Food Cures for Gout

Imagine needle-sharp shards of glass inserted between the bones of your joints, grating and grinding with every move. That not-so-happy image is the pain of gout, one of the more common forms of arthritis.  It’s caused by the build-up of a compound called uric acid.  In certain people with a genetic susceptibility for the disease, the body converts excess uric acid into crystals which can accumulate in joints. In most cases, the extreme pain of gout starts in the big toe, but it also settle into other joints of the feet, ankles, knees, fingers, wrists, and elbows.

Most cases of gout are controllable. Treatment involves medication, and avoiding anything that raises levels of uric acid. Because uric acid is a byproduct of the metabolism of purine, a substance naturally found in body tissues, you'll never get rid of it entirely. However, if you have gout, or have been told you're at high risk, there are several dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to keep uric acid levels as low as possible:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Extra body tissue means extra uric acid production from normal processes of breakdown and turnover.
  • Avoid purine-rich meats and seafood. Studies have shown that eating a diet heavy in high-purine meats and seafood increases the risk of gout by raising uric acid levels in the blood. I advise limiting your total intake of animal protein (meat, poultry, and seafood combined) to no more than 6 ounces per day.  Avoid or dramatically limit your intake of proteins that are highest in purines: organ meats (such as kidney and liver), anchovies, herring, sardines, and mackerel.
  • Avoid sugary beverages and foods.  Fructose, a type of sugar found in soft drinks and other sweetened beverages, as well as candy, cookies, and other baked goods, can also raise uric acids levels.  A 2008 study found that men with the highest intake of fructose were twice as likely to develop gout as men with the lowest fructose intake.  That’s reason enough to cut out all sugary beverages, including soda, fruit drinks, sweetened waters, sugary coffee drinks, sweet tea…and even 100% fruit juice.  You’ll also want to dramatically reduce your intake of foods high in added sugar.
  • Reduce alcohol intake—especially beer. Alcoholic beverages interfere with the body's ability to clear uric acid, increasing risk of gout. In 2004, Harvard researchers reported that beer was the greatest offender—men who drank two or more beers per day had more than twice the risk of gout compared with men who didn't drink beer. Hard liquor also caused an increase in gout, but to a lesser degree. Wine did not seem to increase risk of gout, but I still recommend limiting your consumption.
  • Eat more reduced-fat dairy foods. A 2004 study found that people who eat two or three servings daily of reduced-fat dairy foods—especially milk and yogurt—can cut their risk of gout by about half, compared with those who eat few dairy foods. Make reduced-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt a regular feature in your daily menus.
  • Drink plenty of water. I recommend that my clients with gout drink at least eight glasses of water daily to help flush uric acid out of the body.
  • Coffee may be protective.  Recent studies in men in women have shown that regularly drinking coffee (both regular and decaf) reduces the risk of developing gout.  If you’re a coffee lover, continue to enjoy your daily brew—and know that it may be helping you beat gout.

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