Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that’s most commonly caused by hyperuricemia—a buildup of uric acid in the blood. A normal blood level of uric acid is less than 6.8 mg/dL. When levels climb higher than this, it can cause uric acid crystals to form and build up in the joints, which can lead to gout symptoms like pain and swelling. Gout impacts around 3.9% of the US population and is more common in men and older adults.
Gout can be extremely painful, but it’s easily managed with medication as well as lifestyle and diet changes. Following a healthy diet and avoiding certain foods is important for people with gout and can help reduce gout flares and improve overall health.
Here’s everything you need to know about the gout diet, including which foods and drinks may make gout worse and ways to improve gout symptoms through dietary change.
What Is the Gout Diet?
Although there’s not one specific diet recommended to every person with gout, a gout-friendly diet typically involves limiting foods that contribute to high uric acid levels in the body, especially foods with purines.
Purines are compounds naturally found in certain foods and drinks like meat, seafood, and alcohol. When you eat purines, your body breaks them down into uric acid. Because of this, eating a diet high in purines can make uric acid crystals build up in the joints and body tissues, worsening gout symptoms.
This is why an important part of managing gout involves cutting back on high-purine foods. However, even though reducing purine-rich foods is helpful for people with gout, cutting out all foods that contain purines isn't practical. Instead, people with gout are encouraged to remove or significantly limit foods and beverages that are highest in purines.
In addition to cutting back on high-purine foods, people with gout are encouraged to drink plenty of water and add in foods and drinks known to reduce uric acid in the body such as fruits, vegetables, and coffee.
Best Foods to Help Clear Up Gout
While there’s no one food that can help treat gout, adding in certain foods and drinks and transitioning towards a more plant-based diet may help manage the condition. Most animal proteins like meat and seafood are high in purines like hypoxanthine. Plant-based protein sources like beans and lentils do contain purines, but they contain different purines than animal products.
The purines adenine and guanine make up more than 60% of the total purines found in plant foods like beans and vegetables. These types of purines are less likely to contribute to uric acid buildup compared to the purines found in animal proteins like hypoxanthine.
What’s more, plant foods and certain beverages like coffee contain compounds that inhibit uric acid production in the body.
Here’s some of the best foods to add to your diet to help manage gout.
- Cherries: Studies show that regularly eating cherries is helpful for reducing gout attacks. Researchers think that anti-inflammatory compounds concentrated in cherries — like anthocyanins — help reduce joint inflammation. Plus, eating cherries and drinking cherry juice may be effective for lowering uric acid levels.
- Coffee: Coffee intake is associated with a decreased risk of gout and some research suggests it may help reduce uric acid levels in some people with gout. However, more research is needed to understand how coffee impacts uric acid levels.
- Some dairy products: Unsweetened dairy products like milk contain the proteins casein and lactalbumin, which help reduce uric acid levels. It also contains a compound called orotic acid, which promotes uric acid excretion.
- Vitamin C-rich foods: Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamin C, a nutrient that has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Although more research is needed, high dietary vitamin C intake is linked to lower uric acid levels.
Even though some foods have been shown to be helpful for reducing uric acid levels, it’s important to look at your diet as a whole when trying to manage gout. Adding in select foods like cherries and drinks like coffee could help your symptoms, but transitioning to a healthier overall diet is what’s most important.
Shifting to a more plant-based diet low in high purine animal foods like red meat seems to be effective for improving gout symptoms and lowering uric acid. Plant-based diets are typically higher in anti-inflammatory plant compounds and vitamin C, both of which could benefit people with gout.
Foods to Avoid
If you have gout, it’s best to cut back on foods high in purines. Consuming too many purines can result in elevated uric acid levels, which can make gout symptoms worse.
Although it’s typically not necessary to completely avoid all foods high in purines, most experts suggest significantly cutting back on foods highest in purines. It’s also important to reduce your intake of added sugar—which breaks down into uric acid in the body—and ultra-processed foods that contribute to inflammation.
The following foods may trigger gout symptoms and should be limited whenever possible.
- Red and processed meats: Red and processed meat like steak and bacon is high in purines and is a common trigger of gout symptoms.
- Organ meats: Organ meats like liver and kidneys are a concentrated source of purines and should be limited by people with gout.
- High fructose corn syrup: Fructose breaks down into purines in the body, so it should be limited to maintain healthy uric acid levels.
- Sugary foods: Not only does a diet high in added sugar contribute to elevated uric acid levels, but it promotes inflammation, which can worsen gout symptoms.
- Some types of seafood: Seafood like salmon, tuna, and trout are high in purines and may trigger gout symptoms.
- Ultra-processed foods: Ultra-processed food like fast food and packaged snack foods can increase inflammation, which can worsen symptoms of inflammatory disorders like gout.
- Meat stocks and gravies: Flavorings and condiments made with high-purine animal products like gravy, bouillon, and consommes should be limited.
- Turkey: Turkey is high in purines and should be limited by people with gout.
- Yeast and yeast-rich foods: Consuming yeast and yeast-rich foods like bread can lead to the growth of certain bacteria in the gut, which increase uric acid levels.
Keep in mind that a number of foods, including vegetables and grains, contain purines, but it’s not necessary to cut all purine-containing foods from your diet. Focus on cutting out or limiting foods highest in purines and following an overall nutritious, anti-inflammatory diet.
What Drinks Affect Gout?
To reduce your chance of gout flares and to promote overall health, sugary and alcoholic beverages should be limited. Excess sugar in the form of fructose breaks down into uric acid in the body, which can worsen gout symptoms.
Some alcoholic beverages, like beer, are high in purines. While some alcoholic beverages are higher in purines than others, all alcoholic drinks, including beer, wine, and liquor, are linked with an increased risk of gout attacks.
If you have gout, try to cut back on the following drinks:
- Soda and other sweetened beverages
You can replace these drinks with water, sparkling water with lemon, or unsweetened herbal tea. Unsweetened coffee may also be helpful for gout.
Pros and Cons of a Low-Purine Diet
A low purine diet can help people with gout in the following ways:
- Reduces uric acid levels in the body
- May help promote weight loss
- Limits added sugar, which can lower inflammation
Even though a low-purine diet is usually helpful for reducing gout flares and symptoms, it does have a few downsides:
- Can be restrictive
- Limits many high-protein foods
- Cuts back on healthy foods like fish and other types of seafood that are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats
If you have gout and are interested in changing your diet to reduce symptoms and improve your health, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian who can help you design a personalized dietary pattern.
Limiting purines is important, but it’s also essential to look at your diet as a whole and make healthy changes like increasing fruit and vegetable intake and prioritizing sources of plant-based protein.
A dietitian can also recommend supplements that can cover gaps in your diet like fish oil and products that may help reduce gout attacks like vitamin C.
A Quick Review
Gout is a common inflammatory disease that’s affected by diet.
Reducing your intake of certain foods and drinks — like red meat and alcohol — while increasing your intake of others — like fruits and coffee — could help protect against gout attacks while improving your overall health.
If you’re interested in making dietary changes to treat or prevent gout, your healthcare provider can recommend a registered dietitian who can help you develop a gout diet plan specific to your individual health needs.
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National Kidney Foundation. Quick facts: Gout and chronic kidney disease.
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