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.




Friday, 24 April 2015

Arthritis-Friendly Snacks

Ah snacks, probably my favourite type of food. I had a colleague who called me the little mouse because I was often to be found surreptitiously nibbling something over my keyboard and my husband jokes that the most common sound you will here from the kitchen at 9pm at night is the 'rustle, rustle' of me ferreting around for a little pre-bed snack. I'm naturally a fan of eating little and often (also slightly inevitable when running around after a toddler or taking the dreaded steroids for a flare) but I do try to keep my snacks arthritis-friendly. Here are some of my favourite healthy arthritis snacks (the links will take you to the arthritis-friendly recipes):

Baked vegetable crisps - these are so easy if you have a mandolin and a microwave although you could also just slice the vegetables finely and bake them on a low heat in the oven. Try sweet potatoes for a boost of vitamin A or even phytochemical packed beetroot slices. Both are a more arthritis-friendly snack than a packet of Walkers ready salted!

Roasted chickpea snack - this works well with other beans too. My toddler can't get enough of cannellini beans cooked this way.

Dips and chips - my favourite current dip is the carrot hummus from the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall Veg book but I also like this wasabi dip, my healthy hummus or a simple carrot and coriander dip. Serve with raw vegetable sticks (sugar snap peas of baby corn are a great no-chop option) or roasted sweet potato wedges.

Kale chips - surprisingly tasty and quick to make at home. Simply bake kale at 150c until crisp and then eat sprinkled with sea salt. Kale is rich in vitamin K which may help prevent or slow the deterioration of joints in osteoarthritis 

Nut butter on crackers, carrots or celery sticks - peanut butter is the classic but cashew butter is a good source of magnesium which is important for bone health and can help with muscle cramps. If you have a food processor you can experiment with making your own nut butter blends...

Homemade popcorn - actually very cheap and easy to make. If you find heavy saucepans difficult to lift with your arthritis then have a look at this easy microwave method.

What's your favourite arthritis-friendly snack?


Sunday, 12 April 2015

Arthritis Gadget Review: Chef'n Palm Peeler


What does it do? 
The Chef'n Palm peeler is a vegetable peeler that you wear like a ring! It fits in the palm of your hand so you don't need to grip it to peel carrots, potatoes etc.

Does it work?
It is very easy and straightforward to use. I slide mine over my middle finger and can use it to comfortably peel vegetables, although if your finger joints are very swollen it could be a tight fit.The palm peeler is made of slightly rubberised plastic so feels comfortable and doesn't slip around. The actual peeler blade is good and sharp which means it glides through most peel without needing too much pressure.

I find it much easier to use than an ordinary vegetable peeler because it removes all the stress from your thumb joints. The only downside is that you do need to use your wrist more to direct the peeler.

It's easy to clean - I've thrown it in the dishwasher and the Chef'n palm peeler has come to no harm.

Overall verdict?
A I wish I'd found one sooner! You can by the Chef'n peeler online here.



Sunday, 29 March 2015

What to cook when you don't want to cook!

Generally, despite my arthritis, I love to cook. However, every now and again I lose interest - maybe because I'm having a flare, maybe because the toddler has worn me out or, sometimes, just because I'm in a rut. On those days, I want to get something healthy and arthritis-friendly on the table as quickly as possible. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Thunder and lightning pasta - I *think* that this is a genuine Italian dish but regardless it makes and amazingly quick arthritis friendly supper and you probably have all the ingredients in your store cupboard. Simply cook and drain some pasta and then toss with cooked chickpeas (from a can), olive oil and garlic. 

2. Baked sweet potato - packed full of goodness and on the table in 5 minutes if  you have a microwave. You can read my suggested topping ideas here.

3. Pitta pizza - a wholemeal pizza smeared with tomato paste, sliced light mozzarella and topped with bits of torn pepper and basil. You can get this on the table faster than you can call for pizza delivery! If you have any jars of marinated peppers or artichokes then use these for the topping and it will be even tastier.

4. Steamed fish and rice - pop fish and vegetables like mangetout, sugarsnaps or green beans in a steaming basket over a pan of rice whilst it cooks. Try placing slices of ginger and spring onion on the fish and cooking the rice with a spoonful of coconut milk.

5. Pasta with raw tomato sauce - so quick, easy and healthy.It's a good recipe if people are coming over as it seems like a proper dinner but takes no longer to prepare than the time it takes the pasta to cook. Find the recipe here.

Those are my top five arthritis-friendly suppers - what are yours?

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