According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoskeletal and Skin Disease (NIAMSD), gout is a painful condition that occurs when uric acid is deposited as needle-like crystals in the joints and/or soft tissues.
When present in joints, these crystals cause inflammatory arthritis, which in turn leads to intermittent swelling, redness, heat, pain and stiffness. Gout initially affects the joints of the big toe in many people. Other joints, however, such as the ankles, heels and elbows may also be affected. Uric acid crystals can also collect in the kidneys and cause kidney stones.
Gout symptoms may appear suddenly or develop gradually, depending upon the patient. Sudden and painful symptom flare-ups are known as gout attacks. It is not uncommon for patients to ask doctors how to avoid gout attacks. While the answer may not be equally true of all sufferers, it often revolves around selecting foods with care.
Experts say the key to preventing gout attacks is to lower uric acid levels. This can often be achieved by losing weight and avoiding purine-rich foods. “Gout is one of the few curable forms of arthritis,” explains Jonathan Kay, rheumatologist and associate clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In conjunction with doctor-ordered treatment, restricting one’s diet can reduce the risk of gout attacks.
As such, one of the first places to start is with those foods that are often considered acceptable for gout patients. Dark berries such as blueberries and raspberries often aid in the reduction of inflammation and lower uric acid, so they are considered healthful. Additional foods that can be enjoyed freely with gout are as follows:
- Celery and tomatoes
- Purified water
- Some leafy green vegetables like kale, parsley and cabbage
- Red cabbage
- Low-fat dairy products
- Red bell peppers
- Tangerines and oranges
- Essential fatty acids
- Foods high in bromine, including tofu
In addition to knowing what foods can be eaten, gout patients also need knowledge of those foods that trigger gout attacks. Meats are high-protein foods that contain purine, a substance known to cause or aggravate gout in many people. Examples of meats to avoid include beef, chicken and pork. Processed meats such as sausage, and organs such as kidneys and sweetbreads can also trigger gout and should be avoided. Gravy, consommé and bouillon fall into this category as well.
Seafood is similar to meat in that it contains both protein and purine. Examples include salmon, cod and trout. Shellfish such as clams, shrimp and mussels can also trigger gout and likely need to be replaced with plant-derived alternatives.
While vegetables offer high nutrient and water contents, certain ones may trigger gout as well. Mushrooms, peas, cooked spinach and asparagus should be avoided.
Similarly, alcohol may inhibit the excretion of uric acid and should be avoided altogether. Beer, wine, whiskey and malt liquors are examples.
Finally, yeast, as used in baked goods and dietary supplements, usually contains purines. Pastries, cakes and bagels should thus be exchanged in favor of more healthful options.
During actual gout attacks, some foods may help to alleviate symptoms. Beans, lentils and tofu, for example, provide protein and nutrients with little fat. These ingredients can often substitute for meat in casseroles, stews and chili. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, low-fat dairy products contain properties in milk protein that help decrease uric acid levels. Hot and cold cereals should thus be prepared with low-fat milk rather than water, and adding this ingredient to yogurt or fruit smoothies can combine multiple health benefits in one meal.
Along with exercise, a diet rich in nutrients can also help gout patients manage their weight. This is another crucial step in preventing bouts, as those who are overweight are at greater risk for both developing gout and suffering attacks. Patients should always consult with a doctor and/or dietician to determine a food plan that meets their needs.