5 Foods That Help Fight Gout and 5 Foods That Make It Worse

Gout, or gouty arthritis, is caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood. When uric acid crystallizes and builds up in the joints, it can cause severe pain, especially in the big toe but also in ankles, knees, elbows and wrists. Gout can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications; many doctors recommend an anti-inflammatory diet to help relieve pain caused by gout.

Of course, there are some foods that fight gout while others aggravate the condition; this article will explain five foods that help with gout and five foods that make it worse. Printable download available at the end of the article.

GOOD: Skim Milk and Low-Fat Dairy

A diet that contains dairy products has been shown to improve uric acid excretion, thereby reducing the painful symptoms associated with gout and gout flares. Dairy is good for gout because it contains proteins casein and lactalbumin, which have been found to have uricosuric effects. This means it increases the excretion of uric acid in the urine, thus reducing its concentration in the blood.

Dairy is also low in purines and helps excrete xanthine, which is a purine base. Furthermore, an orotic acid found in milk decreases uric acid reabsorption and promotes excretion by the kidneys.

GOOD: Plant Oils

Oils that are derived from plants such as olive, canola, and sunflower are actually strong anti-inflammatory. In fact, its compounds comprise at least nine various categories of polyphenols, as well as more than 24 anti-inflammatory compounds.  All of these compounds may suppress or may shut down about 100 inflammation-causing genes. 

Next up is our first gout triggering food and it might be a bit surprising.

BAD: Crustations: Shrimp and Lobster

Lobster is definitely one of the foods which you will want to avoid if you have a history of problems with gout. Because lobster contains so many purines, it is considered to be one of the worst foods for people who have problems with gout. This can be a very painful form of arthritis and the foods that you eat can most definitely have an impact on how you feel, so it will be important to cut down on the amount of lobster you eat or get rid of it from your diet altogether.

Next, we go back to anti-gout foods with a staple of most American’s diets.

GOOD: Complex Carbohydrates (Whole Grains)

A spread of simple and complex carbohydrates.

Eating foods lower on the glycemic index scale can lower uric acid concentrations and could be more effective in preventing gout flares than reducing one’s overall carbohydrate intake – which can actually increase uric acid concentrations.

The greatest difference in uric acid levels was observed when the glycemic index was reduced and the amount of carbohydrates was increased simultaneously, suggesting that adopting a diet rich in low glycemic index carbohydrates may result in the greatest reduction in uric acid levels. However, changing the glycemic index seemed to be more important than changing the carbohydrate proportion with regard to uric acid reduction.

BAD: Sugary Beverages

Refined sugars aren’t particularly good for anybody, but they can be downright dangerous when combined with certain conditions. Gout is one such example: those who enjoy a diet high in sugar and alcohol are at a far greater risk of developing the painful swelling and inflammation that comes with uric acid buildup.

A recent study out of the Boston University School of Medicine found that, regardless of other diet and lifestyle factors, sugar intake had a significant impact on the severity and frequency of gout attacks. Men who drank six soft drinks a week had a 29 percent higher chance of developing gout, and for those that drank two or more soft drinks each day, their risk was 85 percent higher.

GOOD: Coffee

Coffee is thought to reduce gout risk by lowering uric acid levels through several mechanisms. Coffee may lower uric acid levels by increasing the rate that your body excretes uric acid. Coffee is also thought to compete with the enzyme that breaks down purines in the body. This can lower the rate at which uric acid is created.

Meats, Birds, and Fish—Oh My

A spread of different meats on a table.

When you’re structuring a gout diet, picking meats can be a little tricky; that’s why its always best to consult a doctor and/or licensed nutritionist before starting any new diet plan.

Which meats can pose problems for some people?

Animal products like dairy, fish, poultry, and red meat are slightly complicated. The general rule of thumb, however, is that too much of these items will lead to unbalanced saturated fat levels and increased uric acid levels.

Which foods absolutely are not good for gout diets?

Nutritionists advise avoiding glandular and organ meats like:

  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Heart
  • Any type of sweetbread

Why is that, though?

