Are you one of the millions of Americans who notices a throbbing pain in their toe, knee, or elbow after they eat a big steak dinner or have a tall glass of beer? If you are, then it could be related to this nasty culprit: gout.
Gout affects six million Americans and, as baby boomers age, the number is expected to rise. Also called the “disease of kings,” it is often associated with people who’ve lived the “good life,” indulging in gluttonous excess. But it’s quickly shedding that bad rap.
Genetics and diet are the main reasons why people get gout, but what you eat has a substantial impact on the severity and frequency of flare-ups. The pain is a form of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the body. The excess uric acid crystallizes in joints and can cause swelling, stiffness, and severe pain. One of the most commonly affected areas is the big toe.
Everyone produces uric acid, but gout sufferers do so in excess. The extra uric acid cannot be disposed of properly, resulting in its crystallization. It is very common in overweight people, because they have more tissue, resulting in increased uric acid production.
Uric acid production is ramped up by chemicals called purines, which are naturally produced in the body but also come from food. People who indulge in high-purine foods, for example, are more likely to feel the effects of gout. Reducing your intake of high-purine foods, however, can reduce the risk and frequency of flare-ups.
So what foods should you avoid to reduce the risk of gout? Typically, you want to avoid red meat, fatty fish, other seafood, and alcohol, particularly beer. If you’re currently getting the bulk of your protein from animal sources, change is recommended. Instead, focus more on legumes, beans, and other plant-based protein sources. That’s not to say that you need to completely eliminate meat from your diet, just eat it in limited amounts. Max out at a four- to six-ounce serving per day.
As far as alcohol goes, the occasional drink is okay, but if it’s a regular part of your day, you need to make some changes. Limit your alcohol intake to a few drinks per week maximum, and drink lots of water. Staying well hydrated helps remove uric acid, so drinking a sufficient amount of water can help fight gout flare-ups. Aim for eight to16 eight-ounce glasses of water per day.
Because diet is not a cure for gout, but a method of controlling flare-ups, changing your eating and drinking habits may not work in every case. However, because being overweight is a contributing factor, diet can play a big role. Therefore, trying to limit refined sugars and selecting low-fat and low-calorie options can limit flare-ups, too. Remember, your body often reacts to what you put inside it, so if you decide to fill up on things that aren’t good for you, you likely won’t feel good!
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