Monday, 18 August 2014

Acid, Alkaline, Arthritis - Do alkaline diets or apple cider vinegar work for arthritis?

There are many 'alkaline' diets around claiming to help cure arthritis at the moment. Or, you may be familiar with the old classic cure of honey and cider vinegar - favoured by Margaret Hills and much loved by the adventurer Ranulph Fiennes.

The theory on diet, arthritis and acids goes something like this: proponents believe that arthritis is caused by the build up of too much uric acid in the body (as happens in gout) and that by avoiding certain foods (often dairy products, wheat, certain fruits and vegetables and animal fats are cut out) the body can be restored to its natural alkaline state and arthritis inflammation reduced. Doses of vinegar are supposed to help regulate acidity levels in the body and aid the 'alkalising' process.

So does it work? Well, these kind of diets might help arthritis but not for the reasons they suggest. Firstly, acid is not the cause of arthritis. Whilst it's true that in gout, joint inflammation occurs because of too much uric acid this isn't the case for most other types of arthritis. Moreover, the build-up of uric acid in joints isn't due to dietary acid levels but is caused by chemicals called purines. In fact, if you have gout eating an 'acidic' orange will help you because vitamin C can reduce the severity of gout attacks.

Secondly, the acidity levels in your body vary according to the function of different body parts. Saliva is slightly alkaline to help prevent the acids from food damaging our teeth. The stomach is highly acidic to breakdown food and kill bacteria. Your body happily controls and regulates all these different acidity levels independently of what you eat or drink.

Why are there so many fans of 'alkaline' diets for arthritis then? Put simply, the food you eat on these diets is good for you. Most plans encourage you to cut out foods that aren't so healthy, like processed meats, saturated fats and sweets, and instead make wholegrains, fruit and vegetables the focus of your diet - all things we know can help improve not just your arthritis, but also your overall health.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Quick Caramel Mousse

Do you ever find your arthritis very, very boring? I'm so over mine at the moment. I'm enjoying playing with my 5 month old daughter and discovering things through her eyes and, frankly, I don't have the time for sore wrists, hips or feet. It's enough to make me want to cry like a baby! 

One way of tackling the frustration has been to concentrate on eating well and having fun. The two don't always go hand-in-hand, but I know that when I eat well and relax well I'm more able to cope with arthritis pain.

This caramel mousse delivers on both counts. It's relatively healthy and fun to make. It's full of calcium-rich greek yoghurt, low in fat and contains much less sugar than a commercial product. Calcium is so important for those of us with arthritis: It helps safeguard our bones and may even delay the progress of osteoarthritis in women, although not men (!), according to a recent study. Eating plenty of low fat dairy products, pulses, sesame seeds and fortified non-dairy products is the best way to meet your calcium needs or, for a change, you can try this fun caramel mousse. 

Ingredients:

500g 2% fat Greek yoghurt (choose a brand with a firm 'set')
2 egg whites (if you are on immune suppressants, like me, then I recommend using the pasteurised kind that comes in a carton)
1 tablespoon light brown soft sugar
1 tablespoon golden syrup (or you can use molasses or treacle for a stronger flavour)
1tsp vanilla extract

Serves 4

In a large bowl, gently fold the sugar, syrup and vanilla extract into the yoghurt until everything is just combined. Don't overmix.

Whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then fold these into the yoghurt mixture. 10-12 folds should do it!

Divide the mousse mixture between four glasses and leave to chill for 2-3 hours before serving. This is best eaten on the day it is made otherwise it will begin to separate.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Arthritis Diet Friendly Recipe: Full of Beans Fish and 'Chips'

Would someone please explain to me where the phrase 'full of beans' comes from? It's an odd English way of saying someone is bursting with energy, but I've always wondered how anyone came up with it. Is it because beans are such tiny little powerhouses of nutritional goodness that they leave you with a spring in your step? Because, whilst they are, they seem to more often have a reputation for being bland, boring and basic. They don't need to be. Roasted like this the humble cannellini (or navy) bean becomes both creamy and crispy. Add some arthritis fighting fish to these roasted beans and you have the healthiest one-pan version of fish and chips you will ever come across - I guarantee it will leave you feeling 'full of beans'!

A few notes on the ingredients, I use frozen fish fillets as they are both economical and convenient. If you want to use fresh fillets, simply add them nearer the end of the cooking time.

Ingredients:

2 sustainably sourced frozen white fish fillets
400g can tin of cannellini/navy beans (250g drained weight)
2 small sweet peppers
1/2 tsp paprika (I used smoked paprika)
1/2 tsp dried garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a little to drizzle over the fish.
Black pepper and parsley to season

Serves 2

Roughly slice the peppers into strips and place in a roasting dish with the drained cannellini beans.

