritis FoundationWebMD (for RA and heart disease info), Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Association and the British Heart Foundation. Lene Andersen (who writes the great blog The Seated View) also produced a helpful article on Health Central about the  issue here.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Arthritis-Friendly Recipe: Making Cake Mix Healthier

Another baking recipe! This came out of a conversation I had with a friend who said that she liked to use mixes as they made baking with arthritis easier for her, mainly because there was less lugging about of heavy flour and sugar jars and no egg cracking. However she wanted to make them a bit healthier and a little tastier. This is what I came up with - it's more of a blueprint than a recipe as you can adapt it depending on what flavours you fancy or what you have in the fridge/cupboard. You need to make sure you are using a cake mix that only requires adding water, butter or oil. If it needs an egg this method won't work. I recommend using a good light plastic bowl, a hand blender and some silicone bakeware for these muffins. A spatula makes light work of scooping it out of the bowl too but the downside is there is nothing left to lick clean.

400g of cake mix ( I used Wright's)
2 really ripe bananas (or use 150g pumpkin puree from a can or applesauce)
150g low fat natural yoghurt (one small pot)
75g All-Bran
50ml milk (leave out if using pumpkin puree or applesauce)

Makes 12

Put the bananas in a large plastic bowl with the yoghurt and milk. Either mash them together by hand or do it with a hand blender or whisk (if they are really ripe).

Add in the cake mix and blend until just combined (don't worry about lumps too much). 

Spoon the mixture into 12 muffin cases so they are each 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer poked in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool and then scoff!

Arthritis diet notes
Adding fruit and yoghurt helps keep these moist without having to add extra fat. The All-Bran and fruit also adds some extra fibre to make them more sustaining and slow the release of the sugar. Throw in some nuts, seeds or dried fruit if you want to make more of a breakfast muffin.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

'Cooking with Arthur' is in the News: Mail on Sunday Article

I'm incredibly excited to have been featured in the Mail on Sunday  this weekend. I've been interviewed about why I'm so passionate about cooking with arthritis (or Arthur as I call it) and asked to share some of my top tips.  
For anyone new to the site, here's a quick run down of what you can find on here:

- All about diet and arthritis, and some tips on eating healthily when you are flaring
- Handy kitchen hints and gadget reviews
- In depth posts on foods and supplements that can help (and some that don't) based on the science, not the myth
- Healthy arthritis-friendly recipes, that are easy to make for the whole family, even when your joints hurt.

I regularly post new recipes and tips, so please check back here or bookmark the site as a favourite.

The Mail article has been a wonderful opportunity for me to share Cooking with Arthur with a wider audience. I really want this site to be a resource for everyone with arthritis or anyone interested in cooking with a medical condition so please share your top tips and tell me what you'd like to see more of. I'm always open to suggestions; leave a comment if there is a particular recipe, diet or cooking problem you would like me to tackle in a future post. Sharing our experiences is the best way we can all keep on cooking with arthritis.

Finally, I was put in touch with the Mail by the lovely people at Arthritis Research UK  as part of their Great British Garden Party campaign. Have a look at their website and think about holding one (you can make my special Orange Drizzle Cake for it). It is a brilliant way to get people together and raise the profile of arthritis. Arthritis Research UK do amazing work providing patients with information and support but they also fund ground-breaking projects into new treatments. I was lucky enough to be treated by one of the clinical trials units they help fund and the difference their works makes is truly life changing. Also look out for National Arthritis Week from the 8th-14th October - another good opportunity to get cooking with arthritis !

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Spicy Tomato Soup

This is a no-chop healthy soup recipe that will really cheer you up on an Autumn day. You can make it all in one pan and there is no messing about with boiling water. I do recommend using a stick/hand blender as it avoids any need to lift the pan whilst it is hot and full of heavy liquid. If you find opening cans tricky, there are some great ring-pull gadgets available now or at my local supermarket you can buy both beans and tomatoes in cardboard cartons.

Try serving this soup with a sprinkle of coriander, a dollop of yoghurt and flatbread or tortilla chips. It will keep for up to 3 days in the fridge.

