kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

The ligaments and tendons in and around your joints are what hold you together – literally. Over time they loosen and eventually, bone lands on bone, creating joint pain and inflammation. This pain and stiffness can lead to decreased daily activity, which is detrimental to overall health.

Arthritis has two predominant types: rheumatoid and osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a runaway autoimmune response that attacks joint tissue. Synovial joints, like the knee, contain space that separates bone that would otherwise move against each other. In rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system mistakenly attacks synovial joint tissue and collagen. This mistaken immune response causes inflammation, joint damage and also puts the sufferers at twice as much risk for cardiovascular disease.

Osteoarthritis affects 300 million adults worldwide. This disease occurs when bones rub against and damage each other because the joint cartilage and synovial membrane have broken down.

Common pain medications can help in the short term, but are proving even more dangerous than previously thought.

A meta-analysis found that ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®) can raise heart attack risk by 48% in less than a week.  The same analysis found a week of naproxen (Aleve®) use increased heart attack risk by 53% compared to non-users.

Consider adopting these habits to manage arthritis:

Eat Breakfast at Home

“If you eat out, you’re more likely to start the day with high-fat, empty calories,” explains Rachel Brandeis, a registered dietitian in Atlanta. Brandeis recommends a meal that combines protein, high-fiber carbohydrates and a little bit of fat. Oatmeal with fruit and non-dairy milk, or scrambled tofu with broccoli.

Stress Less

“Stress exacerbates the symptoms of arthritis,” says psychologist Robert H. Phillips, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Coping in Hicksville, NY. “To minimize stress, write down the stresses in your life. Then ask yourself which ones you can change and jot down some strategies for change.” For example, if work is stressful, consider some actions you can take. Talk with your supervisor about shifting responsibilities so you are doing more work you enjoy. For the things you can’t change, change your thinking: remind yourself of the value of your accomplishments and the rewards of getting a paycheck.

Simplify Housework

Spare joints by performing household chores more efficiently. For example, fill a basket at the bottom of the stairs throughout the day to avoid multiple up-and-down trips. Professional organizer Jeanne Smith of Palo Alto, CA, suggests buying a basket with a handle you can slip over your arm. “This way, your hands are free to hold the banister.”

Get Organized

Instead of scattering doctor’s records, test results and treatment updates throughout the house, create one home for them all, suggests Smith. Buy a small crate with six to eight hanging files and labels. That way you can easily drop things in and pull items out. Keep a notebook charting doctor visits, levels of pain, medications. Keep that notebook in the crate as well.

Anticipate Pain

Although it sounds pessimistic to think about pain before it starts, anticipating pain may be the best way to relieve it. Once pain starts, it can be hard to stop. Treating it before it happens is often a better option. “Many people have pain first thing in the morning or are sore after exercise,” says Deborah S. Litman, MD, a rheumatologist in Chevy Chase, Md. “So take a pain reliever before bed at night or before you exercise.”

Go Barefoot

Kick off your shoes when you come home. “Most shoes increase forces on the knees more than going barefoot will,” says D. Casey Kerrigan, MD, owner of OESH shoe company and former chair of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Virginia. One caveat: Barefoot means barefoot. Avoid going in stocking feet, which may cause you to slip on slick floors.

Change Your Label

“When people see the world through their arthritis, they tend to refer to themselves as arthritic,” says Phillips. “Instead, practice calling yourself a person who happens to have arthritis. Don’t let the condition define who you are.”

Be Creative With Exercise

Don’t forgo exercise because it’s cold outside, your bike has a flat or the gym is germ-ridden. Take a fresh look at what constitutes exercise. Play fetch with the dog, do a fitness class online, or organize the kitchen cabinets. These can be just as good for you as a walk around the block.

Snack Every Three Hours

If you haven’t eaten for three hours or more, your blood sugar drops. It is particularly important if arthritis is already sapping your energy. Steer clear of the empty calories of candy bars or salty snacks. “Think high-fiber carbohydrates and lean protein – like whole-grain crackers and peanut butter, or dairy-free yogurt with walnuts,” says Brandeis.

