It wasn’t all that long ago that anyone diagnosed with gout was told to avoid such pleasures as fish, shellfish, asparagus, mushrooms, beer, cured meats, beans, tomatoes, and the list goes on! These are all considered “high purine” foods which were thought to cause gout attacks. Many people still restrict these foods merely based on what they were told a long time ago. The good news is that much has changed in the world of gout prevention including that restrictive “gout diet”.
Gout happens when there is too much of a substance called uric acid in the body. It is normal for the body to make uric acid and most of it usually passes out of the body in our urine. In some people, there is extra build-up and it forms crystals which settle around joints causing inflammation, heat and swelling. Gout attacks can feel like glass is grinding in the joints and can be extremely painful. Since some uric acid is made from digesting certain foods (those containing higher levels of purines – a natural substance in some foods) then that was the basis for restricting these “high purine” foods. However, we now know that food only accounts for about 30% of the uric acid in our bodies and even those “high purine” foods aren’t related to gout as much as we originally thought. People prone to having excess uric acid is more likely due to the fact that their bodies just seem to make more of it or not excrete enough of it rather than due to the food they eat.
So what should you eat to prevent gout attacks if you are at risk of them?
The good news is that a well-balanced, healthy diet is the best way to prevent gout. There is no special diet or special foods to eat or avoid. However, you are more at risk of gout if you are overweight, have diabetes, heart disease or risk factors for these conditions. Thus the most important thing you can do to prevent gout is to control those conditions by maintaining a healthy weight, a healthy heart and normal blood sugars through healthy eating and daily physical activity. It is also very important to take any medication that your doctor has given you and if you need to lose weight then do so very gradually as fasting can upset gout.
Many foods that are typically encouraged as part of a healthy diet actually seem to protect against gout. These include low fat milk and milk products, water, vegetables and fruits,
whole grains, baked beans and other beans, nuts and seeds. Even those “high purine” vegetables are safe to eat!
There still are a few things that might increase your risk of gout: alcohol, large portions of meats and seafood, and sugary drinks. However, moderation is the key. If you have alcohol, drink minimally and have a few alcohol free days per week. If you eat meat or seafood, stick to a small serve and try to have a couple of meat-free meals each week. Limit the amount of sugary drinks you have such as fizzy and juice.
Despite the new research showing that most people with gout can safely enjoy moderate amounts of all foods, there do seem to be some individual differences whereby some foods
may trigger gout attacks for some people. If this is the case, try to work out which foods and things in your life you think trigger your attacks and address them as needed.