Tuesday, 10 December 2013

How to Cook, Eat and Celebrate over Christmas when you have arthritis

Every year I try and write a post about how to stay healthy over the holiday season when you have arthritis.
It's perhaps a little ironic that celebratory period of the year can also be one for the most challenging if you have arthritis. It's not that putting up Christmas trees, seeing family and friends, drinking mulled wine and eating too much good food are unhealthy activities but you'd need to the stamina of one of Santa's elves to do it all and remain in festive cheer unless you pace yourself when you have arthritis.

I'd love to share all my top tips on how to pace yourself and not to end up wrapping presents at midnight on Christmas Eve but the truth is I haven't cracked it yet. I can however give you some pointers on how to cook and eat healthily over the holidays.

1. Start the day well - make sure that no matter how busy you are that you start the day with a healthy breakfast. Porridge (oatmeal) with some fruit, yoghurt with a little festive granola (recipe here) or wholemeal toast and eggs are all simple, arthritis friendly meals that will help make sure that you at least get a balanced start to the day and ensure you aren't so hungry when you hit that Christmas lunch party that you gobble three mince pies before greeting the host.

2. Don't feel that you have to make the 'perfect' meal - if you are cooking, make it easy for yourself and your arthritis. Buy pre-chopped vegetables, jointed and dressed meats and have everything delivered. Don't feel that you have to create a magazine-worthy spread of heroic proportions. Nobody wants you to cripple yourself cooking, people would always rather a few simple dishes and a happy, healthy cook.

3. Keep things balanced - Christmas is inevitably a time of indulgence. That's wonderful and there is no need to not enjoy it just because you have arthritis but you can practice a bit of 'savvy scoffing'. There are so many delicious, seasonal and arthritis friendly foods to enjoy, like chestnuts, roast vegetables, dried fruit and nuts and lean turkey. If you know you are off to a party where there won't be many fruit and vegetables, make sure you have a nice veggie soup for lunch before you go. At buffets or big meals,try to make sure your plate is at least two-thirds full of vegetables, lean protein and wholegrains before you load it up with high-fat items like stuffing, pastries and cheeses.

4. Try some of my lightened-up arthritis friendly Christmas recipes - these tasty spinach and ricotta filo parcels make a great veggie main course or party snack. My chestnut and root vegetable risotto uses up all your leftovers from Christmas day. This chocolate mousse is a fantastic dessert that is guilt-free and this fish dish is an easy solution to the traditional Christmas Eve fish supper.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Arthrtis-Friendly Recipe: One Pot Healthy Macaroni Cheese

Of all my arthritis diet friendly recipes, this one's title seems to be promising the most: all-in -one pan, healthy and a good recipe for macaroni cheese. I won't be offended if you feel a bit sceptical about it but I promise you that not only does it taste delicious but I have just made it on a very bad arthritis day using one arm and whilst on crutches. The pasta is cooked in milk with the natural starches helping to thicken the sauce. The method may seem obscure but it's a similar idea to making a risotto or an all-in-one white sauce. 

150g macaroni pasta shapes (or other small pasta shape)
300ml cold water
300ml semi-skimmed milk
30g very strong/extra mature cheddar (you can use reduced fat and I used ready grated)
1tsp english mustard
1tsp butter
1/4 tsp salt
15g plain flour
Black pepper 

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

Put a medium sized pan or casserole dish on the hob and throw in your pasta, all the water and 200ml of the milk. Set on a gentle heat and bring slowly up to a simmer. Stir occasionally and cook until the pasta is cooked al dente. 

Whilst the pasta is cooking, mix the remaining 100ml of milk with the flour to form a thin, smooth paste. 

Once the pasta is just cooked, add this milk and flour mix to the pan along with the mustard, butter, grated cheese, salt and black pepper to taste. Gently heat the whole lot and stir continuously until the sauce thickens. 

You can either serve it straight from the pan or if you want to go one step further, cook the whole recipe in a skillet or shallow casserole dish, top with a little cheese and then pop under the grill for 5 minutes or until golden brown and bubbling.

Arthritis diet notes:
Macaroni cheese gets a bad rap normally from nutritionists as many chef-style recipes are crammed full of extra cheese and double cream. However, the traditional British version of the dish is comparatively light - it's normally made using a simple white sauce with cheese added and then topped with either breadcrumbs or more cheese. Obviously, full fat dairy products are rich in unhealthy saturated fats which can exacerbate arthritis inflammation but you can easily substitute lighter versions which are a good source of bone-boosting calcium. To ensure you still get maximum flavour, try adding a little mustard to boost the cheese flavour and pick the strongest or most mature types of cheese for the most cheesy taste.