Add the oil and spices to the dish and give everything a quick mix together.

Place the fish fillets on top of the spiced beans and peppers and drizzle with a little extra olive oil

Bake at 180C/375F for 20-25 minutes or until the fish is opaque and flakes when gently speared with a fork. The peppers should be softened and the cannelinni beans crispy around the edges.

Garnish with freshly ground black pepper and parsley to taste and serve immediately.

Arthritis diet notes:
Cannellini beans are bursting with folate, iron and magnesium - all micronutrients that are particularly important for people with arthritis. Patients with all types of arthritis are often deficient in folate (folic acid) and iron due to poor diet, the nutritional consequences of chronic inflammation and drug-nutrient interactions (see this post for more details). Magnesium is essential for strong bones and can also help alleviate muscle cramps.



Friday, 13 June 2014

Arthritis Friendly Recipe: Greek Yogurt 'Baklava' Pots

We're not planning a holiday abroad this year, as much as my arthritis likes the warmer weather somewhere sunny, we're getting plenty of it here and, with the little one, there is lots to enjoy at home. However, that doesn't mean I'm prepared to miss out on some of those lovely treats you get to eat abroad. Baklava will forever remind me of a wonderful sailing holiday around the Greek islands with friends. We'd eat yoghurt and honey on the boat deck every morning facing a glassy, flat turquoise sea. Then we'd round another beautiful day of swimming and sailing off by eating baklava under the stars at night. This recipe is my healthy tribute to that holiday.

Ingredients:

80g shredded wheat cereal (or similar)
20g pistachio nuts
4tbsp runny honey 
1tbsp milk or non-dairy milk
2tsp orange flower water (optional, you could use a pinch of cinnamon or ground cardamon instead).
500g 2% fat Greek yoghurt

Serves 4

Put the shredded wheat and nuts in a small sandwich bag and lightly crush them with a rolling pin. Alternatively you can give the mixture a very brief blitz in a food processor.

Mix the crushed shredded wheat and pistachios with the honey, milk and orange flower water until well combined. Divide this mixture between four small serving glasses and top with 125g each of yoghurt. 

Refrigerate for 30 minutes and then serve.

Variation
Date and walnut - You can make a date paste to replace the honey: soften 50g of dates in 100ml of boiling water for a few hours and then blitz them up in a blender to make a smooth paste. Replace the pistachios with walnuts and the orange flower water with a pinch of cinnamon.

Arthritis diet notes:
Nuts are a good source of vitamin E and healthy fat if you have arthritis. Several studies have shown that people with arthritis tend to have lower intakes of healthy fats and antioxidant vitamins, like vitamin E, than their healthy peers. Stick to no more than a small handful a day if you are trying to control your weight - several studies have suggested that swapping your usual snack for nuts (particularly almonds or pistachios) may help with weight loss as the fat and fibre can help keep you satisfied between meals.

 If you eat a gluten-free diet you can swap the shredded wheat cereal for a a gluten-free ones (Nature's Path Mesa Sunrise works well).

Friday, 30 May 2014

Cooking with Arthur turns 3 years old!

It turns out I've been blogging away about cooking with arthritis and diet for three whole years!
It sort of passed me by until I was looking back over previous Cooking with Arthur posts and realised the first one was back in May 2011. So much has changed in my life since then: I've moved house, got married, had a baby and left my job to go freelance. My arthritis has changed too: I've had some improvements thanks to anti-tnf drugs and a jaw operation, but I've also had some setbacks with changing regimes for pregnancy
 and old mechanical problems flaring up. The one thing that hasn't changed is my love of cooking with arthritis, so please indulge me and allow me to share my highs, lows and greatest hits of the past three years...

Highs
  • It sounds trite but every comment, forum post and visitor to the blog makes it all worthwhile. It's lovely to know that there are others out there cooking with arthritis and trying to maintain a healthy diet.
  • Being featured in the Daily Mail - slightly embarrassing and hugely exciting at the same time! It makes me particularly proud that the Mail featured my tips because so often I've been told cooking with arthritis is a niche issue. It's not! Almost 1 in 5 50-59 year olds in the UK have osteoarthritis and over 400,000 people have RA. That's alot of cooks...
  • Working with and engaging with all the amazing arthritis charities and organisations out there. 

Lows
  • Not that many, but having content used without attribution has been really disheartening. I write about diet, cooking and arthritis purely for the love of it so having people nick your hard work is very dreary. Grrr...

Greatest hits

The next three years...
Who knows? I'll keep on keeping on! Do let me know what you want to see more of and any design changes you'd like to see and thank you for keeping me 'Cooking with Arthritis' for the last three years.


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