Gout is a type of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the blood. Excess uric acid can lead to a build-up of fluid surrounding the joints, which can result in uric acid crystals. The formation of these crystals causes the joints to swell, become inflamed, and cause intense pain.
The good news is that you can control gout. In addition to taking medications, dietary changes can help prevent painful attacks. While many foods (including fruits and vegetables) are generally healthy, they may not be healthy for someone with gout.
Since eating foods high in purines can aggravate your symptoms, it’s important to understand which foods can trigger gout symptoms and should be avoided entirely, or limited. A gout-friendly diet involves a specific plan, tailored to avoid painful gout attacks.
Research suggests that certain foods may also prevent gout. In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists found that a higher intake of low-fat dairy greatly reduced the risk of gout in men.
Read on to learn more about how we decide whether or not a recipe is right for someone who suffers from gout.
What causes gout?
Gout develops when there is too much uric acid in the blood. This over-abundance of uric acid may be the result a diet high in purines. Or, your body may produce too much uric acid.
What are purines anyway?
Purines are chemical compounds that, when metabolized, are broken down into uric acid. Purines are either made by your body, or taken into your body through foods you eat.
In a normal process, purines would break down into uric acid. The uric acid would be dissolved in the blood, then passed through the kidneys into the urine, and finally eliminated from the body.
Complications occur when the kidneys don’t rid your body of the uric acid fast enough, or if there is an increased amount of uric acid production. These high levels will build up in the blood, leading to what is known as hyperuricemia. Though not classified as a disease, hyperuricemia can be dangerous if it leads to the formation of uric acid crystals. When these crystals build up around the joints, gout can develop.
What Makes a Gout-Friendly Diet?
The goal of a gout diet is to relieve the painful inflammation, and to prevent future attacks. Depending on a variety of factors—your age, general health, medical history, severity of the condition—treatment options will vary.
The good news is, gout can be controlled. In addition to taking prescribed medications (which could include anti-inflammatory drugs, or medications to lower levels of uric acid), acute gout attacks can be managed through diet and a proactive approach to your signs and symptoms.
It really comes down to one primary rule: limit or avoid purines in your diet.
What to Avoid Entirely
A gout-friendly diet should aim to do one thing: control uric acid levels in the body. It’s important to understand that a gout diet is not a treatment. Rather, it is a lifestyle change that can help reduce or eliminate gout symptoms.
Research shows that high amounts of seafood, meat, and alcohol contribute to the development of gout, due to their high-purine content. With that in mind, a gout diet should avoid or limit these foods.
- organ meats
If you do want to include some animal protein in your diet, limit to 4-6 oz/day. Our gout-friendly recipes have either none of these animal proteins, or only in amounts small enough to help you stay under the 4-6 oz limit.
What to Limit
Animal proteins are high in purines. Since the buildup of purines can lead to elevated levels of uric acid, which in turn may result in gout, it’s best to avoid or strictly limit these foods in your diet.
Caution Foods (Moderately high in purines):
While these proteins are lower in purines than the ones in the earlier list you should still attempt to limit your intake of all animal protein to 4-6 oz/day. Our gout-friendly recipes take this restriction into account, and will help you to reach your limiting goals.
Alcohol disrupts the removal of uric acid from the body. Studies show that the consumption of beer, in particular, is linked to gout attacks in men. One study published in The Lancet followed approximately 47,000 men who had no history of gout. After 12 years, almost 2 percent of the participants reported experiencing gout attacks. The beer drinkers had greatly increased their risk, followed by men who drank hard liquor on a daily basis.
But, how, exactly is alcohol—and especially beer—linked to gout? Research suggests that it’s the high levels of purine in the alcohol. While the breakdown of purines into uric acid would normally be flushed out of the body through the urine, this process is interrupted when uric acid levels get too high. Crystals form around the joints, and gout develops.
To prevent further gout attacks, stick to these guidelines:
- avoid alcohol when having an attack
- limit wine to one-two 5 oz servings/day between attacks
- avoid beer
Our recipes take these alcohol restrictions into account as well.
There is debate as to sugar’s effect on uric acid levels in the body. However, what is known is that sugar and sweets are higher in calories and linked to obesity, a known risk factor for gout. Though they are tempting, sweets are better left untouched. Make room instead for healthier, gout-friendly foods like plant-based proteins, and low-fat dairy products.
Avoid/limit-refined carbs, including:
- white bread
All of our gout-friendly recipes have either no refined carbs, or include them only in very small amounts.
What to Include
A low-purine diet can help lower levels of uric acid in the body, and work to prevent symptoms of gout.
Beans and legumes are an excellent source of protein. Eating these plant-based sources can help to meet your daily protein needs, while cutting saturated fat found in high-purine, animal-based proteins.
Fructose-rich beverages, like soft drinks, have been shown to increase the risk for developing gout. While these types of drinks don’t have high amounts of purines, they do contain significant amounts of fructose—which increases uric acid levels.
Increasing your daily water intake and cutting the soft drinks and sodas will help to flush your body of uric acid and prevent the formation of kidney stones.
Foods to Increase:
- plant-based proteins:
- fluids, especially water
- low-fat, fat-free dairy (16-24 oz daily)
- complex carbohydrates:
- whole grains
- fruit & vegetables
Gout-friendly recipes will often include higher amounts of these healthy ingredients.