Saturday, 16 May 2015

Sugar and Arthritis - Should you cut sugar from your diet?


Eating sugar-free is the latest diet craze - we're frequently told that sugar has replaced fat as the big

diet baddy and that if we can just kick our sweet addiction we'd be slimmer, healthier and happier. There are even frequent articles talking about how pro-inflammatory sugar is and how dangerous it is for those of of us with arthritis. But what's the truth? Will cutting out sugar really help our joints? 

Most of us have a bit of a 'sweet tooth'- when we have something sweet we want more of it and we all know what happens when we at too much of anything - we get fat. It's this overconsumption of food that leads to the negative effects of sugar on our health such as type 2 diabetes, an increased risk of osteoarthritis and high blood pressure. Sugar itself doesn't directly cause these conditions (although your dentist was right - it does rot your teeth) but contributes to the risk of being overweight and all the pro-inflammatory biochemical changes that come with that extra weight.

But before you crack open that bottle of syrup, it's worth remembering that not all sugars are equal. If you are trying to eat a healthy diet to help manage your arthritis or your weight then you want all the energy you consume to count - everything you eat, as far as possible, should be bringing some added nutritional benefit alongside the calories. For example, a tablespoon of castor sugar is about 50 calories and so is an apple - they are both sweet but the apple also contains antioxidant vitamins and fibre. If you aim to follow the UK NHS advice and consume no more than around 53g sugar a day on a 2000kcal diet then the best way to make every gram of that sugar arthritis-friendly is to focus on avoiding added or extrinsic sugars - basically all sugar not contained within a food naturally (fruit juices or purees count as extrinsic sugars because in whizzing up the fruit the sugar has been released from the cell walls and no longer comes with a side helping of all the fibre from the fruit). 

As usual balance is key - whilst on one hand managing arthritis might be more straightforward if cutting out sugar was that magic answer, I for one am quite glad that just occasionally, when I'm having a flare and it's all to much, I can prise the top of the biscuit tin with my dodgy hands and enjoy a little sweet treat.

If you want to read more about sugar and health, check out this lovely explanation from the Science Media Centre.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Butternut Squash, Buckwheat and Baby Kale Salad

I don't personally eat a gluten-free diet for my arthritis as I've not noticed any relationship between eating gluten and flares but I know that many of you do (you can read more about the pros and cons of going gluten-free here) so I've been experimenting with different grains recently. Whilst I've happily tucked into millet, amaranth, quinoa and even teff over the last few years, until I made this salad I had never cooked buckwheat (or sarasin). 

Buckwheat is a bit of a misnomer because it isn't actually a relation of wheat family at all - buckwheat is a seed belonging to the rhubarb family. It has a lovely earthy, slightly sweet taste and is easy to make into pilafs, porridge or risottos. You can also make lovely Breton style crepes, bread or blinis with the flour. 

Buckwheat is a rich source of the phytochemical ruin which has been shown to help strengthen blood vessels and potentially help circulation. There have been a few rat (!) studies which have shown that rutin helped decrease inflammation in animals with rheumatoid arthritis but these findings haven't been replicated in humans.

Try this salad cold the next day as a tasty lunchbox meal or top it with crispy baked cannellini or butter beans for a filling meal.

Ingredients:

500g chopped butternut squash (I used pre-cut frozen squash)
2 medium red onions
4 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
100g buckwheat groats
250ml vegetable stock
A couple of handfuls of baby kale or rocket (arugula)
Fresh or dried sage, oregano and basil
Balsamic vinegar

Serves 4

Peel the onions and cut them into quarters. Place in a roasting tray with the squash and whole garlic cloves. Drizzle the oil over everything and stir to ensure everything is evenly coated. Pop in the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the squash is golden and the onion soft.

Set to one side to cool.

Rinse the buckwheat and put in a saucepan with the stock. Bring up to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes until the buckwheat is soft and most of the fluid has been absorbed. Drain off any excess water.

Put the cooked buckwheat in a serving dish and top with the butternut squash and onions. Squeeze the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins and add along with the herbs and balsamic vinegar to taste. Give everything a quick toss and then garnish with the baby kale.




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