Take Supplements

Whole foods are the best ways to get vitamins and minerals. But for a bit of insurance, add a daily multivitamin and supplements to your diet, with your doctor’s approval, suggests Khaled J. Saleh, MD, chair of the division of orthopaedic surgery at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield.

One survey found that 24% of those with rheumatoid arthritis reported that their diet had an impact on the severity of their symptoms. There are many foods that can ease inflammation.

  • Garlic has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect that may help decrease symptoms of arthritis. Some research has shown that garlic may enhance the function of certain immune cells to help strengthen the immune system. Researchers analyzed the diets of 1,082 twins. They found that those who ate more garlic had a reduced risk of hip osteoarthritis.
  • Ginger – A 2001 study assessed the effects of ginger extract in 261 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. After six weeks, 63% of participants experienced improvements in knee pain. One test-tube study also found that ginger and its components blocked the production of substances that promote inflammation in the body.
  • Broccoli – One study that looked at the diets of 1,005 women found that the intake of cruciferous vegetables like broccoli was associated with decreased levels of inflammatory markers. Sulforaphane is a compound found in broccoli. Test-tube studies have shown that it blocks the formation of a type of cell involved in rheumatoid arthritis development. An animal study also found that sulforaphane could reduce the production of certain inflammatory markers that contribute to rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Walnuts – One analysis of 13 studies showed that eating walnuts was associated with reduced markers of inflammation. Walnuts are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to decrease the symptoms of arthritis. In one study, 90 patients with rheumatoid arthritis took supplements of either omega-3 fatty acids or olive oil. Compared to the olive oil group, those who received omega-3 fatty acids experienced lower levels of pain and were able to reduce their use of arthritis medications.
  • Berries are full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. In one study of 38,176 women, those who ate at least two servings of strawberries per week were 14% less likely to have an elevated level of inflammatory markers in the blood. Berries are rich in quercetin and rutin, two plant compounds that boast a huge number of benefits for your health. Quercetin has been found to block some of the inflammatory processes associated with arthritis.
  • Spinach contains plenty of antioxidants as well as plant compounds that can relieve inflammation and help fight disease. Spinach is especially high in the antioxidant kaempferol, which has been shown to decrease the effects of the inflammatory agents associated with rheumatoid arthritis. A 2017 study treated arthritic cartilage cells with kaempferol, and found it reduced inflammation and prevented the progression of osteoarthritis.
  • Turmeric is a superfood packed with curcuminoids which reduce inflammation throughout your body.

Cayenne

The health benefits of cayenne pepper, also known as mirchi, include weight loss, good digestion, strong immunity, and good blood circulation. It may also provide relief from heart diseases, dyspepsia, inflammation, headaches, and throat congestion. A diet containing cayenne pepper helps to avoid stomach aches, gas, and cramps. Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine recommends cayenne for proper digestion as it stimulates the flow of stomach secretions and saliva.

Cayenne peppers are long, skinny peppers with a glossy, cherry-red hue. Officially known as Capsicum annum, these peppers are members of the Solanaceae (nightshade) family, along with their distant cousins, potatoes, eggplants and tomatoes. Cayenne peppers are thought to have originated in South America.

Cayenne peppers have a hot-but-not-too-hot level of kick. If you are a spicy food fan, you might be familiar with the Scoville scale. This scale measures the heat of a chili pepper, from unspicy bell peppers at one end to off-the-charts-hot ghost peppers and Carolina reapers at the other. A jalapeño pepper packs about 5,000 Scoville Heat Units, while a cayenne pepper is more like 30,000 to 50,000.

Cayenne contains vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin K, carotenoids, and vitamin B complex. It is also a source of calcium, potassium, manganese, and dietary fiber.

“Cayenne peppers are fantastic sources of antioxidants and other plant compounds that protect our cells and promote health,” says registered dietitian Alexis Supan, RD.

Antioxidants, along with related compounds like flavonoids and carotenoids, are compounds naturally found in plants. These compounds protect our cells against damage from harmful substances in the environment.

