Medically Reviewed By: Tom Iarocci, MD

It can come on quite unexpectedly. You might wake up one morning and find that you’re unable to bend your knee, or maybe your big toe has swollen up to an unusually large size—and your toe feels hot to the touch and the pain from the inflammation can be almost unbearable. Gout is one of those medical conditions that can be ‘brewing” in the body over weeks and months without any symptoms. Then one day, you suddenly find that it has taken control of a part of your body and you don’t know how it happened.

What Is Causing It?

Unlike some other arthritic conditions, the specific cause of gout relates to the levels of one your body’s metabolites, called uric acid. The build up of uric acid in the body may have occurred over months to years, or it may be a more recent phenomenon. Depending on how frequent or severe your gout is, there’s a good chance that your doctor will prescribe medication to lower your uric acid levels to reduce your risk for flair ups down the line. This would be in addition to medication for pain and inflammation in the short term, during the flair up. You’ll also need to adjust your diet and learn which foods to avoid as part of the plan to manage your gout.

Types of Foods To Avoid:

Of course, we all have our favorites when it comes to choosing foods to eat, but when you’re prone to gout there are some foods that you will probably want to avoid. Most people with gout today are not placed on severe “purine restriction,” as they were in the past, but it is a good idea to keep tabs on those foods that are apt to contribute to the problem, which tend to be high in purines. Purines are chemical compounds found in some foods, and the body breaks down these compounds to form uric acid. Meat and seafood are high in purines. Some people seem to have flare ups with certain meals or combinations of gout-triggering foods. This could include any type of red meat, or organ meats like liver, tongue, and sweetbreads. You also may want to limit your intake of shellfish like shrimp or lobster—whatever it is that seems to send you into a flare-up. Other dietary items can also affect your uric acid levels to increase the risk of gout, such as drinking alcohol. A diet high in processed foods—and specifically items sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup—also seems to aggravate gout.

Foods To Include In Your Diet:

In addition to watching that list of foods that tend to bring on gout, you’ll also want to make sure that you are getting enough of the right foods to keep the gout at bay. This includes plenty of vegetables on your plate, and don’t forget to keep your body well hydrated throughout the day. This will help to flush out uric acid so that it is excreted into the urine. With respect to diet, some of the same health recommendations that are geared to the general public are also appropriate for gout. These include things like making a switch to healthier oil choices (olive, canola, or sunflower), and opting for whole grain products instead of highly refined carbohydrates like white bread and processed snack foods.

Dealing with gout can be disturbing, but the good news is that there are many things you can do at home to reduce your risk of having an acute flare up, and many comfort measures to draw on the few that can be controlled if you have a list of foods that causes gout and avoid them at all costs.