My all-in-one version makes the most of these healthy short-cuts and makes a perfectly well-balanced meal served alongside plenty of vegetables - try a few little cherry tomatoes and peas or spinach with a touch of garlic.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Weight Loss, Diet and Arthritis

I've been asked a lot about diet, arthritis and weight loss recently. The holiday season seems to make people simultaneously think about overindulgence and cutting back! There's no doubt that losing excess weight can help manage arthritis symptoms but it's also true that losing weight isn't always easy if you have arthritis. Joint pain may make many exercises difficult or impossible. The drugs used to treat arthritis, like steroids, can cause weight gain and increase appetite and, frankly, feeling in pain can drive even the most strong-willed arthritis sufferer to the cookie jar. 

So, in the face of all these difficulties, why should being a healthy weight matter? Being overweight or obese has an impact on both the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis and its progression: Lifetime risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with body mass index and the chance of osteoarthritis getting progressively worse is increased in overweight and obese patients. It’s thought that this mainly due to the increased pressure extra weight places on joints – one pound of body weight translates to four pounds of extra pressure on a knee joint. However, for people with all types of arthritis, there is also a link between being overweight and having increased levels of inflammatory chemicals circulating around the body (which are linked to the pain and destruction of joints).

Losing excess weight is consistently shown to help improve arthritis symptoms. It's not always easy but improving your diet can really help you feel better. If you want to lose weight, here are some strategies that might help:

1. Before you even start to contemplate changing your diet, write down everything you eat for a week. You might be surprised where some of your calories are coming from. Maybe it’s picking between meals or that packet of mints you ate without thinking in the car.

2. Focus on what you can add to your diet rather than what you need to forgo. Always include at least 2 portions of fruit or vegetables with each meal, pick high fibre products like wholewheat pasta, brown bread and porridge oats, make sure you are getting some lean protein in every meal (like a chicken breast fillet, beans, trimmed red meat, fish or tofu) and plenty of low fat dairy.

3. Watch what you drink. Alcohol, juices, smoothies, fizzy drinks and milky coffees (like your favourite latte) are rich in calories but rarely fill you up. It’s all too easy to drink the equivalent of a meal in a few minutes.

4. Stock your fridge and cupboards with healthy snacks. You don’t need to go hungry – try air-popped popcorn (recipe here), raw veg sticks, fruit and low fat cheese portions. Nuts and dried fruits may be healthy but are very energy dense so if you choose to snack on them, only have a small handful.

5. Ask for help. Depending on where you live, you may be able to get some support through your doctor. Many areas have some great weight management schemes. Online tools, diet clubs and forums also can provide valuable social support. If you can bear it, tell your friends and family that you are trying to make healthy changes and ask them to support you/not buy you chocolates.

For more tips, you can read my posts on what to feed your arthritis (or the principles of a healthy arthritis diet), eating well when you have an arthritis flare and some hints on how to stay healthy over the festive season. The NHS has a very handy 12 week weight loss plan and lots of advice here. Arthritis Research UK has some arthritis-specific weight loss and diet information here.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Spicy, Anti Inflammatory Chicken Biryani

Spices are great addition to the diets people with arthritis. Turmeric, garlic and ginger all have a natural anti-inflammatory effect and are also contain powerful anti-viral and anti-bacterial phytochemicals so are worth tucking into during the winter. 

This biryani recipe uses all three of these arthritis busting ingredients. It’s much healthier than a takeaway biryani and ready in less time than it takes for that scooter to turn up! You’ll notice, I’ve made general suggestions for the type of curry paste, vegetables and nuts you might want to use. You can vary the recipe based on what you have to hand and it will still taste great.

Serve it with low-fat greek yogurt mixed with a little chopped mint (or even mint sauce from a jar). You can cook your own poppadums for a low-fat treat in the microwave, rather than deep-frying them. Simply place each one in the microwave for about 30 seconds and watch them pop up.

2 skinless chicken breasts, sliced into strips
100g basmati rice
250ml chicken stock
200g chopped vegetables of your choice (what is in the fridge or frozen – I used peas, kale, leeks and cauliflower)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1tsp ground turmeric
1 tablespoon mild curry paste (I used a biryani paste but korma would work or even curry powder)
½ tbsp sunflower oil
1 thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped (or you can use ginger paste from a jar)
1 tbsp pistachios, cashews or flaked almonds to serve

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

Heat the oil in a medium sized casserole dish. Add the chicken, ginger, garlic,turmeric and curry powder and stir, cooking on a low heat for 1 minute.