1 can chopped tomatoes
1 can cannelini or butter beans
1 low salt chicken or vegetable stock cube
1 clove of garlic (optional)
250ml water (or use half milk/half water for a richer soup)
1 tsp smoked paprika
1tsp cumin
1/2tsp turmeric

Serves 4

Put a medium sized pan on the hob. Pour in the tomatoes, beans and water. Toss in the stock cube, spices and peeled clove of garlic (if using). Cover and set on a medium heat until it comes to the boil. Then remove the lid and gently simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Turn off the heat and blend until smooth (I use a hand blender so I can just stick it in the pan. If you need to pour it into a food processor or jug blender, let it cool for a bit first). Serve.

Arthritis diet notes
Soup makes a great lunch or light dinner.Whilst all soups are good at keeping you going, this one is particularly filling as it has additional protein and fibre from the beans. They also provide folate which many people with inflammatory arthritis need a little extra of. The spices give the soup an anti-inflammatory boost whilst adding flavour.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Best Ever Brownies

I'm still watching the Great British Bake Off and consequently I'm still baking alot. It's just my baking is arthritis-friendly and hasn't yet involved creaming, custards or crying. This amazing brownie recipe is a variation on my all-time favourite brownie recipe and I can promise you that these are so easy I managed to make them on one leg, half-drug addled, only two days after a major hip operation (probably qualifies as extreme cooking with arthritis). Feel free to replace the gluten-free flour with ordinary all-purpose flour and add in chocolate chips or nuts.

100g dark dairy free chocolate
75ml rapeseed oil
200g soft brown sugar
2 eggs
4 tbsp cocoa (dutch method for US)
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2tsp salt
85g flour (can be gluten-free)
3tbsp brewed coffee (boosts the chocolate taste but you can use water instead)

Makes 16

Heat the oven to 180c. Grease and 8in x 8in brownie pan.

Place the chocolate in a microwavable bowl and melt by heating at HIGH for 30 second intervals and stirring until runny. Remove from the microwave and add the rapeseed oil and sugar. Stir to combine. Add in the coffee, vanilla extract and salt and mix again.

Tip in the flour and cocoa and give another stir. Finally add the eggs and mix until smooth. You should have a thick batter that falls in a thick ribbon off a spoon. 

Pour the brownie batter into the pan and bake for 25-30mins or until the tops are shiny and cracked but the batter still gooey in the middle. Allow to cool then cut into 16 pieces.

Arthritis diet notes
Um, they are brownies so it's not really going to be good nutritional news. Rapeseed oil is a good source of omega 3 and chocolate is good for the soul but other than that they won't be winning any arthritis joint pain busting prizes. Sorry!

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Share Your Arthritis Recipes and Tips

I've been writing this blog for a while now and whenever I talk to other people about it, whether they are cooking with arthritis or not, they always share with me their favourite recipe or tip. Sometimes it's a really great easy recipe, passed down through the family, like this soda bread recipe.  Other times it's a brilliant tip to make cooking easier, such as microwaving butternut squash whole to make it easier to chop.

I want this site to be a really useful resource for anyone cooking with arthritis or any other condition or disability and I need your help, expertise and ideas to do that. So from today there is a new page on the blog  for your tips, recipes and suggestions. Please do visit it and post whatever you feel like sharing. Together we can help each other get cooking with arthritis.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Arthritis-Friendly Recipe: Singapore Noodles

Apparently Singapore Noodles aren't really from Singapore at all. Confusingly the name is something of a misnomer. Luckily, awkward name aside,  it's a very straightforward recipe. You can use pre-cooked noodles, a pre-chopped stir fry mix and throw in leftover meat, prawns, an egg or even tofu making it pretty much no-chop. What's more it's packed full of arthritis-busting spices, like turmeric, so it is a tasty way to give an anti-inflammatory boost to your diet. Maybe I should rename it Arthur's Aromatic Noodles?! Whatever you call this heap of spicy, aromatic noodles, it's a good recipe for anyone cooking with arthritis.

