A note from the editor: The good news is that we can guide you toward the foods to avoid with gout. And hopefully we can help you quickly. And in this article we’re going to tell you all the great foods you should be eating to avoid gout symptoms. We all know gout is painful. It’s disruptive. But it’s preventable with simple diet modifications.
If you or a family member have been diagnosed with gout, you know that an attack is a debilitating experience. You may also be aware that the right diet (and a few other lifestyle choices) is the best means of preventing and minimizing gout and gout flare-ups.
Avoiding the wrong foods—and replacing them with the right ones—is easy, once you know what to look out for. And it’s definitely worth the effort if it spares you the sudden, painful swelling and tenderness that comes with gout.
What is gout? (And what are purines?)
Gout is a form of arthritis that occurs when uric acid builds up in the blood and crystalizes in joints (most commonly the feet and toes). Gout causes pain, inflammation, and tenderness where it strikes. It starts suddenly and can last up to 10 days.
Gout affects men more than women, and women over the age of 60 more than those younger.
If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed with gout, you’ve likely been hearing the term “purine” as well—as in, eating a low-purine diet.
Purines are natural compounds found in many foods. As they are broken down during digestion, your body produces uric acid. Thus, people who suffer from gout are encouraged to eat fewer purines in order to lower their uric acid levels and prevent gout attacks.
Foods to Avoid with Gout
Foods to avoid with gout are generally those high in purine, but refined carbohydrates and oxalate should also be avoided.
Foods that are bad for gout include:
1. Alcohol (especially beer, whiskey, vodka)
Alcohol—especially beer—is bad for gout sufferers for two reasons. First, these beverages require the kidneys to work at drawing alcohol out of the blood stream, leaving more uric acid in the blood.
Second, grain alcohols—like beer, whiskey, and vodka—contain yeast, which is high in purines.
2. Organ meat and wild game
Organ meat—like sweetbreads, liver, kidney, tongue, and heart—are especially high in purine, and should be avoided to prevent gout attacks.
Many wild game meats are known to be high in purines as well, such as venison, pheasant, quail, and rabbit.
FAQ: What about red meat and gout?
Most red meat contains moderate levels of purines. It doesn’t need to be avoided entirely, but should be consumed in moderation.
3. Fish and most seafood
Seafood is tricky, because some of it has higher levels of purines than others. Fish with higher purine levels, that should be avoided by people with gout, include:
- Shellfish (some)
Salmon seems to be an exception, in that most gout sufferers don’t have a problem with it.
FAQ: What about crab and gout?
Certain shellfish don’t seem to cause problems for chronic gout sufferers, and crab is one of them. Lobster and shrimp also contain lower levels of purines, so enjoy in moderation!
4. Sugar and high-fructose foods
Fructose is one type of sugar that naturally occurs in fruit and honey, and can cause gout and gout flare-ups. Similarly, high fructose corn syrup is an artificial sweetener that is up to 55% fructose, and so causes the same problems.
Purines are released when your body breaks down fructose, leading to those uric acid build-ups that cause gout. Foods with purines are the foods to avoid with gout.
Artificial fructose is most prevalent in sodas, and natural fructose is concentrated in fruit juices. Thus, avoiding fructose means avoiding or limiting:
- Fruit juice
- Artificial sweeteners using fructose
5. Refined carbs
Some sources will tell you that refined carbohydrates are safe for gout sufferers, but this isn’t necessarily true. While refined carbs—like white bread, pasta, white rice, and sweet desserts made with white flour—are low in purine, they have a high glycemic index.
Studies have shown that a high glycemic index results in higher uric acid levels. That doesn’t mean you should avoid all carbs, though. In fact, lowering your overall carb intake can increase uric acid levels. The key is to switch out at least some of your refined carbs for whole grains, i.e. start making sandwiches on whole wheat instead of white bread.
6. Beets (Oxalates)
Beets, like most vegetables, are low in purine, but they are rich in another chemical compound called oxalates. Less common than purines, oxalates have the same effect in the human body: increasing uric acid levels in the blood. Add beets to your list of foods to avoid with gout.
Other veggies that are harboring high levels of oxalates include:
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, has proven to offer some benefit to gout sufferers, but most grocery story chocolate bars (yes, even dark chocolate) are not good gout diet options.
Cacao chocolate lowers uric acid levels and has anti-inflammatory properties. It is also an antioxidant, which means it may lower blood pressure and improve kidney function—both of which can help prevent gout.
But the milk chocolate, and even most of the dark chocolate, on convenience store shelves is also full of high fructose corn syrup and/or sucrose. The extremely high levels of sweetener in those chocolates far outweighs any potential health benefit. The chocolate that might help prevent gout is mostly cacao with no added sugar.
