What Causes Gout? 8 Foods That Trigger Attacks
What is gout, and what causes it?
Gout is an extremely painful inflammation of the joints caused by a buildup of needle-sharp uric-acid crystals.
The big toe is the most common target, but gout can attack the feet, ankles, knees, and hands as well; and a “flare” can last for days or even months.
If you have gout disease, it's important to pay attention to your diet, because some foods can trigger the agonizing symptoms, while others can protect against them. Read on to discover the foods that can help, and those you should eat in moderation—or avoid entirely.
First, foods that can help
There are actually several types of foods that may help protect against gout attacks. These include low-fat dairy foods, complex carbohydrates, coffee, and fruits, especially citrus fruits. You should also be sure to get 12 to 16 cups of fluid daily.
You don't necessarily have to drink only water—you can choose non-sweetened juice, tea, and coffee too. (It just shouldn’t be beer!)
“Any kind of fluid that keeps that blood flowing and urine flowing” is a good choice, says Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Next up: The foods to avoid. Read on for a list of potentially problematic eats.
Scallops are okay for an occasional indulgence, but you should cut back on them—and all types of meat and seafood—during a flare-up, says Sandon. These animal foods are rich in purines, which your body breaks down into uric acid.
You have a little more freedom in your food choices when your gout is at bay, but it’s still a good idea to keep meat and seafood intake to a minimum—4 to 6 ounces daily at most.
Whereas some types of seafood can be eaten once in a while, others should be off the menu completely for those who have gout. Avoid anchovies, sardines, herring, and tuna, for example.
On the other hand, shrimp, lobster, eel, and crab are relatively safe, says Scott Zashin, MD, a rheumatologist and clinical professor of medicine at UT Southwestern.
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All meat is not created equal when it comes to purine content: White meat is generally better than red.
But it is okay to eat some types of red meat once in a while. You’re a bit better off if your occasional indulgence is beef or pork rather than lamb, says Dr. Zashin.
And lamb chops are a better choice than leg meat.
Turkey and goose are higher in purines than other types of food, so it's best to avoid them. And gout-prone people should also keep their intake of wild game to a minimum.
Chicken and duck are the safest choices, according to Dr. Zashin. However, leg meat is a better choice than a chicken breast with skin.
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Drinking beer is a double-whammy for gout-prone folks, Dr. Zashin says. Not only does it increase your uric-acid level, beer also makes it more difficult for your body to clear this substance from your system.
Wine is a better choice, but heavy drinking is a bad idea for everyone, and people who get gout are no exception, says Sandon, who is a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. During a flare, doctors will usually recommend that you abstain from alcohol entirely.
Avoid beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, such as non-diet sodas or “fruit” drinks.
Downing these drinks isn’t just an easy way to pack on pounds; the sweeteners will stimulate the body to produce more uric acid.
A study found that men who consumed lots of fructose were at higher risk of developing gout; in 2010 that same research team reported that drinking fructose-sweetened drinks every day, compared with consuming less than one drink a month, upped women’s gout risk too.
Organ meats, such as liver, kidneys, and sweetbreads, are a major no-no.
Asparagus, cauliflower, spinach, and mushrooms are higher in purines than other vegetables. But if you like these foods, there’s no reason to avoid them completely, says Sandon.
“Certainly you wouldn’t want to go wild with these high-purine vegetables, but they don’t seem to be an issue like the meats are,” she adds.
Veggie-rich diets actually help you clear purines from the body, according to Sandon, while the body seems to have an easier time excreting purines from vegetable sources.
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This post was originally published on January 26, 2016 and updated for accuracy.