300g pre-cooked noodles (rice vermicelli are the most authentic)
300g stir-fry vegetables (whatever you like)
2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp fresh grated ginger (you can buy it ready grated in jars or as a paste)
1 clove garlic crushed
1tsp mild curry powder
1 tablespoon rapeseed oil
2 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2tsp sesame oil
A couple of handfuls of chopped cooked chicken, prawns or tofu
Lime wedges to serve (optional)

Serves 2

Heat the rapeseed oil in a large wok over a medium heat. Add the garlic, ginger and spices and stir-fry for a minute. Throw in the vegetables and cook until they begin to soften (about 3 minutes). Add the noodles and chicken/prawns/tofu to heat them through. Sprinkle with the soy sauce. Finally, drizzle with sesame oil and serve.

Arthritis diet notes
If you are interested in the anti-inflammatory effects of spices and whether adding them to your diet really can help arthritis, have a read of these 'Arthur Investigates' posts on garlic, ginger and turmeric.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: 'Great British' Orange Drizzle Cake

The UK is about to go baking mad with the start of a new season of the BBC's tremendously popular 'The Great British Bake-Off'. For those of you unlucky enough to have never seen the programme, it's essentially a cake-baking competition with keen apron wearing contestants whipping up increasingly extravagant baked good in a Cath Kidston-style marquee. It's somewhere between cooking show, pastiche of Britishness and soap-opera - in short it is brilliant. 

I love to watch it but it is one of those shows that slightly frustrates me as someone with arthritis. I watch the contestants kneading, rolling and chopping and wince at the thought of trying it myself. I see them brandish piping bags and feel a little like I'm missing out. So I've been doing my own baking, my own way. This is a recipe I came up with to support another Great British themed event; this time Arthritis Research UK's 'Great British Garden Party'. It's a twist on the traditional lemon drizzle cake. There is no juicing of lemons or cracking of eggs involved so it is by far the easiest cake recipe I know for those with sore hands or wrists. Better still, it's delicious. So delicious that maybe next year I'll enter myself to the Great British Bake Off and show them how it's done!

230g plain flour
200g caster sugar
25g ground almonds (optional - replace with same amount of flour or polenta)
2 ½ tsps baking powder
50ml (three large tablespoons) rapeseed or sunflower oil
200ml orange juice
1 tsp vanilla extract

Drizzle (optional)
50ml orange juice
35g caster sugar

Makes 12 large slices

Grease a large loaf tin (or use a silicone one) and pre-heat oven to 180C.

Put all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and lightly stir together. Add the juice, oil and vanilla extract and either blend together with an electric whisk or a few stirs.

Pour the cake mixture into the tin and cover lightly with foil. Bake for about 35-40mins or until the cake is well risen and a skewer inserted comes out clean.If using the drizzle, mix together the orange juice and sugar in a small bowl. Keep the cake in its tin and poke a few holes in it with the skewer, then pour the drizzle over it.

Allow the cake to cool for 30 minutes before removing from tin. 

Arthritis diet notes:
Compared to most cakes this cake has a better nutritional profile whilst tasting every bit as good. The rapeseed oil makes it a good source of omega 3 fatty acids - plant derived omega 3s aren't as well utilised by the body as fish derived ones but they still can help reduce inflammation in arthritis. The cake is still high in sugar so it should be treated as a treat.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Diet, Arthritis and Medications - How They Effect Your Nutritional Health

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a specialist nurse about how drugs can impact on the nutritional status of people with arthritis. Now we're both biased, but we both agreed that it is something not often discussed in the rheumatologist's office. However, the arthritis medications can have a big impact on your nutrient intake, metabolism and absorption.

Side-effects - arthritis medications can sometimes make it hard to eat a balanced diet. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can cause heartburn, stomach pain and nausea putting you off your food. Methotrexate is renowned for making people feel sick and can also cause ulcers or a sore mouth which may make eating 'normal' food difficult. Some drugs also alter the way things taste or leave a funny taste in the mouth. Finally, the tiredness the drugs cause may make it hard to face shopping or cooking

These side-effects are part of the reason that people with arthritis, especially those with inflammatory or auto-immune arthritis (rheumatoid, psoriatic, enteropathic, ankylosing spondylitis etc) are often found to  have nutritional deficiencies. The most common ones found in studies are low levels of selenium, vitamin C, iron, folic acid, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 (follow the links to read about why these are important for people with arthritis). We're also more likely to eat more fat and sugar than those without arthritis, possibly because we rely on prepared or convenience foods.