If you must have cacao, look for snacks with no added sugar. Low Karb’s Cacao Keto Nut Granola is a good option for a snack, or an addition to low-fat yogurt.
Low-Purine Foods to Eat Instead
While purines are not the only dietary consideration, they are the most common. A healthy gout diet generally focuses on low-purine foods.
1. Low-fat dairy
Gout sufferers are generally advised to avoid full-fat dairy like whole milk, heavy cream, and ice cream, but low-fat dairy products may actually help prevent gout. Studies have shown that increasing a person’s intake of low-fat dairy products reduces uric acid levels—preventing the development of gout and gout attacks.
Most dairy products—including cheese, milk, and yogurt—and low-fat options, so it’s an easy switch to make.
Any fruit is a good option for people struggling with gout, because they have low purine levels and high levels of complex carbohydrates.
Berries are an especially good choice, because they tend to be high in fiber and low in sugar. Citrus fruits are also especially helpful, because vitamin C has been shown to reduce uric acid levels.
FAQ: Is lemon juice good for gout?
Fresh-squeezed lemon juice has proven effective, in multiple studies, as a treatment for gout. Daily doses of fresh lemon juice inspire your body to release calcium carbonate, which breaks down uric acid.
FAQ: What about cherries and gout?
Several studies and surveys have demonstrated that cherries, or pure cherry juice, are effective both in treating and preventing gout flare-ups. In addition to lowering uric acid levels in the bloodstream, cherries are a natural anti-inflammatory, which may explain how they help ease symptoms.
2. Most veggies
Most vegetables are low in purine, and are great options for anyone at risk of gout or a gout attack. Some veggies—asparagus, cauliflower, peas, mushrooms, and spinach—have moderately high levels of purine, and should be consumed in moderation (and we’ve already talked about oxalates), but most are safe.
FAQ: What about Brussel’s sprouts and gout?
If you’ve heard that Brussel’s sprouts are good for gout, you heard right. Brussel’s sprouts are one of a few veggies very high in vitamin C.
3. Nuts and beans
Many gout sufferers are told to limit fat and protein intake to prevent attacks and ease symptoms. While this is generally true, nuts and beans are not dangerous fats and proteins for people at risk for gout.
Nuts can be high in fat, but they don’t have the same high purine level as animal-based fatty foods. Plant-based fats don’t increase your risk for gout.
FAQ: What about cashews and gout?
Cashews are a great source of plant-based protein and healthy fat, and they are very low in purine levels—even compared to other nuts. That means cashews are a great snack choice for people with gout.
FAQ: What about pistachios and gout?
Pistachios are a healthy snack for many reasons, and their low purine levels are just one. At least one study demonstrated a decrease in uric acid levels, in individuals who added pistachios to their diet on regular rotation.
This also means that almond milk is a great dairy substitute for gout sufferers.
Similarly, beans are known to be high-protein, but—unlike animal proteins—they don’t contain high levels of purines, so they’re perfectly safe for people worried about gout.
FAQ: What about pinto beans and gout?
Pinto beans are another really good source of plant-based protein and are a great option for gout sufferers. While all beans are low-purine, pinto beans (along with red beans and lima beans) have some of the very lowest levels.
FAQ: What about black beans and gout?
Black beans have been used as a treatment for gout in Taiwan for decades, but there is no research to back up this treatment. Black beans have the same antioxidant chemical that many berries have, but further research is needed.
An effective gout diet is largely vegetarian, but that means you’ll need other sources of protein. While nuts, and some vegetables, can supply some proteins, eggs are another good option for healthy protein without the high purine counts.
Similarly, chicken is one of the lowest-purine options for meat. It does contain some purine, though, so consume in moderation.
6. Coffee (not caffeine)
Long-term, studies have shown that regular coffee drinkers have less uric acid in their systems and are, thus, less likely to develop or suffer from gout. Coffee may reduce the amount of purine created in your body and simultaneously increase the rate at which your body excretes it.
It was thought that caffeine was the magic ingredient in coffee that created these benefits, but more recent studies have cast doubt on that hypothesis. Several studies have tested coffee and tea against uric acid levels and found that people who regularly drink coffee have lower uric acid levels, but tea drinkers do not.
Additionally, sudden spikes of caffeine, especially in people who do not regularly drink coffee, has actually been identified as a potential trigger for a gout attack.
What does all this mean for your morning routine? If you’ve been enjoying coffee in the mornings, keep it up. If you have not, you might see long-term benefits of slowly introducing coffee into your diet, but don’t try to drink a few cups of coffee as a treatment.
