What is Gout?
Gout is a type of arthritis, or joint inflammation, caused by a build-up of crystals in the joints. These crystals can form when the body is producing or retaining too much uric acid, a waste product made from food and cell breakdown in the body. The risk of uric acid build-up, or hyperuricemia, increases due to a variety of reasons including certain health conditions, medications, practices, gender, having a family history of gout, organ transplants, or exposure to lead.
Common symptoms of gout involve pain, swelling, warmness, and stiffness of the joints, usually starting at the toes. These symptoms typically occur in painful flare-ups or “gout attacks” that can last from a few days to weeks. Gout is typically diagnosed by testing uric acid levels in the blood, so consult a physician for a blood test if you think you have gout.
Stay Out, Gout!
Diet modifications may help prevent or ease the symptoms of a gout attack. As mentioned earlier, uric acid comes from food and our body’s cells. Specifically, it is made when “purines”, building blocks found in the structures that make up our food and our cells are broken down. Although purines are found in almost all food, some have higher concentrations and trigger gout attacks more than others. Follow these guidelines to lessen your risk of a gout attack:
Limit Animal Protein to 4-6 Ounces of Lean Meat Per Day.
When considering portions of animal protein, think of a deck of cards which is similar in size to 3-4 ounces of meat. Limit your servings to two deck of cards per day. An easy method is to have one 3 oz portion of meat for lunch and one for dinner. Choose lean beef, pork, lamb, fish and poultry because they have a moderate amount of purines. Avoid animal products that are purine-rich such as:
- Organ meats including liver, kidneys, and brains
- Game meats such as venison, and bison
- Seafood, especially scallops, shellfish, anchovies, sardines, herring, and mackerel
Do not cut out all protein from your diet because the body still needs a moderate amount.
Good sources of protein include nut butters, low or nonfat dairy products, eggs, beans, and tofu.
Alcohol is associated with increased uric acid levels in the body. Beer is guilty of triggering gout attacks more than other alcoholic beverages, so if you are planning on drinking every now and then, opt for wine which has less risk.
Skip Certain Sweets
Limit the consumption of products with lots of high-fructose corn syrup or added sugar, such as soda, which promote uric acid production. If cutting out soda or other sweetened beverages is too difficult, gradually decrease your intake by choosing alternatives such as the “diet” or “zero calorie” versions, plain coffee, or non-fat milk. These beverages are not associated with increasing the risk of gout. Processed foods, such as cereal and desserts, may also have high amounts of high-fructose corn syrup. Make sure to pay attention to nutrition labels and avoid products with sugar/syrups as the first ingredient!
Other products to limit:
- Products containing yeast or yeast extract
- Products high in saturated fat
Everyone reacts to food in different ways, so it is important to become aware of which foods trigger your gout attacks to make better food choices.
Other Things to Remember:
- Drink around 8-16 cups of water per day. Getting adequate amounts of water can lessen the concentration of uric acid in the blood. If you are on a fluid restriction due to other health conditions such as kidney disease, consult with your physician/dietitian.
- Eat a balanced diet that incorporates whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Some vegetables are purine-rich, however, research has found that they are not associated with increasing the risk for developing gout.
- Increased consumption of low-fat or non-fat dairy products is associated with decreasing the risk of developing gout.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight can lessen the risk of gout/triggering gout attacks. If you have weight-loss goals, avoid fasting and high-protein diets. Stick to a balanced diet incorporating all food groups and a moderate amount of protein.