Thursday, 30 May 2013

Should you cut out dairy and red meats if you have arthritis?

I stumbled across this article about childhood arthritis and an anti-inflammatory diet today and it prompted me to write about dairy products, red meat and arthritis diets. The parents of this lovely little girl have been helping manage her arthritis by excluding red meat and dairy from her diet. I think it's fair to say that most of us know that too much red meat and full-fat dairy in our diets is not good for our health, regardless of whether we have arthritis or not. Red meat and full-fat dairy tend to be high in pro-inflammatory saturated fats and the omega 6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid. Laboratory studies show that these fats literally fuel the inflammatory processes that occur in arthritis.

The association between these fats and inflammation in arthritis is less clear outside of the lab. Several studies have show that people who consume lots of red meat and high fat dairy may be more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis and some have suggested a similar association with the inflammatory phase of osteoarthritis. Equally, there have been studies that showed patients might experience some symptom relief through eating a vegetarian or vegan diet. However, all the studies on the effects of a vegetarian or vegan diet on rheumatoid arthritis were by the same group of researchers and scientists reviewing their findings have queried how robust the research was. 

There are risks to cutting out food groups. People with inflammatory arthritis are often anaemic and red meat is a good source of iron. Equally, the calcium found in dairy is an important to help maintain bone strength and guard against osteoporosis for everyone with arthritis. A review of all dietary intervention trials for arthritis suggested that the patients who followed restricted diets are at an increased risk of malnutrition because of the difficulties of shopping and preparing food with sore joints whilst cutting out food groups.

Now, in the interests of being totally honest, I should probably admit that I am basically vegetarian. I don't actually eat red meat (or much of any meat if I can avoid it) and never have done. I simply don't like it, don't really believe in it (traumatic childhood experience going to school in a farming community - it is never a good idea to show a slightly wet 5 year old the whole farm to fork process in gory detail) and frankly, can't chew it. But, I wouldn't advise someone to avoid it on nutritional grounds alone. My advice, if you like red meat, eat it. Just make sure you pick lean cuts and don't have more than one or two portions a week. Try to eat more fish, vegetarian meals and lean white meats instead. Similarly, have dairy but choose lower fat options like semi or skimmed milk, low fat ricotta and small amounts of strong flavoured cheeses like parmesan over great globs of cheddar etc. 

Finally, if you do feel you eat a lot of these foods or want to cut back entirely then I'd recommend getting some advice from a dietician or registered nutritionist on how best to do it in the context of your own health and nutritional needs.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Parmesan-crusted Chicken

The easiest way to cook any meat or poultry when you have arthritis is just to chuck it in the oven and bake or roast it - no chopping and no stirring. Unfortunately, lean cuts of meat don't always taste great cooked this way. They can get dry, tough and flavourless. I try to avoid this by marinading or basting the meat before I cook it and this is one of the most popular variations I make. Luckily enough for those of us with arthritis, this actually works best with pre-grated parmesan because it is slightly drier, so there is no chopping, slicing or grating required. 


1 very low salt stock cube
1 1/2 tablespoons grated parmesan 
1 tablespoon rapeseed (canola) oil
2 skinless chicken breast fillets

Serves 2 (easily doubled)

In a small bowl, mix the stock cube, cheese and oil together. Line a tray with foil and place the chicken fillets on it.

Smear or brush the parmesan paste over the chicken breasts. Bake at 180C/375F for around 25 minutes or until the juices run clear and the chicken is no longer pink.

Arthritis diet notes:
Rapeseed oil has a relatively high omega 3 content (in the form of alpha-linoleic acid) compared to other oils which makes it an arthritis friendly choice. Omega 3 oils have important anti-inflammatory functions and a diet high in them can help mediate the pain of arthritis. 

Rapeseed oil also has a high smoke point which means it can withstand higher temperatures in cooking for longer before it begins to break down. When oils exceed their smoke point they begin to break down, lose flavour and produce harmful, inflammatory chemical compounds. Pick rapeseed oil for any recipe where you will be cooking at a high temperature, like frying, grilling or roasting. 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Arthur investigates...Can eating your greens help arthritis?

'Eat your greens' - a phrase that strikes fear into the hearts of most broccoli-hating children and brussel-sprout loathing adults. But, for those of us with arthritis, eating our greens really is important.

The cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli  cabbage, pak choy and kale, all contain certain nutrients and phytochemicals that are important for a healthy body and joints.

That slightly whiffy smell that comes when you overcook cruciferous vegetables is from the sulphur compounds they contain. They might not smell good but these compounds have been shown to help reduce inflammation and activate cartilage protecting proteins in arthritis. 

Many of these vegetables are also a good source of vitamin K. Several studies have suggested that vitamin K may help prevent or slow the deterioration of joints in osteoarthritis but there is little evidence to suggest it can help joint repair once the damage has occurred. There have been few studies about the role vitamin K might play in inflammatory arthritis however some laboratory experiments have suggested that it might help block the inflammatory process.

To help preserve the nutrients it is best to just cook these greens lightly - this also helps avoid any nasty smells. Try steaming or stir-frying them with a little garlic and olive oil. Throw some raw tenderstem broccoli and slice cabbage together with a ginger, sesame dressing and cashes for a delicious salad. Or, toss cauliflower florets with spices and oil and roast lightly for a completely different taste. So go on, 'eat your greens' and enjoy them!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Super Easy Satay

I'm a huge fan of anything with peanut butter and having jaw arthritis is an excellent excuse to stand in front of the cupboard and eat it straight out the jar. My husband however cannot stand the stuff - except when it comes as satay sauce. So this is really a recipe for an easy, delicious, arthritis -friendly satay and marital harmony.

300g boneless chicken pieces (or quorn/tofu)
2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1/2 tsp turmeric
2tsp freshly grated ginger (optional - you can use it from a jar if grating is tricky)

Serves 3-4

In a large bowl, mix together the peanut butter, sweet chilli sauce, turmeric and ginger. Add the chicken pieces and coat well. Cover with cling film and leave to marinade in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Cook the chicken either my stir-frying until cooked through or for a less 'arm-intensive' version, simply bake for 20-25 minutes.

Serve with rice or noodles and some steamed garlicky vegetables.

Arthritis diet notes:
Adding the turmeric and grated ginger gives the sauce a little more zing and the anti-inflammatory compounds in these spices may potentially help arthritis although a lot more research on the amounts and processes is needed. Scientists are trying to identify the exact chemicals in these spices that may help relieve arthritis and maybe some years into the future, we may see some new treatments based on them. In the meantime, there is certainly no harm in adding turmeric, ginger or chilli to your diet on a regular basis. You can read more about all of these spices here.

Try to use an unsweetened peanut butter or use cashew butter if you don't like peanuts. Nut butters are generally a good source of the antioxidant vitamin E which can help tackle inflammation in arthritis. They also contain good levels of magnesium which is important for your muscles and bones. On the negative side, peanut butter, particularly those that are highly processed, can contain a very high ratio of inflammatory omega 6 fatty acids - so if you like to eat it with a spoon like me, do make sure you pick a brand without added palm oil.


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