More than 8 million people in the United States are living with gout. Despite how incredibly common this condition is, though, many people don't quite know what it is or how to manage it.
What is gout?
Gout is a chronic (life-long) type of arthritis that's caused by high uric acid levels in the blood. This excess uric acid leads to an accumulation of crystals around and inside the joints, which causes the joints to grind together and become damaged.
Can you manage gout?
Though gout cannot be cured, there are certain steps you can take to help minimize your risk of debilitating flare-ups. When combined with a medication regimen, a gout diet is a great place to start.
So, just what does this diet look like? Let's break it down in 13 parts...
13. What is a Gout Diet?
Rather than being a cure or a medical treatment, this type of diet is a lifestyle change that can have a significant impact on gout flare-ups. In other words, a gout diet is a specific kind of diet that's designed to lower the levels of uric acid in the blood
How does lowering uric acid levels help?
By lowering your uric acid levels, you decrease your chances of experiencing painful flare-ups. That means the diet can slow or halt progressive joint damage from attacks.
How can a specific diet lower uric acid levels?
Uric acid enters your bloodstream when your body breaks down purine. Since your body naturally creates purine, there's no way to avoid uric acid entirely. But, purine is also found in a variety of different foods.
Therefore, a gout diet reduces or eliminates the amount of purine that you take in. In turn, that lowers the amount of uric acid in your blood. That, in turn, can mean a reduction of gout symptoms and flare-ups.
Is diet alone enough?
Diet alone won't typically be enough to treat gout. Most people with gout will also need to use medication in addition to modifying their diet. It's important to talk to your doctor about all aspects of your treatment plan including medications, supplements, and lifestyle changes.
Step #1: Set realistic goals.
So, what's the first step in starting a gout diet? It involves knowing your goals...
12. Goals of a Gout Diet
Gout diets are designed with numerous goals in mind.
Goal #1: Reduce Severity of Flare-ups
The most important goal? To reduce the frequency and severity of gout attacks. By combining diet choices and medication, you can reduce permanent joint damage and slow the progression of attacks.
Goal #2: Gain More Energy
In addition to being part of a gout treatment plan, a well-balanced gout diet will also give you everything that a healthy person needs in their average diet. It should balance nutrients, calories, and hydration.
Goal #3: Develop Healthier Eating Habits
The diet can also help you develop healthy eating habits. This adjustment to your eating habits can serve as a good opportunity to become more aware of what you eat, when you eat, and how you feel about eating.
In other words, if you have unhealthy behaviors or negative thoughts associated with food, this is a good time to acknowledge and unpack them.
Tips for Starting a Diet Plan
Some people who follow a gout diet sit down and plan out every single meal for each day of the week. But for those who want a more relaxed lifestyle, you can just use a few rules of thumb:
- Avoid high-purine foods
- Consume foods that regulate uric acid levels
- Aim for moderate meal portions of nutritious foods
Goal #4: Lose Weight the Right Way
One basic goal is for the diet to help you lose excess weight, which reduces pressure on your joints...
11. How Important is Weight Loss to a Gout Diet?
Weight loss is one of the first things that many health practitioners will bring up when discussing a gout treatment plan.
Does weight loss really help manage gout?
The heavier you are, the higher your chances of developing gout become. Furthermore, heavy people who already have gout are more susceptible to severe and prolonged attacks.
Weight loss may reduce uric acid levels
Studies suggest that losing weight can lower a person's risk of developing gout. Specifically, some studies show that weight loss and calorie reduction can reduce uric acid levels. This fact is true even for participants who haven't adhered to a purine-conscious diet.
Weight loss can reduce stress on joints
Another aspect of weight loss that's important for the gout diet? Reduced weight also reduces joint stress. This fact can help lower the pain from gout attacks and reduce the amount of permanent damage that's done to your joints.
Exercises like swimming can be helpful to incorporate into your lifestyle, as these exercises increase your metabolism without causing serious joint stress.
It's important to lose weight the right way
It's more important for you to lose weight in a healthy way rather than starving yourself. By changing to a gout diet and keeping track of your portions, you can start a gradual pattern of weight loss.
