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.


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