Do you have a bout with gout? You aren’t alone. Gout is a painful form of arthritis that affects millions of people. It causes flare-ups of joint pain when high levels of uric acid in the blood cause crystals to form around joints.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Most cases of gout can be prevented or managed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as a gout-friendly diet.
“A proper diet can affect gout either positively and help control the disease, while it can be detrimental and contribute to flare-ups if a proper diet isn’t followed,” said Melissa Fowler, a rheumatology physician assistant at Banner Health in Tucson, AZ. “Obesity and other common medical conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes, are also important in terms of a proper diet and managing these health conditions is extremely important to also controlling gout.”
The connection between food and gout flare-ups
Uric acid is produced when your body breaks down a chemical called purine. Purines are found in cells of all living things. Some enter your body through your diet when they are digested. Consuming foods high in purines increases the risk of gout flare-ups.
In healthy bodies, uric acid is easily removed from your body when it passes through the kidneys into your urine. “However, when your kidneys can’t process uric acid efficiently or if there is too much in the blood, you develop hyperuricemia, or high levels of uric acid, which can trigger pain, swelling and inflammation,” Fowler said.
Food and drinks to avoid
To temper gout flare-ups, it’s best to avoid certain drinks and foods that are high in purines. These include:
Organ and game meats: Organ meats such as kidneys and liver and game meats like venison and wild-caught birds are extremely high in purines.
Seafood and fish: Crab, shrimp and other shellfish can cause gout flare-ups, but some fish like trout, anchovies and mackerel can increase uric acids levels too. However, oily fish like salmon do have some excellent health benefits and contain lower levels of purines compared to other fish, so eating them in moderation can be healthy.
Alcohol: Alcohol tends to increase uric acid levels, and some types of alcohol (particularly beer) are worse than others. Higher alcohol consumption can also make it harder for your kidneys to filter out uric acid. This not only increases uric acid in your body, but it also makes it harder for the body to get rid of it. It’s best to avoid beer, wine and liquor.
Sugary drinks: Uric acid levels tend to be higher in people who regularly drink sugar-sweetened drinks. Avoid beverages with high-fructose corn syrup, sodas and fruit juices.
What food and drinks should I eat if have gout?
Following a well-balanced, healthy diet is the best way to reduce the risk of developing gout. Low-purine foods that may help reduce uric acid in the body include fruits (especially those high in vitamin C), vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and low-fat dairy.
Research shows that eating low-fat dairy, such as yogurt, cheese and milk, may lower uric acid in the blood and decrease inflammation caused by uric acid crystals.
While you can go it alone in regard to your diet, sometimes it can help to follow a specific diet plan.
“The best dietary program would include a diet that helps achieve—and sustain—weight loss such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet or Mediterranean diet,” Fowler said. “Both diets emphasize low intake of red meat, protein from plant sources and a decrease in saturated fat.
The DASH diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy foods but reduces saturated and total fat and cholesterol.
The Mediterranean diet focuses on plant proteins, whole grains, fish and monounsaturated fat like olive oil.
“The best advice is to eat fresh, unprocessed foods,” Fowler said. “Choose complex carbs versus packaged or processed foods. And always remember to stay well-hydrated and drink plenty of water.”
[Also read “How Real Foods Can Help You Live a Longer, Healthier Life.”]
Sample of a gout-friendly menu
If you have gout and you’re not sure what to eat to reduce the risk of gout attacks, talk to your health care provider or a dietitian to help work out a long-term meal plan. Here is a sample menu plan of a low-purine diet to help you get started.
- Breakfast: oatmeal, sliced strawberries, coffee, water
- Lunch: grilled chicken sandwich on whole wheat bread or grilled chicken salad with light dressing and water
- Snack: low-fat Greek yogurt and cherries
- Dinner: roasted salmon, grilled or steamed vegetables, whole grain brown rice and water
Following a low-purine, gout-friendly diet detailed by your health care provider, or a dietitian, can help alleviate symptoms for people with gout. Although it won’t cure it, it can slow down the progression of joint damage.