Being overweight, drinking too much alcohol and eating a diet too high in chemicals called purines increase your risk of gout, a type of arthritis that causes swelling and tenderness in your joints, especially in the big toe. Visiting your doctor is crucial if you have gout because long-term treatment may require medication. However, losing weight, drinking less alcohol and eating foods low in purines are all important parts of reducing your symptoms and the likelihood of recurring gout attacks.
Your body makes purines, but they're also found in high amounts in foods, including some types of meat, fish and vegetables. During the breakdown of purines, your body produces a substance called uric acid. Although high uric acid levels in the blood aren't necessarily harmful, some people with risk factors will develop gout. This occurs when excess uric acid crystals form and accumulate in the joints. Since some healthy foods contain purines, the goal is not to avoid all foods with purines, but rather to reduce your intake and improve your body's ability to remove excess purines. Some foods and beverages, such as alcohol, interfere with your body's ability to eliminate uric acid.
Plant foods should form the basis of a gout diet. Meat, poultry and fish are an important source of protein, but they're also high in purines. Instead, choose plant-based protein foods such as beans and quinoa, and limit your intake of meat, poultry and fish to 4 to 6 ounces per day, MayoClinic.org recommends. Include dairy in your diet, but choose low-fat and fat free dairy because saturated fat impedes the body's ability to eliminate uric acid. However, according to a review published in Current Rheumatology Reports in April 2011, low-fat dairy intake is inversely associated with gout risk.
You may feel limited on a gout diet, but there are plenty of foods to enjoy. You can have eggs in moderation; nuts and nut butters; rice, noodles and pasta; and fresh fruits and vegetables, even those higher in purines such as mushrooms and asparagus. It's best to choose whole-grain rice, noodles and pasta whenever possible because they are higher in dietary fiber, which improves digestion and blood sugar control and helps with weight loss. Cook with plant oils, like olive and canola oil, instead of butter or lard.
Alcohol intake, especially beer, has been associated with gout attacks. During an attack, MayoClinic.org recommends avoiding alcohol entirely; however, at other times, you can safely enjoy one or two 5-ounce glasses of wine a day. High-fructose corn syrup is another ingredient to avoid as it increases uric acid production. Although a healthy diet should be as low in sugar as possible, if you do decide to include soda, fruit juice or sweets every once in a while, make sure they are free of HFCS.
You should drink plenty of fluids on a gout diet to flush uric acid from your body. MayoClinic.org recommends eight to 16 8-ounce glasses a day. Water is your best bet, but you can also have 100 percent fruit juices, tea and coffee. Although you should consume caffeine only in moderation, there is some evidence that drinking coffee -- decaf or regular -- is associated with a lower risk of gout, according to study results published in Arthritis and Rheumatism in June 2007.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Questions and Answers About Gout
- MayoClinic.org: Gout Diet: What's Allowed, What's Not
- FamilyDoctor.org: Low-Purine Diet
- Current Rheumatology Reports: Effects of Dairy Intake on Hyperuricemia and Gout
- Arthritis and Rheumatism: Coffee Consumption and Risk of Incident Gout in Men: A Prospective Study