Gout diet: A sample menu
What do all these dos and don’ts look like for a real person trying to manage or prevent gout on a daily basis? You’ll want to discuss any diet overhaul with your doctor, especially if you have other dietary needs or restrictions.
But a gout diet might look something like this:
If you’re a coffee drinker, start with a cup of your favorite roast. Pair it with a couple of eggs, whole wheat toast, a side of fruit, and a tall glass of water.
If you prefer a smaller breakfast, swap out the eggs and toast for a low-fat yogurt with berries.
Breakfast is also a good time to squeeze some fresh lemon juice into a glass.
If you’re out for lunch, order the Cobb salad, sans bacon and cheese. You could also get vegetarian (most places will swap extra beans in place of beef) or chicken tacos—corn tortillas instead of flour, or just get the bowl.
Make sure you’re getting a side of fruit too, and drinking water.
Your afternoon snack is easy: nuts and fruit. Not only will a cup of cherries help prevent future gout attacks, but switching your afternoon snack habit to something healthy and packed with protein will give you an extra energy boost for the last part of your day.
Dinner can sometimes feel like a big change if you’re used to red meat or a variety of seafood, but you might be surprised how quickly your body adjusts to a new norm—not to mention how much better you feel.
Salmon and quinoa is a good dinner pairing, or treat yourself to crab or lobster with lots of freshly squeezed lemon. Or if you kept lunch vegetarian, chicken breast and Brussel’s sprouts can be roasted together.
Other diet and lifestyle tips for managing gout
In addition to establishing a list of foods to avoid with gout, there are some simple lifestyle changes that might also create dramatic improvements.
Watch your weight
Carrying excess weight dramatically increases your risk of developing gout and the frequency of gout attacks.
Extra body fat lowers the efficiency of your kidneys, which inhibits the excretion of uric acid from the bloodstream, leading to gout and gout attacks. People who are chronically overweight are at risk of developing gout up to a decade earlier than their peers—especially if that excess weight is in your belly.
Losing excess weight has been proven to lower uric acid levels and decrease the risk of developing gout. It’s also beneficial for gout sufferers, because shedding excess pounds relieves excess pressure on joints.
If you are carrying extra weight, you don’t even need to jump right to a low-purine diet: Just making healthier choices in general will help you lose weight and lower your risk of gout.
Exercise is not a treatment for a gout attack, so don’t try to work out during a flare-up. Doing so will just cause further irritation on painful joints.
But getting exercise as part of your regular routine is especially important if you suffer from, or are at risk of developing, gout.
In addition to keeping your weight down, exercise also helps manage stress, which may trigger gout attacks. Further, many gout sufferers are at greater risk of developing heart disease, and regular exercise is essential for heart health.
Take a vitamin C supplement
We’ve seen that vitamin C may help lower uric acid levels, but many people don’t get all of the vitamins they need from diet alone. Some people add more vitamin C by drinking orange juice, but most of the fruit juice on store shelves has too much high-fructose or sucrose in it for gout patients.
That means a simple vitamin C supplement is a good idea for anyone at risk of developing gout.
NutriFlair’s vitamin C supplements are vegan.
Dehydration leads to increases in uric acid levels and hinders your kidneys’ ability to flush it out. Studies have demonstrated the connection between lower hydration and higher uric acid levels, so make sure you’re drinking water consistently, throughout the day.
Consider a protein supplement
If you’re making dietary changes to prevent gout or manage the frequency of flare-ups, keep an eye on your protein intake. Reducing or cutting out meat will leave a protein gap.
Some of that can be filled in with nuts, low-fat dairy, and the right veggies, but it can be difficult to be sure that you’re getting enough protein—especially at first. So a protein supplement might be a good idea as well.
Your Super’s protein power is organic, non-GMO, gluten free, vegan, soy-free, with no additives.
Prevent and manage gout with a gout diet
Whether you’re at higher risk of developing gout because of family medical history and want to prevent it, or have been diagnosed and want to better manage and prevent attacks, your diet is one of the best places to start.
To control your symptoms, you must understand the foods to avoid with gout. As you start thinking about which foods are high in purines and how to adjust your diet, remember that these kinds of big changes are best made one step at a time. Start by cutting out one type of food from the list. Once you’re comfortable with that adjustment, eliminate one more.
Reminder from the Foodzie Team:
And we always recommend taking an at-home food sensitivity test to find out which foods your body doesn’t like. The Everlywell food sensitivity test is the best one on the market. It’s fast, easy and relatively painless. Foodzie readers can get a great discount by clicking HERE and using code 2020! at checkout.
We have a great article on Food Sensitivities here. This article will tell you all about the Everlywell at-home finger-prick test. One of Shark Tank’s all-time most profitable companies, Everlywell has been a life-changer for many Foodzie readers.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: