Purines are chemicals found naturally in some foods. When you digest purines, your body produces a waste product called uric acid. Some people experience a build-up of uric acid that causes their joints to swell and become tender, leading to chronic pain. This condition is a type of arthritis known as gout. Watching your diet will help relieve symptoms and should be part of your gout treatment. Here’s how to choose low-purine foods so that gout symptoms will be less likely.
Ban the Beer
“Beer is on the ‘no’ list for people who have gout,” says Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, an associate professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Doctors used to believe that beer was bad for gout because of its alcohol content, but recent studies have shown that other alcoholic beverages may not be as harmful. It could be the brewer’s yeast or another component in beer that causes a reaction. An alternative is to drink wine in moderation.
Say Bye-Bye to Beef
It may be touted as “what’s for dinner,” but beef is a high-purine food and should be avoided — as well as pork and lamb. And while organ meats, such as kidneys, sweetbreads, and brains, aren’t much a part of the American diet anymore, people who live with the chronic pain of gout should definitely skip them because they are high in purines. Sandon suggests white-meat poultry as an alternative. “You don’t see as many problems with poultry as you do with red meat,” she says. Tofu is another choice when considering foods and gout relief.
Farewell to (Some) Fish
Some seafood is higher in purines than others. The worst for people with gout are anchovies, codfish, haddock, herring, mackerel, mussels, roe (fish eggs), sardines, scallops, and trout. “Salmon appears to be an exception and a better choice of seafood for someone with gout,” Sandon says. Most people find they can also eat limited amounts of certain shellfish — crab, lobster, oysters, and shrimp, which contain just a moderate amount of purine. Keep in mind however that some of the shell fish mentioned are bottom dwellers in the ocean and are unclean.
A Caution About Vegetables
As good as vegetables are in general, some are high in purines, including asparagus, spinach, cauliflower, peas, and mushrooms. However, high-purine vegetables don’t seem to aggravate gout the same way that high-purine animal-based foods do, Sandon says, adding that, “as long as it’s a vegetable source, you can eat it.” One further precaution when balancing foods and gout: Some dried beans, particularly fava and garbanzo, are high in purines, and you may find you need to avoid them.
Fruit, Fructose, and Gout
Fructose is what gives some fruits (and vegetables) their natural sweetness. Researchers report a correlation between foods high in fructose and gout symptoms, which can include chronic pain. These fruits include apples, peaches, pears, plums, grapes, prunes, and dates. It’s okay to eat these fruits if you have gout as long as you do so in moderation. Limit yourself to one to two cups per day. More importantly, avoid soda or soft drinks and juices that are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. Drink water or real fruit juices instead.
Gout Treatment and Diet
Avoiding purine-rich foods is only part of your gout treatment. Losing weight can also help your gout symptoms. Just be sure your weight loss is slow and steady — if you lose weight too rapidly, the amount of uric acid in your body may increase. Overall, the best diet is one based on foods that are low in fat and sugar and high in fiber.