Odds are you’ve heard of gout. Once known as a disease of affluence because of the connection to eating meat and drinking beer, gout affects over 9 million people in the United States. Gout can be a very painful condition, but there are ways to manage gout flare-ups. Diet plays a significant role in decreasing the chance of having a flare. If you’re looking for help with gout, keep reading.
What is gout?
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that affects the joints. It is caused by an excess of uric acid in the body. Though the word “acid” can be scary, uric acid is naturally formed when your body breaks down purines found in many common foods. Too much uric acid can crystallize and accumulate in the joints leading to intense pain, swelling, and inflammation. The big toe and other toes, ankles, and knees are the most affected by gout.
Not everyone with high uric acid in the blood will develop gout. Some people are more likely to get it. Men, people who are obese or have conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes, and those who take diuretics (or water pills) tend to be at a higher risk for gout. People who drink more alcohol and those who eat a high-purine diet may also have a higher incidence of gout.
If you think you have gout, be sure to speak with your doctor. There is no cure for gout, but it can be treated. Your doctor may recommend weight loss to alleviate pressure on weight-bearing joints, like the knees. Though medication may be necessary, luckily, the foods you eat can make a big difference.
Experts used to believe gout was caused solely from overeating meat or drinking too much alcohol, but there’s more to the story.When it comes to diet, the key is sticking to a low purine diet. So, it’s important to know your purines.
What are purines?
Purines are compounds naturally present in a variety of foods. On their own, purines are not harmful. However, a buildup of uric acid (a by-product of the breakdown of purines) in the blood can lead to gout flare-ups. To manage gout, you need to be careful not to overdo it on foods high in purines.
Before you write off all high purine foods, take note. It appears that unlike many of the animal sources of purine, high-purine vegetables may not increase uric acid levels.
Here are the foods you want to avoid
Eat fewer foods that raise uric acid levels.
Limit or avoid high purine animal foods. It’s recommended to avoid organ meats altogether. That means skipping the liver and onions at the dinner, as well as sweetbreads, tongue, tripe, and other organ meats. Meats such as poultry, pork, and lamb are lower in purines, but experts advise keeping portions small.
This limitation also applies to shellfish and certain seafood such as shrimp, lobster, sardines, and anchovies.
Skip beer – even if it’s non-alcoholic. Alcoholic beverages have been shown to increase uric acid production in the body. Alcohol is one of the key things to avoid to reduce the risk of a flare-up. Though wine tends to be lower in purines than beer, keep in mind that any alcohol intake can trigger an attack.
Slow down the sweets. Foods that contain fructose, such as sugar-sweetened soft drinks and even fruit juice, might increase the risk of gout.
While these are the foods you’ll want to limit, there are many more that you can include liberally.
Eat more of these foods
Choose lower purine animal foods. Low-fat dairy foods such as yogurt appear to be protective for those with gout. You can also include eggs, canned salmon, and small amounts of poultry.
Eat plenty of plant-based foods. They say the best offense is a good defense. That may hold true here. Research suggests including plant-based foods such as whole grains, nuts, beans and peas, fruits, and vegetables may help reduce uric acid in the blood.
Lentils also provide a great source of plant-based protein to help with satiety – which is important if you’re used to eating lots of meat.
Though some vegetables such as mushrooms, seaweed, tofu, and spinach are high in purines, researchers seem to think these foods don’t actually increase uric acid levels. Consider including these and others as part of a balanced diet to help provide variety, fiber to help you feel more satisfied, as well as other nutrients to help reduce uric acid levels.
Drink plenty of water. Water is essential for hydration and overall health. So, don’t forget to sip throughout the day.
Tips for success
Like any other special diet, keeping purine intake in check takes a little practice and getting used to. Read labels to check for ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, shellfish, and anchovies.
If you are a seafood lover, maybe switch to a fish such as salmon, which is lower in purines. And pay attention to how you feel. Having even a small amount of shrimp just might not be worth the potential pain that can come along with a flare-up.
In summary, gout can be painful, but there are various tools, methods, and resources available to help you manage it well. Take this opportunity to try new foods and recipes that might help you keep gout in check!