Sometimes suffering an occasional gout attack is worth it when it’s a result from an amazing event or experience. For chronic gout sufferers frequently hit hard by gout, it’s probably time to stop being lazy and start a proper food journal or tracker. It is one of the most helpful tools to prevent gout that most chronic gout sufferers never use.
If you can detect at least one food source that keeps you down for days or forces you to miss big events, wouldn’t it be worth a try? It’s a pain in the butt you might say. I hear you. I was stubborn and too cool to do it also. A simple food tracker is not as bad as you may think.
Here are simple instructions and tips on how to create a food tracker to manage your purine consumption and even improve your overall diet.
What is a Food Tracker?
A food journal or tracker is a record of all the meals and drinks you have consumed. It normally includes when and how much you eat. Depending on the purpose, tracking a diet can be very simple or complex. Many elements like calories, macro-nutrients (protein, fat, carbs, sugar), emotional states can be monitored with a detailed food tracker.
When some people hear the word “journal”, they picture a large book requiring lots of writing. This is not the case if you know how to keep it simple. I prefer to call it a tracker or log because it’s more like a grocery or a to do list.
[For a comprehensive list of high risk gout foods, read this: The Absolute Worst Foods For Chronic Gout Sufferers]
Purpose of a Food Tracker
Tracking the food you eat is not only helpful for people attempting to lose weight or improve physical performance. Often doctors will recommend patients to track their diets to find food allergies or nutrition deficiencies.
A detailed weekly meal chart improves health by identifying poor eating patterns and non-nutritious food choices. Knowing the foods high in calories is vital for weight loss. For diabetics, monitoring sugar sources is a priority. Chronic gout sufferers need to track their food to detect foods with high purine content.
Overall, a food log is a useful tool for improving your overall health. Diet improvements lead to not just physical improvements but higher energy levels and concentration. It also holds you accountable to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
How to Keep a Food Tracker for Gout
These are my eight tips to keep a food tracker for chronic gout sufferers.
1. Write Down Everything
Record all the food and drink products you consume. Sauces, condiments, dressings and dips should also be included. Try to jot down all the bites, scoops or pieces you tried just to taste something. You never know what foods are loaded with purines.
You can log all the obvious meals and snacks, but if you leave out the small, presumed harmless bites and drinks, your entries will be incomplete and inaccurate. A food tracker won’t work out if you leave out food you presume are gout friendly.
Everything little thing adds up. A scoop of chili and beans, some salad dressing made with anchovies, or marinate made with MSG (monosodium glutamate) can gradually raise uric acid levels. You may not be able to count purine content but you want to find all possible gout sources.
By the way, some salad dressings and kimchi were sources of purines. Surprisingly, these products contain anchovies. I rarely checked and questioned product ingredients until I tracked my food.
2. Be Honest and Specific
You need to be honest to really have an accurate list of food you ate. Write down the crappy foods, not just the healthy stuff to avoid disappointment or shame. For example if you ate a house salad, include the extra processed bacon bits, not just the veggies.
Be as specific and thorough as you can. Note how the food was cooked; salty, sweet, fried, broiled or baked. Include the types of sauces and condiments if you can. For any mystery item, enter “unknown” or a question mark. You can find out later. It may turn out that the brown sauce was a black bean sauce or an oyster sauce, which boosts uric acid levels.
I love fried calamari. In my lazy-diet years, I just grouped it with all seafood to avoid. However, after tracking my eating patterns for months I realized my gout exploded worse from raw or steamed shellfish compared to fried seafood. Speaking only for myself, I have softer gout symptoms from fried calamari and shrimp. Can purines get fried out? (hmm, tune in for a future post)
3. Get Familiar with Portion Sizes
A food scale might be overkill if it just tracking for sources of gout. The aim here is to get a general idea of how much purine-rich foods are being consumed.
For now, it is wise to learn to estimate food portion sizes by eye. In doing so, you can determine how much or little certain foods can cause a gout flare. Break out the measuring cups and spoons if you need to until you get good at eyeballing serving sizes.
Knowing the amount of food you ate can indicate how meals affect one another. For example, you may notice on the days where lunches were are too small, you ended up devouring more beans than usual at dinner. Obviously, your uric acid level will increase by eating more of something that has purines.
Read nutritional labels to estimate serving sizes and protein amounts. Where there are proteins, there are usually purines.