Pour in the rice, vegetables and stock and give everything a good stir. Bring the pan up to a low simmer and then cover and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan (or pop the whole covered dish into the oven and bake for 20 minutes at 180C).

Remove the pan from the heat and garnish with the nuts before serving.

Arthritis diet notes:
No spice can cure your arthritis but the powerful natural chemical compounds in turmeric, garlic and ginger have shown some promising effects in early studies and you can read more on these by following the embedded links.

This arthritis friendly biryani recipe contains less than a third of the saturated fat and salt of a typical takeaway dish and half that of a supermarket ready-meal equivalent.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Time to Hibernate? All About Pain,Tiredness and Diet in Arthritis

Autumn is slowly turning into winter and with the darker nights I get an urge to hibernate.Some of this is just my response to cold, wet evenings and some of it is the effects of feeling exhausted by arthritis. Before we get into the ins and outs of what to do when you feel exhausted, I want to explain what I mean by 'fatigue' or 'tiredness' when you suffer from the pain of arthritis. Sometimes, those of us with arthritis feel ordinarily tired: exhausted, cranky and like we could do with an extra 6 hours in bed. However, when your arthritis is flaring the fatigue is nothing like that 'ordinary tired' feeling. It feels like someone has simply taken your battery out (a friend once said it was like being the opposite of the Duracell bunny!). Sleep doesn't particularly help and you tend to feel like you are wandering around with lead for limbs and borscht for brains.

Why does this happen? Well, arthritis pain is both physically demanding and mentally exhausting. The inflammation that causes pain taxes your body - systemic inflammation over time can lead to anaemia and cachexia (loss of lean body mass), both of which increase feelings of fatigue. Medications that help tackle inflammation, like anti-inflammatories or disease modifying drugs, can also cause side effects which increase fatigue. Anyone who has had a 'methotrexate hangover' will recognise well the feeling of being utterly wiped out by a medication. Diet can help to some extent with this kind of arthritis fatigue. Eating plenty of omega 3 rich foods can help reduce inflammation and you can also support your body by making sure you are getting enough B vitamins and iron through eating plenty of wholegrains, leafy greens and even lean red meat.

Pain can make it difficult to sleep which leads to even more fatigue. Arthritis can stop you getting comfortable at night or wake you in the early hours of the morning. Some people with arthritis call this , fittingly, 'painsomnia'. Luckily  you can help tackle some of the causes of insomnia through diet. Try not to eat anything heavy, spicy or tough on the digestive system in the 3 hours before bedtime. Instead try a light snack to help balance your blood sugar that is rich in calcium, magnesium and the amino acid, tryptophan. A bowl of milky porridge (oatmeal) or a chicken sandwich on wholemeal bread both provide the right mix of sleep-encouraging nutrients.

Finally, being tired and in pain makes shopping,cooking and eating healthily a challenge. It can be very tempting to reach for something instant or ready made when you are totally exhausted. However, people with all kinds of arthritis have been shown to be more likely to be deficient in vitamins C, E, folic acid and calcium than people without the condition, probably due to the difficulties preparing food you are shattered. Shortages of these nutrients can exacerbate fatigue and make it harder to bounce back from pain. A well-balanced healthy diet can help you cope - try stocking the freezer up with pre-prepared home made meals, frozen veg and fish and even healthier ready meals (see here for tips) so you have a stash of easy, healthy options when you feel a flare coming on.

And, if all this sounds too much like hard work and you just want to get into bed or slump on the sofa - go for it. Sometimes you need to listen to what your tiredness is telling you.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Trick or Treat Pumpkin Muffins

With Halloween just around the corner, here is a great, arthritis-friendly healthy pumpkin muffin recipe. I'm not a huge fan of halloween but I am a big fan of these gently spiced, gingery muffins. Using pumpkin purée eliminates the need to hack up a large pumpkin which can be pretty difficult if you have arthritis but by all means use some cooked pumpkin if you have it. The muffins make a great afternoon snack or a fun, healthy thing to serve to trick-or-treaters. See the recipe variation for my rather wicked adult-version (a bit like Russian Roulette with a muffin).


1 can pumpkin purée (454 grams)
2 medium eggs
200g gluten-free or plain flour
50g ground almonds
50g rolled oats
100g light brown soft sugar
1 tablespoon treacle or molasses
1tsp ground ginger
1tsp cinnamon
1tsp baking powder
50g chopped glace ginger or 1tsp fresh grated ginger (optional)

Makes 12

Using an electric whisk or stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together for 3 minutes or until pale and fluffy. Add the pumpkin purée and treacle and briefly mix again. Tip in all the other ingredients and fold them into the wet mixture until just combined.