What is rapid weight loss?
Rapid weight loss means losing 5% or more of your body weight within a 6-12 month period; generally, this type of weight loss should be avoided. Consult with your doctor about tips to lose weight in a healthy manner and keep your doctor notified of your progress.
What foods should you add to a gout diet?
Ready to get started? Start reaching for the following energy-packed foods...
10. Complex Carbohydrates and Their Benefits
Complex carbohydrates play an important role in the majority of diets, and the same is true of a gout diet.
Some people mistakenly believe that carbohydrates are unhealthy. But, a healthy diet should have a significant number of carbohydrates. What's important is that the main sources of carbs are food groups with complex carbohydrates rather than simple carbohydrates.
What exactly are complex carbs, anyway?
Complex carbohydrates get their name from being literal chains of sugar that are formed in complex patterns. Complex carbs include starches and fibers, while simple carbs include sugars.
What are the specific benefits of complex carbs?
Because complex carbs have more nutrients and fiber than simple carbs, they pass through the digestive system more slowly.
Not only does this pace help regulate your digestion, but it also makes the foods more filling. If you're working on weight loss or calorie reduction, it's important to eat meals that make you feel full instead of meals that leave you hungry.
But that's not all. For those who have health conditions like type 2 diabetes on top of their gout, complex carbs are a vital dietary choice for managing blood sugar (glucose).
What kinds of foods have complex carbs?
Researchers recommend eating whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. In addition to being packed with nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, these foods have complex carbohydrates that provide energy.
Complex carbs: Good. The following: Bad...
9. Avoid the Sweet Stuff
The other type of carbohydrate is a simple carbohydrate. There's nothing wrong with eating some simple carbohydrates, but an ideal diet will have many more complex carbohydrates than simple ones.
What are simple carbs?
Rather than being made up of strings of fiber and nutrients, simple carbohydrates are made from pure sugar.
Why should you be wary of simple carbs?
The problem with simple carbohydrates? They don't have the vitamins, fiber, or other nutrients that you'll find in complex foods. They will provide general energy for your body... but it's not quite the type of energy that will sustain you.
These simple carbs:
- won't give you the minerals and vitamins necessary to maintain metabolic equilibrium,
- won't help regulate your digestive system, and
- they'll enter your bloodstream so quickly that it can cause an energy crash.
What foods contain simple carbs and simple sugars?
Some simple sugars occur naturally in nature. For people in the United States, though, the majority of simple sugars are artificially added to food. For example, processed foods and very sweet foods are more likely to have little nutrition and a lot of artificial sugar.
These foods can include:
- Artificially sweetened fruit juice
- Artificially sweetened iced tea
- Packaged cookies
- Baked goods
- Many breakfast cereals (even so-called "healthy" ones)
What about fats?
So, just how do fats fit into the gout diet? The answer is a little more complicated than what most might think...
8. Fats: Good, Bad, and Ugly
There are multiple misconceptions about what fats in food are. Specifically, many people aren't aware of how these components are metabolized, how they're used for energy, how they interact with your body, and how to make healthy choices regarding how much of different types of fat you ingest.
Are fats bad?
Not all fats are bad, and you don't have to eliminate them entirely from your diet. In fact, some fats serve vital purposes.
For instance, healthy unsaturated fats have a number of potential benefits, including:
- a reduction in your cholesterol levels,
- an increase in energy and warmth,
- the promotion of new cell growth,
- the protection of your organs,
- assistance with absorbing vitamins and other nutrients, and
- the production of important hormones that regulate your body's metabolism and organ systems.
Which fats are best?
When you're adding fats to your diet, it's best to prioritize unsaturated fats.
Which fats should you avoid?
Trans fats and saturated fats don't have the same health benefits. In fact, they can be actively harmful to your health. Specifically, eating too many saturated fats can increase your cholesterol just as surely as unsaturated fats help to lower it.
What foods are high in saturated fats?
Some foods high in saturated fats include:
- Red meat
- Poultry with the skin on
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
Try to reduce your intake of these items or remove them from your diet entirely if possible.