Drug-nutrient interactions - some drugs either lower absorption or deplete micro-nutrients in the body. Methotrexate blocks the metabolism of folic acid so patients are usually given supplements and these help reduce the drug's side effects (although these are normally taken on a different day to the methotrexate to ensure the don't reduce the drugs effectiveness). Sulfasalazine also depletes folic acid although slightly differently, by reducing absorption so again, supplements are important.  Steroids reduced calcium absorption in the intestine which can damage bone strength. Making sure you get extra calcium whilst on long term steroids is important and sometimes a supplement (with vitamin D) is necessary.

 However, it is worth remembering that arthritis itself can cause  deficiencies and malnutrition and the medications help combat the risk in different ways. For example, inflammation can cause a loss of lean body mass known as 'cachexia' which is a serious condition and far harder to treat than folic acid deficiency. Medications like methotrexate can help prevent this as well as treating the underlying arthritis.

Ultimately, watching out for side-effects and knowing about drug-nutrient interactions can help protect you from any deficiencies. Talk to your doctor, nurse or dietician if you are on medications and suffering from side-effects. They will be able to check out any possible deficiencies and help you manage the side-effects or nutrient interactions. All the recipes on this site are also designed to help get people with arthritis get enough of the nutrients they need whilst being easy to cook with arthritis and delicious, so do have a browse.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Super Healthy Bean Salad

I was going to post a lovely sushi salmon salad recipe today. Sounds good right? Well,  I had a mishap - I left the fridge door slightly ajar last night on the hottest day of the year so far. Along with rendering 3 doses of my arthritis medication, Humira, unusable, the mishap has rendered the sushi salad unfit for human consumption, and more importantly for the blog's sake, unfit to be photographed.

So ingenious cook that I am, instead there is a recipe for a no-chop salad using the rescued peas and beans. It's very easy to make if you have arthritis as there is absolutely no-chopping or slicing involved. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble and is a lovely side dish. It would go particularly well with salmon if you haven't left your fridge door ajar...

150g frozen peas 
150g frozen soybeans (or if you prefer it's also nice with canellini beans or chickpeas)
Handful of rocket leaves

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sweet chilli sauce
Splash of soy sauce (to taste)

Put the peas and beans in a dish and leave to thaw for 2 hours or just give a quick blast in the microwave (not required if you leave your fridge freezer door open!).Stir in the oil and sauces. If you have time, pop the whole lot in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavours develop and then serve.

Dressing variations:
Pesto - 1 tablesoon of pesto, 1/2 olive oil and a handful of basil leaves
French - 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard and 1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Spicy - 1 tablespoon olive or rapeseed oil, 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1/2 tsp cumin, 2 chopped spring onions and juice of half a lime

Arthritis diet notes:
This is jam-packed with healthy, arthritis friendly ingredients. The peas and beans are rich in folate which people with inflammatory arthritis can often be deficient in, particularly if they take arthritis medications like methotrexate or sulfasalazine. Edamame or soy beans are rich in phytoestrogens. I wrote a post about their role in arthritis here.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Cooking with Arthritis Gadgets: Kitchen Aid Food Processor Review

We were given a Kitchen Aid food processor as a wedding gift and it is a thing of beauty. It makes the whole kitchen look like it could well be the set of some exciting cookery programme (when it doesn't look like a food bomb has gone off in it). Food processors are a great tool for anyone cooking with arthritis. They can help you get more fruit and vegetables into your arthritis diet without having to struggle with chopping, like in the recent bolognese recipe I posted. However, how easy they are to assemble, clean and use makes a big difference to whether they are truly arthritis-friendly or not. So today 'Arthur investigates' the Kitchen Aid Artisan Food Processor.

What is it supposed to do?
Chop, whisk, mix, blend, knead, slice and grate at the touch of the button. There is a mini chopping bowl included and  mine even has an attachment for juicing citrus fruit. Kitchen Aid state it has a 'clean touch control panel', stable design and quiet motor.