Fill each muffin case two-thirds full. Bake at 180C/375F for 25 minutes of until a knife inserted into the centre of the muffin comes out clean.


For an adults-only Halloween treat, fill 3 muffin cases half full before adding a sprinkle of chilli flakes into the centre or each case. Top with another spoonful of muffin mix to cover the chilli flakes. Fill the other 9 cases as usual. Serve as a 'Trick or Treat' (although actually I really like the warmth of the chilli ones!).

Arthritis diet notes:
Pumpkin is an excellent source of vitamins A, C and fibre. The ginger in this recipe adds an anti-inflammatory kick whilst the ground almonds boost the vitamin E and healthy monounsaturated fat content. You can try reducing the sugar content by half if you like a less dessert-like muffin but do leave in the molasses or treacle - not only does it add flavour but it also give an iron boost.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Cooking with Arthritis Gadgets: Kenwood kMix Stand Mixer Review (and a few words about KitchenAid)

Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I had been dithering about whether to buy a stand mixer for ages to make baking with arthritis easier. I have a very old but faithful electric hand beater that I have been using for years but it's pretty heavy to hold and after one incident of dropping-it-in-cake-batter-and-redecorating-the-kitchen too many, I finally decided to get a stand mixer. I spent a long time researching which to get and eventually settled on a Kenwood Kmix after fiddling with lots of them in store and finding the Kenwood easiest with my arthritis. My decision was helped by the fact that it had a discount on it too, making it £150 cheaper than a KitchenAid. I was also swayed by Kenwood's customer service, having found KitchenAid's somewhat lacking after my food processor bowl cracked. Over a month later, and I've used it enough to give it a thorough review:

What does it do?

It beats, whisks and kneads. The kMix comes with a 5-litre stainless steel bowl and powerful 500w motor. It has a range of speeds and even a folding action for blending in things like egg-whites into a mousse base. It comes with a whisk, beater, dough-hook, batter-paddle and splash guard. You can also buy extra attachments to roll pasta etc.

Does it work?
I've used it for cakes, bread and whisking egg whites so far and it has handled them all easily. It smoothly works up to the set speed and automatically stops if you lift the mixer head. Occasionally, mine doesn't seem to want to get going when I initially turn the dial but this seems to be a freak occurrence. It does a much better job of bread than a hand-mixer and cakes have been very light and fluffy.

Does it make it easier to cook with arthritis?
For me it has made things much easier. My right shoulder and elbow can get very sore and holding a hand-beater is tricky. I like the fact I can just switch the kMix on and leave it to knead etc without any arm-pain at all - I don't think I will go back to a hand-whisk, especially as it manages small quantities well.  I find the mixer head-release easy to lift up and down;  it's heavy but the weight is well distributed so it tips back easily. The bowl is nice and light although I sometimes struggle to get it in and out, I don't think that is an arthritis-issue but more me still getting used to the machine. The attachments are a doddle to fix in and extremely easy to clean. My only real gripe is that I would like spare bowl attachments to be available so you can mix up a cake and icing etc without having to wash-up in between.

The mixer is far too heavy to be moving around the kitchen counter so you do need to be happy to leave it out. Luckily, the kMix looks lovely and comes in a range of colours. It's also very easy to wipe down as it's got smooth sides.

Overall verdict?
A Pricey but worth it if you are a keen baker with arthritis. It is a quality piece of kit.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Arthritis-Friendly Recipe: Beetroot Risotto

I was reading a perfectly sane sounding blog the other day which suddenly declared that beetroot was full of oxalic acid and should be avoided in the diets of people with arthritis. The reasoning was that oxalic acid can block calcium absorption and this would lead to a whole host of unpleasant symptoms from crumbling bones through to heart problems. Now, in theory, large doses oxalic acid can affect calcium metabolism and cause health issues but you would have to be consuming pound after pound of high oxalic acid foods for this to be a problem. It's just another myth about diet and arthritis. In fact, beetroot is packed full of vitamins, phytochemicals and blood pressure lowering nitrates. It's a wonderful vegetable for adding sweetness and colour to dishes and really comes into it's own in the Autumn. It also tastes great in this risotto recipe, so tuck in and enjoy - your taste buds and arthritis will thank you for it.

PS. If you'd like to make the parmesan-crusted chicken also shown in the photo, the recipe is here.

