Gout is a chronic and life-long type of arthritis that's caused by high uric acid levels in the blood. This uric acid leads to an accumulation of crystals around and inside the joints, which causes the joints to grind together and become damaged.
Though gout cannot be cured, there are certain steps you can take to help minimize your risk of debilitating flareups. When combined with a medication regimen, a gout diet is a great place to start.
What Is a Gout Diet?
A gout diet is a specific kind of diet that's designed to lower the levels of uric acid in the blood. 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 flareups. By lowering your uric acid levels, you decrease your chances of experiencing painful flareups. The diet can slow or halt progressive joint damage from attacks.
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.
How Dieting Affects Gout Symptoms
Dieting is an important part of the puzzle that makes up a gout treatment and management plan; it's an essential component of treatment. When diet and medication are combined to treat gout, research has shown that both elements have more success than when either is used alone.
One important thing to note is that the main factors that cause gout to develop are related to genetics rather than diet. If you already have gout, adjustments to your diet can help you manage attacks. But, your dietary choices are unlikely to have played a role in your development of the disease. Most factors that cause the development of gout are things you have no control over, and diet is one of the few things that you can control.
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. A gout diet reduces or eliminates the amount of purine that you take in, which in turn lowers the amount of uric acid in your blood.
Goals of a Gout Diet
Gout diets are designed with numerous goals in mind. The largest and most specific goal is 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.
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.
One basic goal is for the diet to help you lose excess weight, which reduces pressure on your joints. 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. If you have unhealthy behaviors or negative thoughts associated with food, this is a good time to acknowledge and unpack them.
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, and aim for moderate meal portions of nutritious foods.
How Important Is Weight Loss?
Weight loss is one of the first things that many health practitioners will bring up when discussing a gout treatment plan. But, 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.
The heavier you are, the higher your chances of developing gout become. Heavy people who already have gout are more susceptible to severe and prolonged attacks as well. Weight loss has been shown in some studies to lower a person's risk of developing gout. Some studies have shown that weight loss and calorie reduction has a mitigating effect on uric acid levels. This is true even for participants who haven't adhered to a purine-conscious diet.
Another aspect of weight loss is that reduced weight also reduces joint stress. This can help to 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 increase your metabolism without causing serious joint stress.
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. 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.
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.
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. Because complex carbs have more nutrients and fiber than simple carbs, they pass through the digestive system more slowly.
Not only does this 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. 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.
Avoiding the Sweet Stuff
The other type of carbohydrate is a simple carbohydrate. Rather than being made up of strings of fiber and nutrients, simple carbohydrates are made from pure sugar. There's nothing wrong with eating some simple carbohydrates, but an ideal diet will have many more complex carbohydrates than simple ones.
The problem with simple carbohydrates is that 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, and they're converted to glucose the same way complex carbohydrates are. But they won't give you the minerals and vitamins necessary to maintain metabolic equilibrium, and they won't help regulate your digestive system, and they'll enter your bloodstream fast enough to cause an energy crash.
Some simple sugars occur naturally in nature. For people in the United States, though, the majority of simple sugars are artificially added to food. Processed foods and very sweet foods are more likely to have little nutrition and a lot of artificial sugar.
Sugared soda is a huge source of simple sugars, as is artificially sweetened fruit juice and iced tea. Any beverages with added sugars should be avoided. Packaged cookies, baked goods, and chocolatey breakfast cereals are also full of simple sugars.
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. It's more important than any kind of food restructuring or improved exercise habits.
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. Every part of your body is affected by how much water you put into it.
For gout sufferers, there's another layer to the importance of hydration. When you're not experiencing a flareup, 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. Experts recommend drinking eight cups of water per day when you're not experiencing a flareup. When you are having a flareup, that recommendation increases to eight to sixteen cups of water per day.
Fats: Good, Bad, and Ugly
There are multiple misconceptions about what fats in food are. 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.