A diet rich in antioxidants can help ward off diseases, including heart disease and certain types of cancers. And cayenne peppers are a particularly good source of certain antioxidants. In one study, researchers compared antioxidant levels in 20 different hot peppers. Cayenne peppers came out on top.

There is a wide variety of common uses for cayenne.

Lots of people associate spicy foods with heartburn or an upset stomach. But for many people, spice can have the opposite effect. “Cayenne pepper is really helpful for digestion,” Supan explains. “It increases gastric juices and enzyme production in the stomach, which helps us break down food.”

There’s also evidence that spicy foods like cayenne peppers can boost the good bacteria in your gut. The microbiome is a community of bacteria in your gut that are important for a healthy immune system. Capsaicin may help promote a healthy microbiome. Spicy food can trigger heartburn in some people. If cayenne pepper doesn’t agree with you, don’t force it.

Cayenne peppers can protect heart health in several ways. There’s evidence that capsaicin can protect against inflammation in your body. Inflammation plays a role in many different diseases, including heart disease. “Cayenne peppers can keep blood vessels healthy and may help lower blood pressure,” Supan adds.

Researchers found that people who regularly ate chili peppers were 13% less likely to die than people who avoided spicy fare.  Spice lovers had a lower risk of heart-related diseases like heart attacks and strokes. There has been some research that proves that giving cayenne extract orally to a patient can help to avoid heart attacks. Cayenne helps to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and helps to dissolve fibrin, which causes the formation of blood clots. It also reduces triglyceride levels.

Researchers found that when people season their meals with cayenne pepper, they’re less likely to reach for the saltshaker. “Salt isn’t so good for heart health, especially in people with high blood pressure,” Supan says. “Increasing the amount of cayenne pepper you eat might help you cut back on salt.”

When any body part is sick, the blood flow to that area is usually affected. Cayenne helps to remove that entire block, stimulates the blood flow, makes sure that the vitamins are properly delivered to all areas, and guarantees that waste is removed.

Some evidence suggests that spicy peppers are good for an achy, or stuffy head. “When you’re stuffed up, spicy foods can help clear the congestion,” Supan says. And if your head is pounding, spicy chili or tacos may help. Smelling cayenne or having it in a drink may help relieve headaches.

Capsaicin in cayenne pepper powder stimulates secretions, which helps to clear the mucus from the nose and lungs by clearing the sinuses and causing sweating. Often, in villages in India, if a person is congested in the nose or chest/lungs, some extra mirchi is added to their regular vegetables to make them extra spicy. Tea mixed with cayenne pepper powder is believed to be good against conditions of cold and flu. Water mixed with cayenne pepper powder can be used to gargle when you have a sore throat.

Cayenne pepper powder is a source of beta-carotene, which is considered to be helpful in reducing symptoms of asthma.

Vitamin A, also known as beta-carotene, in cayenne pepper gives protection against invading pathogens. It does this by helping the development of healthy mucous membranes in the nasal passage, lungs, and urinary tracts, thereby providing immunity against infections.

Capsaicin is also used in topical form to treat pain. Creams made from the spice can be rubbed on your skin to treat arthritis pain. The topical application of cayenne pepper causes irritation in the applied area, thus helping to distract the nerves from joint pains due to arthritis.

Cayenne peppers and other capsaicin-containing spicy foods may help with weight loss. Spicy foods can rev up the metabolism a bit, helping burn calories. It can also help you feel fuller after eating. “The effect isn’t enough to overcome an unhealthy diet,” Supan warns, “but as part of a nutritious eating plan, spicy foods may suppress appetite and help with weight loss.”

Capsaicin is an important bioactive phytochemical that acts as a cancer preventive agent. A review study published in Anticancer Research suggests that capsaicin exerts chemopreventive effects, induces apoptosis, and helps prevent further cancer cell growth.

Word of Caution: Like all other foods or herbs, we must be careful when using this herb. Excess consumption may cause burning sensations in the throat, stomach, or rectum.

How to Buy

Growing cayenne peppers will yield plenty of peppers. They can be stored by drying, pickling or preserving in oil. You can purchase fresh cayenne peppers and discard limp or rotten peppers. Food preservation is safest and most delicious with peppers picked immediately before processing. As soon as pepper are picked, the process of food spoilage begins.