250g pre-cooked vacuum packed beetroot
150g risotto rice
1/2  large onion, finely diced
1 clove crushed garlic
400ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon light cream cheese
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Serves 2-3

Purée two (or half the packet) of the beetroot in a jug with the stock. Chop the other two into rough pieces.

Heat the olive oil in a large, oven-proof dish on the hob. Add in the chopped onion and garlic and cook for a few on a medium heat until softened for about 3-5 minutes. Tip in the rice and stir to coat. Then add the puréed beetroot and stock mixture. Give everything a good stir and then cover the dish and pop it in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until the rice is soft and cooked. Mix in the rest of the beetroot, pinch of nutmeg and the cream cheese. Serve.

Arthritis diet notes:
If you want to read more about the health benefits of beetroot, have a look at this post in the 'Arthur Investigate' series on how certain foods in your diet can impact on your health and arthritis.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Almond and Chia Shortbread

Today, I've got a lovely gluten, dairy and egg free recipe for all those with arthritis who are on special diets. I made these for our Arthritis Research UK Great British Garden Party and they were a huge hit with everyone who attended. The basic recipe lends itself well to adaptations, so try using hazelnuts and some cocoa powder or adding some lemon zest or ginger. Have a look at the arthritis diet notes section at the end of the recipe to learn more about chia seeds and arthritis.

175g gluten free flour
75g almonds
100g light brown soft sugar
1 tbsp chia seeds (or you could use ground flax/linseeds)
50ml almond milk or water
2 tablespoons golden syrup (or maple syrup)
2 tablespoons sunflower oil (or you could use rapeseed etc)
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

Makes 20
Put the chia seeds in a bowl with the almond milk and leave to soak for 5 minutes.Then combine with the syrup, oil, vanilla extract and salt. 

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until you have a stiff dough. Roll into a log and wrap in cling film. Put in the freezer for 20 minutes.
Remove the dough from the freezer and slice into 20 3/4 inch thick rounds.
Place on a baking sheet and bake at 180C/350F for 15 minutes or until just golden around the edges. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to crisp up.

Arthritis diet notes:
Chia seeds are a very small, dark round seeds that have been used in bread baking for years. They have recently become popular and touted as a 'superfood' in the media because of their high omega 3 content and ability to form a gel when added to fluids. From my perspective, they are a useful baking ingredient in gluten-free recipes as they help bind mixtures together. They are also a good way to add a boost of healthy omega 3 fatty acids. However, I don't think they are a miracle ingredient for people with arthritis. You would need to eat an awful lot of them to get a decent dose of omega 3 fatty acids and plant sources lack the fatty acid compounds DHA and EPA that have been shown to be effective in reducing arthritis inflammation. If you are vegetarian, then you might find chia seeds a useful addition to your diet to help you get enough omega 3, alongside other sources such as flax (linseeds), almonds and walnuts.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

How to Have Your Cake and Eat it When You Have Arthritis

We're holding a Great British Garden Party in support of Arthritis Research UK this weekend so it felt like a good time to address a very serious subject, cake. Cake is not exactly the most arthritis friendly food you can have in your diet but it doesn't have to be completely without nutritional merit. At the same time, there is no point in having a nice slice of cake if it tastes so 'worthy' that you don't enjoy it. I'm a firm believer that you can 'have your cake and eat it' with just a few healthier tweaks to favourite cake recipes. Here are my top tips:

1. Firstly, you can swap high omega , arthritis friendly rapeseed oil for up to a two-thirds of the butter in most cake recipes but you may need to add a tablespoon of extra flour. Experiment with small batches. Ground almonds, apple sauce,  grated and puréed fruit or vegetables can also be used to reduce the amount of unhealthy saturated fats.

My recipe for cute cupcakes, uses nuts and courgettes and this chocolate cake adds beetroot for an amazing texture. Try the orange loaf to see how using oil can make a brilliant cake. 

2. If you avoid gluten, you can try using gluten-free flour in place of wheat flour. Buy a brand with xanthan gum added or add in yourself to avoid very crumbly cake or mix up a tablespoon of omega 3 rich flax or chia seeds with water and leave to soak for 10 minutes until it becomes 'gloopy', you can then add this in to help bind the mixture. This brownie recipe is gluten-free and wins over everyone.

3. Eggs aren't essential. If you find them tricky to crack because of your arthritis, it's perfectly possible to make a fantastic egg free cake. You may need to add extra raising agent and use a recipe where the fat added is oil. These muffins show you how it is done.