Well, meats made from organ systems and glandular systems are extremely high in purine levels. Eating these components will therefore increase the amount of uric acid in your blood when your body breaks down the purine. Remember: an increased amount of uric acid in the blood leads to gout developing and/or worsening.

What are some tips for eating red meat?

While you don’t have to cut out red meat entirely, it’s recommended that you limit your portion sizes and avoid fatty cuts.

What is a proper serving size?

A serving size of red meat should me no more than 3.5 ounces. For reference, that’s about the size of a deck of cards.

What are some fatty cuts to avoid?

Fatty cuts of steak high in “bad” fats and cholesterol include:

  • Skirt
  • Porterhouse
  • Filet mignon
  • T-bone
  • Rib-eye

What are some tips for eating poultry?

As for poultry, white meat tends to have more nutritional benefits than drawbacks. Note that brown meat and chicken skin can be high in fats and salts.

What about fish and other seafood?

As for fish and other seafood, it really depends on the exact dish. Low-purine seafood has proteins and other nutritional benefits that are helpful for gout sufferers without the same huge drawbacks of red meat.

High-purine seafood to avoid includes:

  • Codfish
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Trout
  • Mussels
  • Scallops
  • Mackerel
  • Anchovies

Salmon may be great to add to a gout diet. Seafood to include in moderate/limited amounts because they contain small amounts of purine include:

  • Crabs
  • Shrimp
  • Lobsters
  • Oysters

What about beverages?

So far, we’ve only talked about foods to eat. However, how you hydrate yourself is another crucial part of a gout diet…

How Proteins Benefit Your Body

A spread of different food items that are high in protein.

When you’re managing your gout through your diet, there are several reasons to incorporate ample amounts of proteins into your plan.

Wait. Didn’t you just say that animal fats are bad?

One point that may seem contradictory is that the same animal products that are high in saturated fats also tend to be the easiest sources of protein. Now, cutting protein out of your diet entirely isn’t an option—even for healthy people, that’s dangerous. And, if you’re trying to exercise and get in shape, protein is vital to building muscle.

So, what’s the solution?

Well, you can grab protein-rich foods that aren’t meat. These foods includes:

  • Beans
  • Peanut butter
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Tofu
  • Nuts

Or you can be careful of what sorts of meat you eat.

What meats are sources of unhealthy fats?

Hearty meats (beef, bison, etc.) tend to be sources of unhealthy fats.

What are some tips for eating meat on a gout diet?

You can get the benefits of protein while minimizing the effects of saturated fats if you follow a few rules of thumb:

  • Purchase low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat lean cuts of meat.
  • Remove poultry skin before eating.

The Takeaway?

Protein is vital for the health of your musculoskeletal system. In other words, it’s necessary for the growth and protection of new cells. After all, your organ systems are only able to function because of the functions that proteins carry out. So, make sure they’re a priority in your gout diet.

Okay, but which specific meats are great (and not so great) to incorporate into a gout diet?…

The Effects of Good Hydration

A woman drinking a glass of water.

It’s easy to forget about water when you’re structuring your diet. After all, water is flavorless, and it doesn’t have calories or nutrients (unless you count a few added minerals here and there). But water is the single most important substance for keeping your body healthy.

In fact, it’s more important than any kind of food restructuring or improved exercise habits.

Why is water important?

The human body is made up mostly of water. Water is necessary for keeping you cool, regulating your internal body systems, moving food through the digestive tract, and keeping your kidneys clean so they can act as a competent filtration system.

In short, every part of your body is affected by how much water you put into it.

Why is hydration important for gout especially?

For gout sufferers, there’s another layer to the importance of hydration. When you’re not experiencing a flare-up, water is a vital way of regulating your uric acid levels and preventing an attack from happening.

Meanwhile, when you’re in the middle of an attack, drinking water helps to flush the uric acid out of the blood.

How much water should you drink daily?

  • Not during a flare-up: 8+ cups
  • During flare-ups: 8-16 cups

What drinks should you avoid?

However, you’ll probably drink more than just water when following a gout diet. When you do, just make sure to steer clear of the following…

What Not to Drink

A woman holding a glass of soda with a thumbs down.

