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.)


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