4. Even a store bought cake mix can be given a healthier makeover. Have a look at my tips here.

There are even more healthier cake recipes here and look out for my easy biscuit recipe over the next few days. Something I've been perfecting in time for our party.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Arthritis-Friendly Recipe: Miso Aubergine

This blog could have easily been entitled 'Cooking with Aubergine' and I still could have filled it with recipes you can enjoy with arthritis. I adore aubergine. I could eat them at every meal but often get a bad rap because they are prepared with lots of oil and salt. Aubergine really don't need to be. I like to steam, bake or grill them until soft. If you want to fry them, give them a gentle steam first and then brown them in a hot pan smeared with a little oil. They will taste just as good but have absorbed very little oil. This miso aubergine recipe, which I have adapted from BBC Good Food, is a lovely different way to eat aubergines. Try this very easy, arthritis diet friendly recipe to see how delicious they can be.

2 medium aubergine (pick firm, shiny ones)
2 tbsp white miso paste (most supermarkets sell it now or try a healthfood or asian shop)
1 tbsp honey
3 tsp sesame oil

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side dish

Preheat the oven to 180C/375F. 

Mix the miso, honey and sesame oil together in a small bowl.

Halve the aubergine and score the flesh lightly in a criss cross pattern. Place on a baking sheet, cut sides down, and bake for 20 minutes or until the aubergine is soft and sagging slightly.

Remove from oven and turn over to expose the criss-cross side. Spoon the miso mixture on top of the aubergine and then place under the grill for 5-10 minutes until the top begins to brown.

Serve with rice and steamed veggies.

Arthritis diet notes:
Aubergine are a a good source of B vitamins, vitamin K and fibre. The deep purple skin contains the powerful antioxidant, nasunin. Studies show nasunin can act as a anti-inflammatory and may help prevent cancer and Alzheimer's disease. However there is no particular research looking at it's effects on arthritis. 

Traditionally, aubergines were salted to help absorb the bitter juices but modern varieties don't need this so you can enjoy them with out all the added sodium.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

My Top 6 Arthritis Diet Cupboard Essentials

This should have been a top 5 of arthritis diet friendly cupboard staples but I couldn't leave out the anti-inflammatory spices. These are the healthy ingredients that you can tuck at the back of your pantry and feel smug in the knowledge that you will always have some nutritious goodies on standby, even when your fridge is bare. Follow the links included to my favourite arthritis friendly recipes using these store-cupboard staples.

Couscous - so ridiculously easy to cook, it's virtually instant. You can simply pour boiling water over couscous and leave it to steam so there is no messing about with heavy pans full of hot water. Mix with grated or grilled vegetables and herbs for a quick salad. Serve alongside grilled meats or fish as a tasty alternative to rice or potatoes.

Good quality low salt stock cubes - a great base for quick, healthy soups and sauces. You can even mix one with a little olive oil and use to marinade chicken or fish. I like the Kallo brand best.

Oats - make summer porridge by soaking them overnight in fruit juice and serving with yoghurt for a breakfast rich in in heart healthy soluble fibre. Bake with them or use them to give a crispy, fibre rich coating to fish fillets.

Almonds - high in healthy mono-unsaturated fats, vitamin E and fibre, almonds make a great snack or addition to cereal, salads and stir-fries.

Cans of beans - cannelini, chickpea, butter beans - whatever you like best, keep a few cans of them handy. You can mash the beans to serve alongside grilled fish, add them to stir fries instead of noodles to add protein and fibre, toss them into salads or whizz them up into great tasting dips.

Spices - turmeric, ginger and cinnamon are all anti-inflammatory spice cupboard staples. Dried chilli flakes and garlic are also a great no-chop alternative to the fresh ingredients.

What are your arthritis diet cupboard essentials?

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Green Gazpacho

It's a bit too hot to do much cooking with arthritis here in London. I swelter every time I even look at the kitchen so we have been living off salads, cold soups, creative sandwiches and a little bit of BBQ-ing. I love a refreshing gazpacho soup and this green version is no exception. It's particularly nice with wedges of toasted pitta bread.

I find it easiest on my wrists to make this with a hand-held blender. If you choose to  use a food processor you may find it's not totally smooth - it doesn't matter, you can call it authentically rustic.

300g low fat yogurt
1 large cucumber, roughly chopped (no need to peel or de-seed)
1 small clove garlic
30g almonds 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
150ml water
Handful of mint or other herb of your choice to serve

Serves 2-3

Place all the ingredients in a blender or food-processor and blitz until very well combined and almost smooth. Chill for 2 hours and serve with a sprinkle of mint.

