Sunday, 19 July 2015

Arthritis Friendly Recipe - Puy Lentil and Walnut Hummus

Some of you may know the charity, Arthritis Action, which has recently had a fantastic relaunch. The charity is really focussed on helping people learn to manage their condition through healthy diet, exercise and support. I write a monthly column for them and had been down to do a recipe demonstration at their AGM. Sadly, the toddler and I got struck by a horrid chest infection (humira and play groups don't always mix) and I had to miss it. The upshot of that was that I was left with lots of packets of puy lentils from the demonstration I had planned. Once we had them in pilafs, burgers and salads I began to run out of ideas until I decided to make a dip. 

This puy lentil and walnut hummus is absolutely delicious and incredibly quick to make - which is a good thing as we scoffed it all over one long lunch time. Lentils have a reputation as being a bit worthy and boring but they are a fantastic source of fibre, folate and b vitamins - all of which are really important for people with arthritis and something that studies show we often fail to consume enough of. Walnuts are also great as they are the nut richest in in inflammation fighting omega 3 fatty acids.

200g pouch of ready to eat puy lentils
30g walnuts
1/2 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons water

Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth. If the dip is a little thick, you can add a touch more water. Check the seasoning and add a touch of salt or more vinegar if required. Serve immediately or it will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Amazing Arthritis Friendly Cooking Hacks (or Why the Internet is Amazing)

If you have arthritis, the internet is amazing. Yes, certain corners of it are filled with health jumbo jumbo, trolls and scams but it is also the most amazing source of company, support and entertainment when you are stuck home with a flare.

Every now and then, when I'm having trouble preparing an ingredient in the kitchen, I tap my problem into the search engine and 90% of the time some incredibly creative brain somewhere has come up with an ingenious easier way to do it. Here are some of my recent favourites:

1. How to chop lots of cherry tomatoes quickly - I often make a quick supper of chopped cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil and pasta but, gosh, how tedious and sometimes painful it is slicing them all up. Turns out you can simply pop all your cherry tomatoes onto one saucer, cover with another and then slice through them with a sharp knife. Here's a video  which explains how it's done. I've found it only works with fresh, firm tomatoes and a very sharp knife - otherwise you just get a soggy mess.

2. Ginger doesn't need to be peeled - !!! I've peeled ginger my entire life and it turns out this isn't at all necessary as long as it is fresh and has firm skin. Oh, the hours I've wasted...If your ginger is a bit old and gnarly, instead of a peeler, try using a spoon to scoop off the skin. And, did you know you can cook and eat squash skin?

3. How to peel potatoes without a peeler - I feel much better about peeling potatoes now I have this little gadget but you can also try this method: simply score around the middle of each potato piercing the skin. Boil them as normal and then allow them to cool. Once cool you can just peel off the skin. Or alternatively, boil the potatoes with the skin on and then pop them in an ice bath. You should be able to just rub the skin off afterwards.

4. Avoid having to turn or flip food during cooking - instead of having to get the tray out of the oven halfway through to turn your chicken or chips, simply pre-heat the baking tray first. The blast of heat ensures the underside gets crisped too without getting the tongs out.

What are your favourite arthritis kitchen hacks?

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: 5-A-Day Flatbread Pizza

Using flatbreads or wraps as a base for pizza isn't a new idea, but it's one I hadn't tried until recently. I was always a bit sceptical and was certain that the base would just taste like a hot flatbread rather than a proper crust. I'm glad to say that I was totally wrong - popping a wrap or flatbread onto a hot baking tray crisps it up beautifully, like the best kind of thin and crispy pizza. It's also a great, quick way to make and arthritis-friendly pizza with no kneading or chopping required. You can even use gluten-free wraps if you prefer.

Pizza can actually be a healthy dinner when it doesn't arrive on the back of a moped.I top our pizzas with my leftover 5-A-Day vegetable sauce. Cooked tomato sauce is packed with the antioxidant lycopene which may help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Add a little reduced fat cheese for calcium and whatever vegetables you fancy and you have a great nutrient packed supper. Try to use as many colourful vegetables as you can for the widest range of vitamins: I like a rainbow of red onion, artichoke,aubergine, pepper and courgette.If you fine slicing vegetables tricky, a combination of sweetcorn, fine asparagus, olives and rocket leaves makes a nice no-chop variation.

If the idea of flatbread pizza still leaves you cold - try my polenta pan pizza recipe.


1 flatbread (I use Warburton's Half and Half Square Wraps in the picture)
2TB tomato sauce
20g grated cheese (I used reduced fat but use whatever you prefer)
A mixture of sliced vegetables

Makes 1 individual sized pizza

Preheat the oven to 180C and put a baking tray in it to get good and hot.

Smear your flatbread with the tomato sauce and sprinkle on the cheese. Top with your choice of vegetables and then transfer the whole thing on to the hot baking sheet. 

Cook for 8-10 minutes or until the cheese has melted and then serve.

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.


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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