What about protein?
Great question; protein plays a key role in the gout diet, too...
7. How Proteins Benefit Your Body
When you're managing your gout through your diet, there are several reasons to incorporate ample amounts of proteins into your plan.
Wait. Didn't you just say that animal fats are bad?
One point that may seem contradictory is that the same animal products that are high in saturated fats also tend to be the easiest sources of protein. Now, cutting protein out of your diet entirely isn't an option—even for healthy people, that's dangerous. And, if you're trying to exercise and get in shape, protein is vital to building muscle.
So, what's the solution?
Well, you can grab protein-rich foods that aren't meat. These foods includes:
- Peanut butter
Or you can be careful of what sorts of meat you eat.
What meats are sources of unhealthy fats?
Hearty meats (beef, bison, etc.) tend to be sources of unhealthy fats.
What are some tips for eating meat on a gout diet?
You can get the benefits of protein while minimizing the effects of saturated fats if you follow a few rules of thumb:
- Purchase low-fat dairy products.
- Eat lean cuts of meat.
- Remove poultry skin before eating.
Protein is vital for the health of your musculoskeletal system. In other words, it's necessary for the growth and protection of new cells. After all, your organ systems are only able to function because of the functions that proteins carry out. So, make sure they're a priority in your gout diet.
Okay, but which specific meats are great (and not so great) to incorporate into a gout diet?...
6. Meats, Birds, and Fish—Oh My
When you're structuring a gout diet, picking meats can be a little tricky; that's why its always best to consult a doctor and/or licensed nutritionist before starting any new diet plan.
Which meats can pose problems for some people?
Animal products like dairy, fish, poultry, and red meat are slightly complicated. The general rule of thumb, however, is that too much of these items will lead to unbalanced saturated fat levels and increased uric acid levels.
Which foods absolutely are not good for gout diets?
Nutritionists advise avoiding glandular and organ meats like:
- Any type of sweetbread
Why is that, though?
Well, meats made from organ systems and glandular systems are extremely high in purine levels. Eating these components will therefore increase the amount of uric acid in your blood when your body breaks down the purine. Remember: an increased amount of uric acid in the blood leads to gout developing and/or worsening.
What are some tips for eating red meat?
While you don't have to cut out red meat entirely, it's recommended that you limit your portion sizes and avoid fatty cuts.
What is a proper serving size?
A serving size of red meat should me no more than 3.5 ounces. For reference, that's about the size of a deck of cards.
What are some fatty cuts to avoid?
Fatty cuts of steak high in "bad" fats and cholesterol include:
- Filet mignon
What are some tips for eating poultry?
As for poultry, white meat tends to have more nutritional benefits than drawbacks. Note that brown meat and chicken skin can be high in fats and salts.
What about fish and other seafood?
As for fish and other seafood, it really depends on the exact dish. Low-purine seafood has proteins and other nutritional benefits that are helpful for gout sufferers without the same huge drawbacks of red meat.
High-purine seafood to avoid includes:
Salmon may be great to add to a gout diet. Seafood to include in moderate/limited amounts because they contain small amounts of purine include:
What about beverages?
So far, we've only talked about foods to eat. However, how you hydrate yourself is another crucial part of a gout diet...
5. The Effects of Good Hydration
It's easy to forget about water when you're structuring your diet. After all, water is flavorless, and it doesn't have calories or nutrients (unless you count a few added minerals here and there). But water is the single most important substance for keeping your body healthy.
In fact, it's more important than any kind of food restructuring or improved exercise habits.
Why is water important?
The human body is made up mostly of water. Water is necessary for keeping you cool, regulating your internal body systems, moving food through the digestive tract, and keeping your kidneys clean so they can act as a competent filtration system.
In short, every part of your body is affected by how much water you put into it.
Why is hydration important for gout especially?
For gout sufferers, there's another layer to the importance of hydration. When you're not experiencing a flare-up, water is a vital way of regulating your uric acid levels and preventing an attack from happening.
Meanwhile, when you're in the middle of an attack, drinking water helps to flush the uric acid out of the blood.