Arthritis diet notes:
This is a light and healthy soup for anyone with arthritis. The yoghurt provides a good source of low-fat dairy and important bone-boosting calcium. Cucumbers provide some anti-inflammatory vitamin K (read more about the role of vitamin k in arthritis here) and the almonds are rich in vitamin E. If you want to up the vegetable content of the soup, try adding baby spinach leaves or a raw green pepper. If you aren't a yoghurt fan, you could add cannelini beans instead to enrich the soup.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Arthritis-Friendly Recipe: Chilli and Garlic Crab Pasta

One of the classic combinations, slightly sweet crab offset by the heat and tang of the garlic and chilli; this makes for an addictive dinner. Luckily, it's incredibly quick to prepare from storecupboard ingredients, even if you are cooking with arthritis.

If you have trouble with your hands, I really recommend getting yourself some dried chilli flakes, dried garlic and some of the those tubes or jars of ready crushed garlic. The flavour isn't quite the same and you will need a little more for the same 'hit' but they are incredibly useful for spicing up your food without the 'ouch' factor of chopping and crushing.

2 gloves garlic crushed (or 2 tsp garlic paste)
1 red chilli chopped (or use 1 tsp dried chilli flakes)
Small glass of white wine (optional)
100 grams of canned or fresh white crabmeat
150 grams angel hair pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large handfuls of rocket
Squeeze of lemon (optional)
Salt and black pepper

Serves 2

Cook the pasta and drain. Coat with one tablespoon of the oil and set aside.

In a frying pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the chilli and garlic. Cook for about one minute on a medium heat. Add in the crab meat and white wine (if using). Stir and let everything bubble for a moment. Tip the mixture onto the pasta and mix through.

Season to taste and add lemon juice (if using). Toss in the handfuls of rocket and serve.

Arthritis diet notes:
Crab is a great healthy choice for dinner. It is rich in selenium, zinc and vitamin B12 and also a good source of omega three fatty acids.

This dish contains also contains a  healthy 'hit' of red chilli.Scientists have been investigating for a while now whether the capsaicin in chillis could be harnessed to help tackle arthritis pain.  The chemical is already used in topical creams for relieving osteoarthritis and nerve pain but there is also ongoing research into whether capaiscin could be used orally as an alternative anti-inflammatory treatment. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Arthritis Friendly Cookbooks

I got into a bit of a cooking with arthritis rut about a month ago. My arthritis was flaring, I was generally a bit fed up and totally out of ideas in the kitchen. I got lots of lovely arthritis cookbook recommendations via twitter and facebook which really got me inspired again, so I thought I'd return the favour and share with you my most trusty, healthy, arthritis cookbooks. These are the favourites that I always find myself going back to:

 A truly brilliant and inspiring cookbook that just happens to be vegetarian. Ottolenghi's book is full of Asian and Middle Eastern inspired recipes that pack a huge flavour punch and will shake you out of any cooking rut. Few books will encourage you to raid you arthritis-friendly spice cupboard as thoroughly as this. A few of them require a long list of ingredients or lots of chopping but I have found it pretty easy to adapt the recipes to my cooking with arthritis needs. The Mee Goreng is probably my favourite arthritis friendly dish ever.

 In some ways this is a similar concept but with a completely different style of recipe. Hugh Fearnley-Whittiningstall has come up with all sorts of quick and healthy vegetable based dishes that almost anyone will enjoy. I find this book great for ideas when I'm having an arthritis flare and want something very quick and easy to cook. The Butternut Nutbutter soup wins my award for recipe I wish I had thought of.

 I was recommended this via twitter by my lovely Washington based friend @SophieGG. For anyone with arthritis who wants some good, sound advice on which foods are healthy and why then this is an excellent cookbook that avoids sounding faddy or cranky.
This book is basically clinical nutrition in practice for dummies. If you want accessible information on the latest evidence on chronic conditions like arthritis and diet then this is the book for you.
 Does what it says on the cover - it really is good food fast. Not all of it is particularly arthritis-friendly but the Rib-Sticking Stir-fry is a good choice for a filling, healthy meal in a hurry.

If you have any favourite books or sites, please share them in the comments below.

PS. The arthritis and dietary supplement survey is still running - please do take part if you have time, the results will be shared and could help offer better information to people with arthritis about diet and nutrition supplements 

Monday, 24 June 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Anti-Inflammatory Lollies and RA Awareness Week

It's the first ever Rheumatoid Arthritis Awareness Week here in the UK, organised by the lovely people at NRAS. Do go on their site and find out more about it and get involved. We're very lucky in the UK to have such proactive and motivated arthritis charities who do so much to help people understand arthritis. On a day-to-day basis raising awareness avoids having to answer stupid questions like 'oh aren't you a bit young for that?' or 'sorry, how do you spell that?' and in the longer term it helps improve funding, research and care for all types of arthritis.