Does it work?
It does a reasonable job of chopping or dicing vegetables. I use it quite a bit for dealing with onions or carrots but I do find I have to open the top and poke things about a bit to get it to chop evenly. Some pieces always seem to get stuck at the bottom no matter how full or empty I make the bowl. I also prefer my hand blender for pureeing as I don't think it gives a particularly smooth finish to soups or sauces.

It grates like a dream and the dough blade is fantastic for making cakes, cookies and pastry. The whisk attachment is ok but I think it takes longer and is less effective than my electric hand whisk. Honestly, I have never tried the juicer and probably never will!

It's fairly easy to assemble although if it isn't aligned correctly it is very easy to crack the bowl and they are hard to replace. The base wipes down very well and the 'clean touch' panel really does mean no bits of carrot stuck around your buttons. The bowl and attachments are dishwasher safe or easy to clean by hand. I can't stand the attachment storage box which is like a jigsaw puzzle with very sharp pieces.  It is also expensive - it is without doubt the most attractive food processor out there but there are certainly cheaper options available.

Does it make it easier to cook with arthritis?
Most of the time I think it does. There is no need to hold anything, the buttons are easy to push even with sore hands and it is relatively easy to operate. When my arthritis is very bad I do find it a bit a hassle to assemble and particularly to detach the bowl. I tend to use my hand blender with the chopping attachment then just because it is lighter, quicker and there is less cleaning up afterwards. 

I think it probably depends on what kind of cooking you do. If you have lots of hungry mouths to feed or make large quantities of dishes, then it will save you work and might make cooking with arthritis easier. If you are cooking for one or two people, then a hand blender with chopper bowl is going to be more useful and a lot cheaper.

Overall verdict?
B+  A stylish kitchen helper for most tasks

Do let me know if you have a food processor, what model it is and how you find it so we can start a few comparisons.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Cooking with Arthritis Gadgets: Bad Days Bolognese

Sometimes gadgets are the answer to arthritis. I prefer to find ways to cook with arthritis that don't involve resorting to too many high-tech or specialist tools but there is a lot to be said for a couple of 'little helpers' in the kitchen - in this case my trust food processor.

Bolognese is one of my favourites. It's what we always requested for Birthdays or when we were unwell and thankfully my Mum has always made it with a food processor. It makes whizzing up the vegetables a doddle. If you don't have processor or blender and have arthritis in your hands - I'd recommend using ready chopped veg or a good quality cook-in sauce instead.  I've slightly adapted Mum's recipe over the years to add even more vegetables and cut out the bacon, but the credit for this should be all hers. On bad days, the taste of home it gives me is all the comfort I need.

1 onion 
2 cloves garlic
2 sticks celery
2 medium sized carrots (no need to peel if organic)
500ml passata (sieved tomatoes) OR 1 can chopped tomatoes
500g extra lean beef mince (or Quorn if vegetarian)
300g mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 glass red wine 
1 bay leaf
1/2 crumbled stock cub
Black pepper to taste

Serves 3-4

Cut the ends of the onion and slice in half. Then peel the skin off. Put in food processor with garlic, halved sticks of celery and carrots. Pulse until finely chopped.

Pour the oil into a large saucepan and tip in the chopped vegetables and cook on a low heat for 5 minutes or until the onion begins to soften. Add the mince and cook for another 5 minutes until just browned.

Put the mushrooms in the food processor and whizz until finely chopped. Add these to the pan with the tomatoes, red wine, stock cube and bay leaf. Set to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes stirring occasionally. If it looks a little dry at any point just add a little water. Season with black pepper and serve.

Arthritis diet notes:
This is a very healthy recipe for bolognese. It's packed with vegetables and the lean mince (or quorn for vegetarians) make it much lower in saturated fat than some versions. This makes it a better choice for people with arthritis as the links between red meat and rheumatoid arthritis in some studies are mainly thought to be due to the saturated fat and omega 6 fatty acid content of the meat. Interestingly, tinned and cooked tomatoes are higher in the antioxidant lycopene than fresh so you can also feel good about simmering them up in the delicious sauce. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

Flare Food: Anti-Inflammatory Diet Tips

The post I published recently on what diet to eat during an arthritis flare has been one of my most viewed (although not more so than the chocolate chip cookie recipe, clearly we all like chocolate). Food and diet can't end an arthritis flare but they can help ease it and keep you healthy whilst it lasts. If you are interested in anti-inflammatory foods, spices and nutrients, have a read of the 'Arthur Investigates' posts for a low-down on what works for arthritis and what is a waste of time.