How much water should you drink daily?
- Not during a flare-up: 8+ cups
- During flare-ups: 8-16 cups
What drinks should you avoid?
However, you'll probably drink more than just water when following a gout diet. When you do, just make sure to steer clear of the following...
4. What Not to Drink
When you're structuring a gout diet, there are a number of beverages that you shouldn't drink.
How does coffee fit into this equation?
Some research indicates that moderate coffee consumption might reduce your risk of gout attacks. Coffee has the potential to be unhealthy if consumed in excess, though. And, if you have other co-occurring medical conditions that could be affected, you should talk to your doctor before you begin consuming coffee.
What about sugary drinks?
Some other drinks to be wary of include:
- Sugary beverages should be avoided, as these are saturated in simple sugars. They offer a quick burst of energy followed by a crash because they have no nutritional value.
- Avoid and limit your intake of sports drinks, too. Even if they're saturated with electrolytes, they also have a ton of added sugars.
- Naturally, sweet fruit juices may use organically occurring sugar, but the compounds are still simple carbohydrates that won't provide nutritional value.
- Try to limit your fruit juice intake as well for similar reasons.
What about supplements?
One final piece of the gout-diet puzzle? Supplements, of course...
3. Take Your Vitamins
Having a healthy balance of vitamins in your diet is vital to every single bodily function. That includes boosting cognition and banishing feelings of fatigue.
How can vitamin deficiencies hurt your gout?
If you have a vitamin deficiency, you're likely to have trouble exercising and getting out of bed. These facts alone can weaken your body, which can increase the severity of gout attacks.
Furthermore, vitamin deficiencies can also make joint pain more severe, which can also make flare-ups more agonizing.
Can you take too many vitamins at once?
Some vitamins can be dangerous if consumed in too-large doses, though. For this reason, you should talk to your doctor or your nutritionist about your diet. Ask them if they recommend taking any specific vitamin supplements to strengthen areas in which you might not be getting enough nutritional content.
Which vitamin is extra important for gout diet?
Vitamin C is a vital component for individuals with gout. Why? Because research indicates that this nutrient has the potential to help lower a person's uric acid levels. It also boosts immune function and promotes overall health.
The most important part of your diet to watch?...
2. Why You Should Pay Attention to Purine
For gout sufferers, it's important to pay attention to purine. Your purine intake is one of the only factors you can control with regards to your disease.
Decreasing your purine intake won't always stop flare-ups from happening, and it won't act as a cure. But it is one way that you can mitigate the effects of your illness rather than ignoring and potentially worsening your symptoms.
What's the deal with uric acid and gout?
The more purine you consume, the higher your uric acid levels will become when your body breaks it down. The higher the uric acid, the more likely crystallization occurs. And when that happens, gout can strike.
You'll then have to work to reduce the uric acid levels in the blood if you want to avoid a flare-up or reduce an existing flare-up. Your doctor will most likely prescribe medication that lowers uric acid levels. However, the medication will work better if you haven't eaten a ton of purine in the first place.
Where you get purine matters.
One interesting note is that purine in meats and animal products have been shown to increase the risk of suffering a gout attack. But at the same time, purine-rich vegetables like spinach and asparagus have not had a significant impact on the frequency or severity of gout attacks.
So, when it comes to getting the protein you need, be cautious about how much you consume from animal-based sources.
What's most important to remember about a gout diet?...
1. Final Thoughts
A gout diagnosis can be scary no matter who you are. After all, dealing with a chronic illness is never easy, and it's difficult to make lifestyle changes that will help. When you're in pain, exercising and focusing on losing weight can seem impossible.
That makes changing your diet a manageable first step toward taking more comprehensive control over your treatment.
Tips for Starting a Gout Diet
If you're forming your own gout diet and meal plans following a diagnosis, one of the best things you can do is keep your doctor in the loop. Ask for advice about what you should do and how to chart any changes to your physical feelings. Start keeping notes of foods that taste good and make you feel good, along with reminders of what foods had bad effects on your body.
Managing gout isn't easy. But with proper diet and appropriate exercise, it is possible.