Tub-thumping over, I've got a very easy health and anti-inflammatory lolly (popsicle) recipe for you today. I've been waiting for summer to arrive to start posting all my seasonal arthritis-friendly recipes but frankly I'm bored of waiting. If these lollies don't bring the sun out then nothing will!If you can use fresh pineapple, either pre-prepared or hacked-up yourself, then please do as it is much richer in the anti-inflammatory enzymes and anti-oxidants then the canned type. However, don't beat yourself up if you want to use canned, just pick the kind in juice not syrup.


400g pineapple
150ml apple juice (I prefer the cloudy kind)
2 inch piece of fresh root ginger, peeled

Put all the ingredients in a blender and blitz until smooth. Pour into lolly moulds and freeze for at least 6 hours. 

Arthritis diet notes:
Ginger contains chemicals called gingerols which some studies suggest have powerful anti-inflammatory effects. Some studies have suggested it can reduce pain in osteoarthritis patients and lab studies have suggested it may help RA but more research is needed. However, it certainly won't do you any harm and give it's potential benefits it's an easy and delicious spice to add to your diet.

Pineapple is rich in the enzyme bromelain. Again, this compound has shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect in the lab and in some subjects with OA but evidence on the required amount and mechanism of action is sketchy. Pineapple is rich in vitamin C which several studies have suggested people with arthritis consume less of than health subjects so eating it may help you boost your levels.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Arthritis and Dietary Supplements Survey

Something a bit different on the blog today...a study about arthritis and dietary supplements.

As some of you know, when I'm not cooking, I'm currently doing a study into whether people with arthritis are more likely to use dietary supplements and what they take. There have been very few studies in this area but supplements targeted a joints are worth more in sales in the UK than any other kind (around £243million).

I'd massively appreciate it if readers could take part. It's entirely anonymous and the findings will be shared with everyone once they have been analysed. Even better, it only takes about 5-10 minutes to do.

Thanks and it will be back to cooking as usual very shortly!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Vegeree

Having just spouted forth about both the benefits of greens and having less meat in your diet for arthritis, it felt like a good time to post my vegeree recipe. If you aren't from the UK, you may never have come across kedgeree, which is curried rice, egg and smoked fish brunch dish. It sounds utterly bonkers but the flavour combinations work really well. The chef, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, does a great vegan version in his 'River Cottage Veg' book, which we always enjoy but I wanted to try adding kale and some smoked tofu to liven it up a little. Stir-frying kale or greens on a high heat seems to cure them of their sulphury whiff and transform them. The 'minerally' taste of them is also strong enough to stand up against the smoked fish or tofu and the curried spices.

This is not a dish to be making if you arthritis is affecting your hands or arms a lot. I wouldn't attempt this on a bad day as there is quite a bit of chopping and stirring which can be difficult even with a food processor. Having said that, it's very quick to put together as well as being fantastically healthy so, if can give it a go, I promise you will enjoy it!

250g packet of cooked pilau rice (or 250g cooked left over rice with a tsp turmeric stirred in)
200g kale or other greens, coarsely chopped
1 large courgette, grated
1/2 onion, finely sliced
1 clove garlic, crushed
200g smoked tofu or 1 fillet of cooked smoked haddock or smoked salmon trimmings
1 tablespoon of rapeseed or sunflower oil
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
2 tsp turmeric

Serves 3-4 as a light meal

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok. Add in the onion and stir-fry over a low heat until softened. Crush the garlic into the pan and throw in the kale. Continue to cook for 3-5 minutes or until the kale as wilted.

Add the courgette, rice, tofu (or fish) and curry powder to the pan and give everything a good mix. Stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes until everything is piping hot.

Serve with lime wedges and minted yoghurt (raita or tzatziki are very nice).

Arthritis diet notes
This is a superb anti-inflammatory, arthritis diet friendly dish. The kale, onion and garlic all  contain powerful inflammation fighting sulphur compounds. Kale is also a rich source of the bone strengthening vitamin K.  Turmeric contains the phytochemical curcumin which lab studies have shown reduced inflammation and is a traditional aryuvedic remedy for arthritis. Finally, if you eat this with the smoked salmon you will get a healthy boost of joint-friendly omega 3 fatty acids or the tofu will supply phytoestrogens which may help prevent osteoporosis


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