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.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Cute Cupcakes - Healthier and Gluten-Free

You can make amazing cakes suitable for anyone on a special diet or allergies with a bit of imagination and sense of adventure in the kitchen. Gluten-free and dairy/milk-free cakes can be a bit of a challenge to make tasty without loading them up with fat and sugar, which isn't going to help anyone's arthritis, so it takes a bit of creativity to get the texture and flavour right. One book that really shook up my approach to baking is Harry Eastwood's 'Red Velvet Chocolate Heartache' which is full of inspiring cake recipes made with vegetables! This recipe is adapted from one of hers and it is a great, fool-proof cupcake recipe. Try topping it with my 'World Arthritis Day Red Velvet Cake' frosting or simply serve with some fresh seasonal berries.

150g peeled and finely grated courgette/zuchinni
90g gluten free flour
1 medium free-range egg
15g ground almonds (if you want to make nut free just omit)
75g sugar (I used soft brown for a moister cake or if you want a fluffier cake, use caster sugar)
1tsp baking powder
1tsp vanilla extract
Makes 6 cupcakes - easily doubled

Beat the egg and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric whisk for 3-5 minutes until pale and frothy. Add the flour, courgette, almonds (if using) vanilla and baking power and beat again until well-combined. Pour into cases and bake for about 20 minutes at 180c/350f until risen and lightly golden.

Chocolate cupcakes - use 20g cocoa powder and only 70g flour
Lemon - add the grated zest of one lemon

Arthritis diet notes
This is a pretty light cupcake recipe and much lower in saturated fat than most yet still tastes rich and fluffy. Grating the courgettes can be a bit of a pain if your hands hurt so you could use a food processor. I use a hand held electric whisk but again a stand mixer will make these much easier on than hands and wrists. Serve these with fresh fruit and yoghurt for a tasty, healthier dessert. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

How to Keep Eating Healthily with an Arthritis Flare: Spinach and Ricotta Pasta

Cooking with arthritis is difficult at the best of times and when you are flaring, it can seem impossible. There are lots of tips about how to be prepared for those days on the Handy Hints page. I always try and keep recipes simple, and no-chop if possible, but sometimes we all need something so easy you can make it in 5 mins without having to think about it. Well, here is a recipe that does just that. And, it's good for you too. Enjoy.

250g frozen spinach, thawed, or wilted fresh spinach (drain well)
250g ricotta or cottage cheese
1/2 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
Nutmeg and black pepper to taste
Pasta to serve

Serves 3-4

Combine spinach, ricotta, oil and garlic in a food processor or blender (or use a stick blender). Whizz together until combined but there is still some texture - don't be so 'blender-happy' that you end up with soup! Add nutmeg and black pepper to taste.

Serve by stirring into hot pasta. Try it topped with pine nuts and basil or top with a little cooked bacon.

Arthritis diet notes:
This sauce is jam-packed with folate,calcium, selenium and iron: four key nutrients that people with arthritis often don't get enough of (particularly those with inflammatory arthritis). One of the main reasons people with arthritis don't get enough of these nutrients is because it's hard to shop, cook and eat a healthy diet when you are in pain. Having a few easy, nutrition packed recipes like this, that take very little preparation and use ingredients that most people have to hand, can help protect you against nutritional deficiencies and keep you healthy even when your arthritis is flaring.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Does Eating Soy Help Arthritis?

As part of the 'Arthur Investigates' series of posts, today we're looking at whether soy protein is a useful addition to the diet for people with arthritis. Soy beans are used to make tofu, soy milk, flours and even protein shakes. The beans are also delicious green as edamame or dried and cooked. Soy is rich in phytoestrogens that can help regulate hormones and reduce blood pressure - but it is also a controversial food, both in terms of how sustainably it is sourced and concerns about unintended health effects.

The research on soy and arthritis is patchy but it does seem that it can have some benefits.

Osteoarthritis - one small study giving patients a 40g supplement of soy protein a day, found that it helped relieve pain and stiffness as well as improving chemical markers of cartilage damage. Interestingly, it was more effective in men than in women. A review of studies looking at avocado and soy unsaponifiable supplements (of about 300mg a day) concluded that they improve pain but longer term studies were needed to confirm this.

Inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoic, psoriatic and ankylosing spondylitis) - there has been less research looking at the effects of soy protein on inflammatory arthritis. A study giving rats with RA soy protein found it suppressed the inflammatory response and slowed disease progression. This anti-inflammatory effect has also been found in lab cell studies. There haven't been many studies on patients so there isn't any firm evidence on whether it helps in 'real life' or how much you'd need to consume to get a beneficial effect. Soy protein has been found to help prevent osteoporosis in several studies, and people with inflammatory arthritis are more likely to get osteoporosis so there may be some benefits to consuming it as part of a heathy, bone-boosting diet (see this post for more information).

Ultimately, it seems that soy might be helpful for people with arthritis but there isn't enough evidence to make any clear recommendations. My advice would be that if you like soy products then carry on eating them as  part of  healthy, balanced diet. I'll be posting a soya-rich recipe next week so look out for it!


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