Gout is a form of arthritis, an inflammatory condition affecting primarily joints and the tissues around them. It is characterized by swelling, localized redness, burning sensation, pain and other symptoms. Gout occurs as a result of high levels of uric acid that crystallize over time and form deposits in joints and the tissues around them, resulting in visible inflammation and pain. For the most part, this form of arthritis is genetic, however, poor dietary and lifestyle habits are known to both cause and worsen an already existing gout. Anti-inflammatory foods like cherries and sour cherries and turmeric are good to eat and can help manage and prevent gout attacks, while processed foods, red meats, seafood like shellfish and oily fish are known to increase uric acid and trigger gout episodes.
What is gout? Gout is one of many forms of arthritis. Like all other forms of arthritis, it targets primarily joints and the tissues around them, producing inflammation that reduces range of movement and restricts mobility. It can affect one or more joints at a time and usually occurs in episodes stretching from a couple of days to almost two weeks. Over half of gout sufferers experience more than one episode in a year. One of the typical symptoms is redness of affected joints, burning sensation, swelling and progressing pain. Like all other forms of arthritis, gout ultimately causes joint destruction and bone erosion, hence the importance of receiving treatment and managing the condition.
Gout and diet. The fact that more thank half of gout cases are genetic doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about it. In fact, there is plenty you can do to manage gout and reduce the number of episodes and symptoms severity. Research reveals a strong association between this form of arthritis and bad dietary and lifestyle habits. Obesity, prediabetes, diabetes and associated symptoms (hypertension, high cholesterol and hyperglycemia) are risk factors for gout and often a result of poor eating and bad lifestyle habits. Achieving a healthy weight, reducing abdominal fat in particular, managing hypertension, lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels can bring major improvements for sufferers and even reduce the frequency and severity of gout attacks.
So do you know what foods to eat and what foods to avoid for gout? The perfect diet for gout is one that considers the following aspects: the purine content of foods, their inflammatory or anti-inflammatory activity as well as nutritional and calorie input of foods. Thus, the best foods are those that are low in purines, have high anti-inflammatory value and help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight in view of enjoying good blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. The worst foods for gout are those high in purines and other compounds that promote inflammation in the body (like hydrogenated fats, saturated fats, salt, food preservatives, sugars, food additives such as smoke aromas and others). Alcohol and cigarette smoke are also bad for gout.
What are purines? Purines are chemicals that occur naturally in food. Some foods like red meat, oily fish, shellfish are naturally high in purines, while eggs, dairy and most fruits and vegetables (minus legumes) are generally low in purines. How are purines relevant for gout? Too much purines in your diet can actually make gout worse because they are broken down into uric acid. High levels of uric acid in the blood form crystals over time which deposit in and around joints, essentially causing gout.
The best foods to eat for gout include the following:
1) Foods low in purines: eggs, milk and dairy products, especially low-fat ones (cheese, yogurt, butter), nuts and seeds if you are not allergic (walnuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds etc.), cereals (barley, rice, rye, wholegrains and byproducts such as pasta, noodles), fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, grapes, raspberries, citrus fruit, kiwifruit, apples, bananas, apricots, currants, figs, jujubes, lime, mulberries, cherries, sour cherries, pears, plums, quinces, watermelon, honeydew melon etc.) and vegetables (carrots, cabbage, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, onion, garlic, pepper, parsley, radishes, beets, turnip, parsnip, horseradish, wasabi and others).
2) Natural anti-inflammatory foods. Certain foods exhibit a high anti-inflammatory activity and are reported to help reduce swelling in the body and manage symptoms of various inflammatory conditions, including arthritis. Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include: cherries, sour cherries (or tart cherries), turmeric, ginger, some Omega-3 rich foods (walnuts, eggs and low fat fish) and foods rich in vitamin C as those listed below. Cherries, sour cherries and the juice made from them have an excellent anti-inflammatory activity and regular consumption has been reported to reduce swelling and pain associated with arthritis considerably.
3) Foods rich in vitamin C. The best food sources of vitamin C include: camu camu, Kakadu plum, acerola cherry, strawberries, bell peppers, kiwifruit, citrus (lemons, oranges, tangerines, limes, grapefruit), rose hip, wolfberry, guava etc.
4) Other foods that are good for gout. There are studies that have found associations between moderate coffee consumption and reduced risk of gout both in men and women. Although the caffeine in coffee is essential a purine, it would appear that coffee drinking can help manage the condition presumably as a result of other beneficial compounds (Coffee, tea, and caffeine consumption and serum uric acid level: the third national health and nutrition examination survey).
However, no food is universally healthy and two people with the same medical condition may react differently to the same presumably healthy food. This is because we are all different and what may be good for some people is not necessarily good for everyone. For example, some gout sufferers may find relief in drinking coffee, while others might find that it worsens their symptoms. Both scenarios can be true because coffee has both benefits and side effects (read more about the health benefits of coffee and 6 reasons why coffee is bad for you). The same can be said about other foods too. For example, while bell peppers and citrus fruit are good sources of vitamin C to help reduce gout swelling, they are also bad for gastritis and cause acid reflux, so they might not be the best choice for someone with both gout and gastritis.
The same is true for foods that are considered bad for gout: some people might experience a worsening of their symptoms if they eat them, while others might find those bad foods do not upset them much when consumed in limited amounts. However, it is generally best to avoid certain categories of food and limit intake of others in order to enjoy improvements in your condition. As such, here are the main foods to avoid or reduce if you have gout:
1) Foods high in purines. It is recommended to completely avoid intake of high-purine foods during gout attacks and otherwise limit them considerably to manage the condition in the future. Foods high in purine include:
Organ meats: gizzards, hearts, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, lungs, spleen.
Seafood: oysters, mussels, scallops, shrimp, crab, lobster, fish roe and caviar.
Oily fish: anchovies, sardines, herring, haddock, mackerel, tuna, salmon.
Meat: game (venison, partridge, pheasant, rabbit), pork, beef, veal, mutton, lamb, goose, turkey.
Cold meats: bacon, ham, sausage, salami and other cold meats made from those above.
Other: yeast, sodas, caffeinated beverages, alcohol, high-sugar syrups, pastry, baked goods, sweets.
2) Foods containing moderate amounts of purines: should be consumed in limited amounts and avoided during gout attacks.
Meat: chicken, duck.
Legumes: peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, lentils.
Other vegetables: mushrooms, asparagus, spinach, cauliflower.
3) Processed foods. Foods and beverages high in fats, salt, sugar, food additives and preservatives are bad for gout and should be avoided during an episode and consumed in very limited amounts otherwise.
Chocolate and gout. Cocoa and dark chocolate contain high amounts of two purines: caffeine and theobromine. Eating too much of cocoa or dark chocolate can worsen symptoms by raising uric acid levels in the blood and encouraging deposits in joints and the surrounding tissues. At the same time, they are a rich source of antioxidants and it is possible some sufferers may experience benefits after eating cocoa or chocolate.
Other aspects to consider. When it comes to gout, it is also important to maintain an overall balanced and varied diet that provides you with every nutritional element you need on a daily basis. Avoid smoking, reduce stress factors and take the medication your doctor prescribed. Eating small meals often, drinking plenty of water and practicing moderate physical activity can be beneficial as well. Lastly, learn what foods seem to be good for you and what foods you should avoid in order to best manage your gout.