Not all fats are bad, and you don't have to eliminate them entirely from your diet. In fact, some fats serve vital purposes. 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.
When you're adding fats to your diet, it's best to prioritize unsaturated fats. Trans fats and saturated fats don't have the same health benefits, and they can in fact be actively harmful to your health. Eating too many saturated fats can increase your cholesterol just as surely as unsaturated fats help to lower it.
Some foods high in saturated fats include red meat, dairy, poultry with the skin on, eggs, coconut oil, and palm oil. Try to reduce your intake of these items or remove them from your diet entirely if possible.
How Proteins Benefit Your Body
When you're managing your gout through your diet, there are several reasons to incorporate ample proteins into your food intake. One thing 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. 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.
Hearty meats tend to be sources of unhealthy fats. You can get the protein benefits while minimizing the saturated fats if you follow a few rules of thumb. One is to purchase low-fat dairy products. Another is to eat lean cuts of meat and poultry that have the skin removed. Lentils are also a popular and healthy source of protein.
Protein is vital for the health of your musculoskeletal system. It's necessary for the growth and protection of new cells. Your organ systems are only able to function because of the functions that proteins carry out. Make sure they're a priority in your gout diet.
Meats, Birds, and Fish, Oh My
When you're structuring a gout diet, nutritionists and researchers have specific food recommendations based on the nutritional makeup of different servings. Animal products like dairy, fish, poultry, and red meat are slightly complicated. The general rule of thumb is that too much of these will lead to unbalanced saturated fat levels and increased uric acid levels. At the same time, these animal products are important sources of protein.
Nutritionists advise avoiding glandular and organ meats like kidney, liver, heart, and any type of sweetbread. Meats made from organ systems and glandular systems are extremely high in purine levels, no matter what type of meat it is. Eating these components will increase the amount of uric acid in your blood when your body breaks down the purine.
While you don't have to cut out red meat entirely, it's recommended that you limit your portion sizes and avoid fatty cuts. As for poultry, white meat tends to have more nutritional benefits than drawbacks, but brown meat and chicken skin can be high in fats and salts.
As for fish and other seafood, it really depends on the exact dish. Certain types of seafood have higher purine levels than others. Low purine seafood, though, has proteins and other nutritional benefits that are helpful for gout sufferers without the same huge drawbacks of red meat.
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 flareups from happening, and it won't act as a cure. But it's one way that you can mitigate the effects of your illness, rather than ignoring and feeding into your symptoms.
The more purine you consume, the higher your uric acid levels will become when your body breaks it down. You'll then have to work to reduce the uric acid levels in the blood if you want to avoid a flareup or reduce an existing flareup. Your doctor will most likely prescribe medication that lowers uric acid levels, but the medication will work better if you haven't eaten a ton of purine in the first place.
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. You should be able to eat these vegetables without a problem.
What Not to Drink
When you're structuring a gout diet, there are a number of beverages that you shouldn't drink. On the flip side, there are a few beneficial beverages that may surprise you!
Water is, of course, the most important beverage. But there's also been research indicating that when coffee is consumed in moderation, the regular caffeinated drink might reduce your risk of having 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.
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.
Take Your Vitamins
Having a healthy balance of vitamins in your diet is vital to the function of your body. Not only do vitamins help every organ system in your body to function, but they also help with cognition and banishing feelings of fatigue. If you have a vitamin deficiency, you're likely to have trouble exercising and getting out of bed. Vitamin deficiencies can also make joint pain more severe, and they can increase the severity of gout attacks by weakening your body.
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.
Vitamin C is a vital component for individuals with gout. 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. Consuming excess vitamin C won't do anything if your levels are already adequate, but if you suspect you have a deficiency, temporarily taking high-dose supplements is a good way to correct the imbalance.
A gout diagnosis can be scary no matter who you are. 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. Changing your diet is a manageable first step toward taking more comprehensive control over your treatment.
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 on 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.