Fight Gout With Food

Now that the holiday feasts are over and the New Year is here, it’s a good time to take stock of your diet and embrace healthy changes — especially if you have gout.

By Linda Rath | Updated Jan. 2, 2023

Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that can unleash intensely painful flares in individual joints, often in the big toe. An estimated 8 million Americans experience gout attacks, which can last for a few days. Gout can also become chronic and lead to the destruction of joints. Although there’s no cure, there are medications to control gout, as well as lifestyle changes you can make to manage the condition — and reduce or even eliminate attacks.

Gout develops in some people who have high levels of uric acid in the blood; the uric acid can form needle-like crystals in soft tissues and joints. Uric acid is produced when the body breaks down chemicals called purines, which occur naturally in your body but are also found in certain foods and beverages. If your body can’t get rid of the uric acid efficiently enough (it’s cleaned out of the blood by your kidneys and eliminated in urine), the uric acid in your blood can build up and reach levels (above 6mg/dl) that could cause problems.

One way to minimize the risk of a gout flare is to cut back on high-purine foods. The Mediterranean diet — which emphasizes fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil is recommended for people who have gout or want to prevent it. A similar healthy eating pattern, the DASH diet, is low in sodium and emphasizes fruits and vegetables over red meats and processed foods. It’s particularly good for people with gout who also have high blood pressure. 

For specific foods and beverages, keep the following tips in mind:

Worst Foods & Beverages for Gout
  • At the top of the list of what to avoid is booze. Beer and liquor readily convert to uric acid and they slow down its elimination. Studies have shown mixed results about whether wine is OK in moderation.
  • Drinking sugary beverages, such as sodas sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, fruit juices or other sugar-containing drinks, is associated with gout. Notable exception: cherries, especially tart cherries, may be beneficial for gout.
  • Go light on red meats, particularly organ meats like liver, tongue and sweetbreads, which are all high in purines. Also avoid or limit the amount of bacon, venison and veal you eat.
  • Maybe surprising: Turkey and goose are very high in purines. Chicken and duck are better bets.
  • Some seafoods also are high in purines, especially shellfish as well as some fish, including anchovies and sardines. The health benefits of fish, however, outweigh their effect on uric acid.
What’s Left?

There are also things you can add to your diet to help avoid or manage gout:
  • Tart cherries, cherry concentrate or cherry supplements have been proven to lower uric acid and reduce gout severity and flares.
  • Coffee may or may not help lower uric acid; study results have been mixed. A 2021 study involving more than 173,000 people found that coffee had no effect, either positive or negative, on uric acid.
  • Dairy products, such as yogurt, milk and cheese, have been shown to lower uric acid levels.  The more dairy eaten, the lower the uric acid, according to some studies. However, dairy foods may be hard to digest or cause inflammation for some people.
  • Fish oil supplements. Although many studies have found that fatty fish and fish oil supplements reduce symptoms and disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, there are few studies of their effect on gout. One small study found that fish oil supplements reduced gout flares. Unlike other research, the same study did not find an association between fish oil and weight gain. 
Learn more about diet’s role in managing gout in our webinar.