If you’ve experienced a gout flare-up, you’re not alone. In fact, gout affects over 9 million people in the United States. It’s a common, painful condition, but there are plenty of ways you can manage gout and avoid flare-ups.
Consider this your guide to gout.
What is gout?
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. Uric acid is a waste product formed by breaking down purines, a compound found naturally in the body and in certain foods, like red meat, organ meat, shellfish, and alcohol. If your body can’t eliminate uric acid effectively, it can build up and form needle-like crystals around your joints, creating the perfect conditions for a gout flare-up.
Gout flare-ups bring pain and swelling to the affected joint – symptoms may appear suddenly and last days or even weeks. Although gout can affect any joint in the body, its most common targets are the big toe, foot, knee, wrist, and hand.
Who gets gout?
Anyone can get gout. But it tends to affect men more than women, and it’s more common in older individuals. Although gout is caused by too much uric acid, not everyone with high uric acid levels will develop gout.
Certain conditions may increase your chance of developing gout, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and kidney disease. Eating a purine-rich diet, drinking alcohol, and taking certain medications (like diuretics) may also raise your risk of gout.
How can you manage gout?
If you think you may have gout, be sure to speak with your doctor. While there isn’t a cure for gout, there are plenty of ways you can manage gout and enjoy your life to the fullest.
Check out these nutrition tips to help avoid gout flare-ups.
Limit or avoid high-purine animal foods and replace them with lower purine options. Following a low-purine diet is one of the most common ways to combat gout. Although purines aren’t harmful on their own, your body breaks them down into uric acid. And if you already have trouble getting rid of uric acid, a high-purine diet can add to the problem.
Consider avoiding organ meats – these are particularly high in purines. That means skipping the liver and onions at 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.
Lower purine options include low-fat dairy foods, eggs, canned salmon, and small amounts of poultry.
Cut back on alcohol. 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. And you may want to think twice before replacing your hard beverage with non-alcoholic beer – it may contain purines, too.
Slow down on sweets. Foods that contain fructose, such as sugar-sweetened soft drinks and even fruit juice, might increase the risk of gout.
Eat lots 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 makes it a great swap for 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 – they’re rich in fiber to help you feel more satisfied, as well as other nutrients to help support healthy uric acid levels.
Drink plenty of water. Water is essential for hydration and overall health. So, don’t forget to sip throughout the day.
Read the Nutrition Facts label. Check for ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, and high-purine foods, such as shellfish and anchovies.
Even though there’s no cure for gout, healthy diet and lifestyle habits go a long way to keep flare-ups at bay. Monitoring your purine intake can take a little practice, but it’s a great way to build your defense against gout before it has the chance to attack.