Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Red Velvet Brownies, National Arthritis Week and Time for Tea

The fourth ever National Arthritis Week is just around the corner. From the 12-18th the various charities, support groups and professional organisations around the UK will all be doing their bit to raise awareness about arthritis.

Obviously I'm biased but I think it's a great idea. Arthritis affects 1 in 5 people in the UK but remains something of an unglamorous cause. Osteoarthritis is on the increase as life expectancy increases and rates of overweight and obesity rise. The daily pain of living with the condition causes immense suffering yet, too often people are told it is just something they have to put up with or an inevitable part of growing older. 

Similarly auto-immune arthritis is poorly understood: I still get told I'm too young for it or have I tried emu oil/cutting out peppers/doing yoga. There are some amazing new treatments around now and some exciting breakthroughs being made but auto-immune arthritis can still affect everything you do and not just your joints. When I was pregnant I was actually amazed by how few medical professionals understood the condition or the medications and I often felt like I was having to teach them - which isn't something you particularly want to do when you are a mess of raging hormones!

I'll post a bit about all the different awareness raising activity going on but I wanted to start by blogging about Arthritis Care's Time for Tea campaign. They basically want you to get together, have a natter, gobble some cake and raise some money for the work they doing supporting people with arthritis. I remember phoning Arthritis Care's Helpline before I was first diagnosed - I was confused, in pain and slightly at my wit's end. The lovely lady I spoke to gave me some information and basically told me to refuse to leave the GPs until I got referred! Thanks to that advice I got seen by an excellent team and started on proper treatment. So, to show my gratitude, I'm holding my own Time for Tea party and serving these brownies.

It's the easiest brownie recipe ever! There is no melting of chocolate, cracking of eggs or beating butter, which makes it a doddle to make even on a flare-day. Simply stir all the ingredients together and bake for an impressive and delicious red velvet brownie.

Instead of measuring the milk and oil out in a jug, you can pour weigh them directly into the mixing bowl: 1ml of milk is the same as 1g. I’ve not specified the amount of food colouring as I have found red food dyes differ massively - I suggest you add a few drops and give the mixture a stir and then add more as necessary. You want a good strong red colour as the intensity fades in the oven.

You could also make a raffle prize to raise money for ‘Time for Tea’ by mixing all the dry ingredients for these brownies together in a nice jar. Tie a ribbon around the jar and add a label with instructions to add oil, milk and bake.

Ingredients:

220g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
1tsp salt
200ml milk (you could use almond milk for a vegan cake)
75ml sunflower or rapeseed oil 
1.5tsp baking powder
150g chocolate chips or buttons 
Red food colouring 

Makes 16 brownies

Put the flour, sugar, salt, cocoa and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Stir the dry ingredients together a few times and then pour in the oil, milk and food colouring. Give everything a good mix and then finally stir in the chocolate chips.

Pout the mixture into a greased 20x20cm baking tin and cook for 25-30 minutes or until the top is shiny and slightly cracked. Remove from the oven and let the brownies cool in the tin for 20 minutes before slicing.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Can following the Paleo diet help arthritis?

The 'Paleo' diet (short for paleolithic) is in the headlines a lot at the moment but it's not entirely new; there have been various similar diets around since the 1970s with names like the 'caveman' diet (always makes me think of Fred Flintstone) and the stone-age diet. Followers of the Paleo diet believe that we should stick to the diet of our ancestors pre-agriculture so plenty of meat, vegetables and fruit but no grains, legumes or dairy. They argue that the diet of our distant ancestors is the one that we are genetically optimised for.

I've lost count of the number of Paleo auto-immune protocols that I have read on the internet purporting to cure arthritis. Usually I try to be fairly open-minded about different dietary approaches but I think a lot of the information available about the Paleo diet is entirely misleading and irresponsible. For a start, the whole premise of the diet is that diseases like rheumatoid arthritis didn't exist in the Paleolithic era because they are diseases of affluence and linked to the consumption of grains, legumes and dairy. However, it is more likely that conditions like arthritis didn't exist simply because life expectancy was so short that acute infections, other humans, accidents or predators got to you before any chronic diseases had the chance to develop. Secondly, there if a lot of mixed evidence on what was actually eaten during the paleolithic period by our ancestors. Hunter gatherers were likely to be a lot more nutritionally flexible than the Paleo diet implies - when you exist hand-to-mouth you eat what is available. Your average cave man wouldn't have had the luxury of turning down available food sources in order to pop to WholeFoods. Equally, our ancestors diet would have evolved and varied over the 3.4 million years of the paleolithic period. It wouldn't have been set in stone (if you will excuse the terrible pun). In fact, recent research suggests that grains may well have been consumed by them. Moreover, if the consumption of grains and dairy is so unhealthy it is unlikely that we would have successfully evolved to consume them in our diets. Humans are endlessly adaptable and a wide range of different dietary patterns are followed successfully by different populations around the world.

For people with arthritis, foods like wholegrains, beans and dairy are an extremely important and useful part of the diet. They provide essential nutrients that help mitigate and protect against some of the effects of the disease. Although there is little robust research on the effects of diet on arthritis, most studies that have been conducted have concluded that a vegetarian diet or a Mediterranean diet may be most beneficial and several longitudinal studies have suggested that high consumption of red meat (as on the Paleo diet) may increase a person's risk of rheumatoid arthritis. A Cochrane Review (the gold standard of evidence in health interventions) suggested that any dietary intervention that involves cutting out food groups (like the Paleo diet) should be approached with caution by people with rheumatoid arthritis due to the risk of deficiencies and malnutrition.

Having said all that,  there are some positive aspects to the Paleo diet. the Paleo diet's insistence that we avoid all processed food and increase our consumption of vegetables and fish is a healthy habit for anyone, including those of us with arthritis. But, if you are looking for a great healthy diet for your arthritis, you don't need to look to the Stone Age to find it!

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