4. When, Where, Who With and Occasion
The time, location, company and occasion are factors often overlooked on how much we eat and what we eat. Marking the occasion may sound strange to include in a gout food tracker, but it helps in recognizing what events were worth it or not.
Some people, tend to order and eat more junk at home versus eating out. Others, like myself, developed a poor diet by frequently eating out because of a hectic work schedule.
Also, noting who you dined with is important. Sooner or later, you’ll need to suggest an alternative to your gout-less buddy who loves hitting the all you can eat seafood buffet every Wednesday night.
In addition to the where you ate, it helps to include the conditions or activity. For example, when you are at a picnic, formal event, outdoor festival or sports event, your food choices may be limited. Going forward, you’ll learn to prepare for such occasions better.
5. Track Your Moods Too
Another helpful note to track in a food tracker is unusual moods you may be in. Emotional state is a major factor in overeating or overindulging. Emotional eating has been proven to be one reason for obesity.
The high-risk gout source and infamous coping mechanism is drinking beer and alcohol. Keep in mind, stress also plays a role in hypertension and gout.
[For a great explanation why beer is so bad for gout, read this: Brewer’s Yeast Produces Beer And Uric Acid]
Pay attention to your moods and how they affect your diet choices. You don’t need to a deep self psycho-analysis, a simple word will do; mad, sad or stressed.
6. Log it ASAP
The best time to log meal is when it is still in front of you before disappearing into your gut and out of memory. If you can log items before you leave the table, your entries will be more accurate.
Don’t rely on your memory because chaotic days will happen. Plus, you’ll find taking two minutes for an entry during a meal will take less time than recalling everything you ate later that night.
When you forget, and you will, setting reminders on your phone or computer will help form a routine.
7. Choose a System That Works for You
Paper or phone? Old school or tech savvy? What is convenient and quickest is based on your personal preference. Don’t spend on fancy retail food journals, unless you want to carry a notebook around.
Writing on a piece of paper can be quick and simple, but you it can easily lost or misplaced. Plus, you”ll always need something to write with.
A food tracker app on a smart phone is convenient, but some apps might be too sophisticated if you don’t care about calories. However, there are plenty of free food tracker apps to choose from.
Whatever you choose, take it with you everywhere. Also, you can always take a picture of your order with your phone whenever you don’t have a pen or don’t know what something is.
Back in the day before smart phones, I just kept a post-it in my wallet, then wrote the info onto a chart I made. Even with a smart phone, the notes app was sufficient for me. Both ways helped tremendously as long as I was consistent and specific.
Keep your method simple at first so it doesn’t feel like another chore. You’ll forget some entries, but nobody is perfect. Here is a my no frills tracker you can start using. It all you really need for now.
8. Review, Verify and Improve
After at least two consistent weeks, your food log will have enough information to review. You will able to note areas that you need to improve in like food choices, portion control, eating patterns and even expenses.
If you haven’t done so already, look up the unknown ingredients and dishes you marked with question marks. It’s OK if you still don’t know what exactly was in that stew or broth. As long as you have it on record as a gout suspect then it can be checked by process of elimination.
To guesstimate your purine intake, check how much and often you ate protein sources. Keep in mind the products that may contain gout-causing ingredients.
In my case, I was overloading on MSG/yeast extracts in processed foods and high fructose corn syrup drinks.
Lastly, keep track of how much water you drink- at least 64 oz per day. Dehydration hinders the body from eliminating waste products like uric acid.
You are what you eat. A well-kept food log will reveal it. Many people don’t want to start one because they don’t want to face the truth that their diets suck and that changes are necessary.
A food tracker is not as involved and time consuming as some may think. Today’s smart phones make it so much more convenient than my post-it in the wallet method back in the day. For the purpose of tracking foods that cause gout, you can get by with a simple chart like the one I included.
The food tracker will point out all the crappy food that needs to be eliminated from your diet, whether for gout or nutritional value. Eventually, a well-kept food tracker can help approximate a safe amount of high-purine foods you can get a away with.
Discovering sneaky food sources that ignite the fuse to a gout explosion can only be done with a consistent food tracker. It is the most practical and overlooked tool to help you lose weight, save money, and become GOUTPROOF!
- Eating attentively: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect of food intake memory and awareness on eating – The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – 2013
- Obesity and Its Relationship to Addictions: Is Overeating a Form of Addictive – PubMEd 2009