You can also find cayenne pepper powder in most markets.

How to Store

To prepare pickled cayenne peppers:

  1. Prepare one-pint Mason jars by washing, rinsing and drying either in a dishwasher or by hand. A clean jar is necessary to ensure no additional bacteria or debris is introduced to your peppers. These jars are sealed using a two-part lid consisting of a lid and a screw band. Do not re-use lids. Heat the lid of the two-part lid in hot water.
  2. Set peppers briefly in cold water.
  3. Cut one to two small slits into each pepper to allow the liquid and oil to penetrate.
  4. Pack peppers tightly into clean jars, adding spices, such as garlic, to your taste. Traditionally a pint jar needs two cloves of fresh garlic and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano.
  5. Prepare a solution of 5:1:0.75 of white vinegar, water and olive oil. Using 5 cups vinegar, 1 cup water and three-quarters of a cup of olive oil makes seven or eight pint jars of peppers. Add 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of salt to this amount of solution and bring to a boil.
  6. Pour the hot solution over packed peppers and seal with fresh two-part lids. Leave an inch of headspace below the lid of the jar, especially since the oil tends to soften the rubber lining the lid. Wipe the rim of the jar with a paper towel or damp cloth to remove excess pickling liquid before sealing.
  7. Process pint jars for 15 to 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. Reprocess jars that do not seal. After processing the lid should pop down and not be flexible if pressed. Processing peppers in oil can be particularly problematic and may take experience before perfecting.

*Wear gloves and do not touch your eyes during picking and processing of hot peppers.

How to Cook

Fresh or powdered, cayenne pepper is a super addition to your diet, Supan says. “One of the great things about cayenne is that, unlike a lot of spices, it seems to blend with every type of cuisine,” she says. “It’s used in dishes from just about every country in the world.”

There are lots of ways to incorporate cayenne into your diet:

  • Mexican hot chocolate: Stir powdered cayenne into hot cocoa for a sweet-and-spicy kick.
  • Boost your coffee: Spice-up your coffee.
  • Grab a pan: If you’re trying fresh cayenne peppers for the first time, sauteing is the most user-friendly way to prepare them, Supan says. “Chop them up, sauté them and add them to a stir fry,” she suggests.
  • Go brave with raw peppers: Raw, fresh cayenne peppers pack the most punch. If you want to fully embrace their spicy power, try chopping them into small pieces and adding them to homemade salsa.

Easy Vegan GF Chocolate Chip Cookies with Cayenne

The Fiery Vegetarian/ Deirdre Gilna

16 Cookies

Ingredients

  • 7 dates
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • ½ cup tahini (you can substitute with peanut butter)
  • 1 tablespoon molasses (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons plant-based milk
  • 3/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed
  • 2.5 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoons ground almond
  • 1/2 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
  • Pinch salt ¼ -½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

Instructions

  1. Roughly chop up the dates and place with the next 6 ingredients (from the chickpeas to the plant-based milk) in the food processor. Turn on the oven to preheat to 360F.
  2. Process until a smooth hummus-like paste.
  3. Add all the other ingredients and mix until well incorporated.
  4. Use an ice/cream scoop or large spoon to portion out onto baking paper-lined trays, wetting the scoop between cookies so the dough doesn’t stick.
  5. Dampen your hands and flatten and shape the cookies. You may have to wet your hands several times during the process. Note that these cookies do not spread while baking.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes.

The cookies are still soft when they come out so leave for 15 minutes on the tray (alternatively if you’re not in a rush to eat them you can leave them on the tray to fully cool down) and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Use a spatula or fish slice to carefully transfer them. Do not eat when warm (they don’t taste as nice) and wait to serve until completely cooled.

*1/4 teaspoon cayenne will be very lightly spiced the first day and perfectly spiced the second. 1/2 a teaspoon will be perfectly spiced the first day and hotter the second.

*If you don’t like raisins you can leave them out or replace them with goji berries or dried cranberries.

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