When you’re structuring a gout diet, there are a number of beverages that you shouldn’t drink.

How does coffee fit into this equation?

Some research indicates that moderate coffee consumption might reduce your risk of gout attacks. Coffee has the potential to be unhealthy if consumed in excess, though. And, if you have other co-occurring medical conditions that could be affected, you should talk to your doctor before you begin consuming coffee.

What about sugary drinks?

Some other drinks to be wary of include:

  • Sugary beverages should be avoided, as these are saturated in simple sugars. They offer a quick burst of energy followed by a crash because they have no nutritional value.
  • Avoid and limit your intake of sports drinks, too. Even if they’re saturated with electrolytes, they also have a ton of added sugars.
  • Naturally, sweet fruit juices may use organically occurring sugar, but the compounds are still simple carbohydrates that won’t provide nutritional value.
  • Try to limit your fruit juice intake as well for similar reasons.

What about supplements?

One final piece of the gout-diet puzzle? Supplements, of course…

Take Your Vitamins

A bottle of vitamins spilt on a table.

Having a healthy balance of vitamins in your diet is vital to every single bodily function. That includes boosting cognition and banishing feelings of fatigue.

How can vitamin deficiencies hurt your gout?

If you have a vitamin deficiency, you’re likely to have trouble exercising and getting out of bed. These facts alone can weaken your body, which can increase the severity of gout attacks.

Furthermore, vitamin deficiencies can also make joint pain more severe, which can also make flare-ups more agonizing.

Can you take too many vitamins at once?

Some vitamins can be dangerous if consumed in too-large doses, though. For this reason, you should talk to your doctor or your nutritionist about your diet. Ask them if they recommend taking any specific vitamin supplements to strengthen areas in which you might not be getting enough nutritional content.

Which vitamin is extra important for gout diet?

Vitamin C is a vital component for individuals with gout. Why? Because research indicates that this nutrient has the potential to help lower a person’s uric acid levels. It also boosts immune function and promotes overall health.

The most important part of your diet to watch?…

Why You Should Pay Attention to Purine

The word purine highlighted in a dictionary.

For gout sufferers, it’s important to pay attention to purine. Your purine intake is one of the only factors you can control with regards to your disease.

Decreasing your purine intake won’t always stop flare-ups from happening, and it won’t act as a cure. But it is one way that you can mitigate the effects of your illness rather than ignoring and potentially worsening your symptoms.

What’s the deal with uric acid and gout?

The more purine you consume, the higher your uric acid levels will become when your body breaks it down. The higher the uric acid, the more likely crystallization occurs. And when that happens, gout can strike.

You’ll then have to work to reduce the uric acid levels in the blood if you want to avoid a flare-up or reduce an existing flare-up. Your doctor will most likely prescribe medication that lowers uric acid levels. However, the medication will work better if you haven’t eaten a ton of purine in the first place.

Where you get purine matters.

One interesting note is that purine in meats and animal products have been shown to increase the risk of suffering a gout attack. But at the same time, purine-rich vegetables like spinach and asparagus have not had a significant impact on the frequency or severity of gout attacks.

So, when it comes to getting the protein you need, be cautious about how much you consume from animal-based sources.

What’s next?

What’s most important to remember about a gout diet?…

Final Thoughts

The definition of gout on paper surrounded by medicine.

A gout diagnosis can be scary no matter who you are. After all, dealing with a chronic illness is never easy, and it’s difficult to make lifestyle changes that will help. When you’re in pain, exercising and focusing on losing weight can seem impossible.

That makes changing your diet a manageable first step toward taking more comprehensive control over your treatment.

Tips for Starting a Gout Diet

If you’re forming your own gout diet and meal plans following a diagnosis, one of the best things you can do is keep your doctor in the loop. Ask for advice about what you should do and how to chart any changes to your physical feelings. Start keeping notes of foods that taste good and make you feel good, along with reminders of what foods had bad effects on your body.

Managing gout isn’t easy. But with proper diet and appropriate exercise, it is possible.

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