These are my favourite 'cooking with arthritis' recipes for when I'm flaring (and I'm enjoying a nice arthritis flare at the moment) alongside my 4 top flare-diet tips:

1. Increase your omega-3 intake - it really can help fight inflammation and reduce pain
One-pan Honey Mustard Salmon
Soy-Ginger Salmon
Oat and Almond Crusted Fish

2. Get your anti-inflammatory spices - there is less evidence on spices than oily fish, but studies show that  turmeric, chilli and ginger can all help
No Chop Green Thai Curry 
Noodle Soup 
Thai Sweetcorn Soup

3. Eat arthritis-busting veggies - anti-oxidants are vital to help protect against and repair the damage from inflammation
Baked Sweet Potato
Power Pea Pesto
Spinach, Pea and Feta Frittata

4. Feel cozy with better-for-you comfort food - nothing like your favourite dish to cheer you up when you are down
Real Rice Pudding
Polenta Pan Pizza
Zuchinni Rice Bake

What are your tips? What do you find especially hard when you have a flare?

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Diet, Arthritis and Gluten - Should You Go Gluten Free?

I get asked all the time about whether going gluten-free will help arthritis symptoms. Perhaps unhelpfully, I always say that it is a tricky topic. Why? Well, generally the evidence shows that for most people eating gluten doesn't have any effect on arthritis. Having said that, everyone is different and some people feel that avoiding gluten helps their arthritis symptoms or digestive problems.To help you decide what you think, here is a quick low-down on gluten and arthritis.

Why avoid gluten?
Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley. People with the auto-immune condition, coeliac disease, have to cut out gluten to avoid damage to their gut. Some people can also have a wheat allergy, which means that they get swelling and hives almost immediately when they eat wheat.
A gluten sensitivity or intolerance is different from both of these conditions. It is a more delayed response by the body to eating gluten and may cause a wide-range of symptoms, including IBS. 

What about arthritis?
Anecdotally, some people do find that cutting gluten out helps their arthritis. However, the evidence varies:
  • Osteoarthritis - there is no reliable evidence for any kind of a link between primary osteoarthritis (as in not caused by another condition) and gluten. 
  • Inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid, psoriatic, ankylosing spondylitis) - I couldn't find link between eating gluten and developing rheumatoid arthritis. But, coeliac disease is more common in people with auto-immune disorders, including arthritis, and some people with coeliac disease develop associated arthritis.
Gluten intolerance might affect arthritis: a group of Scandinavian researchers have repeatedly concluded that a vegan or vegetarian gluten-free diet improves inflammatory arthritis. However other research hasn't backed this up and it's not clear whether it's avoiding gluten that helps or the other diet changes, like cutting out meat. A review of the effect of diet on rheumatoid arthritis concluded that restricted diets didn't have any benefits and that cutting out so many foods meant some patients were at risk of nutritional deficiencies.

What should I do if I think I have a gluten intolerance?

If you think gluten might be aggravating your arthritis then a dietician or registered nutritionist can help you identify if you have an intolerance and trial cutting gluten out of your diet. If you find when you reintroduce it your symptoms get worse, then you might want to go gluten-free (it's really important that if you think you might have coeliac disease that you don't cut it out until you have been diagnosed as the tests only work if you are eating gluten). 

Eating gluten-free can be a challenge; it's hidden in many processed foods so read packets carefully. Advice from a dietician or nutritionist can also make sure that you are still getting a enough fibre and not missing out on any nutrients whilst you adjust to a gluten-free diet.

There are lots of gluten-free recipes on this blog to help you eat healthily if you have an intolerance or coeliac disease. I'd also really recommend Coeliac UK and MedicineNet for further information.


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