Since there is a growing number of people turning to a vegetarian diet or vegan lifestyle, an undeniable shift is happening in the U.S. food and health industries. According to a report released by the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute, U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods increased by 11 percent to $4.5 billion over the last year.
More reputable studies continue to reinforce vegan or vegetarian diets cause greater health benefits and less chronic disorders than the current meat-heavy Western or standard American diet. Following a plant-based diet reduces the risk of several health conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and strokes.
For gout sufferers, will a plant-based diet help with gout? The short answer is: YES, because you will be avoiding most of the high-purine foods typically derived from animal sources.
This does not mean you need to become a vegan or a vegetarian to prevent gout flares. Nor does it mean that a plant-based diet is the perfect solution to maintaining a low-purine diet for gout sufferers.
Here, we will cover nutritional truths to determine how a vegetarian or vegan diet can help prevent gout.
[For a specific list high-purine foods that quickly trigger gout, read: The Absolute Worst Foods For Chronic Gout Sufferers]
Plant-Based Diets: Differences and Similarities
The Five Major Plant-based Diets
- Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Avoids all meats, seafood, insects but does consume dairy products and eggs.
- Lacto-vegetarian: Avoids all meats, seafood, insects and eggs but consumes dairy products.
- Ovo-vegetarian: Avoids all meats, seafood, insects and dairy products but consumes eggs.
- Pescatarian: Avoids all meats and insects, but consumes seafood. Many people refer to the pescatarian diet as being semi-vegetarian or flexitarian.
- Veganism: Avoids all meats, seafood, insects, eggs, dairy products and all animal byproducts.
Veganism the Strictest Form of Vegetarianism
Vegans not only avoid eating any animal products or byproducts, they also refrain from using any products made from animals. Examples of animal food byproducts are eggs, dairy products, and honey.
“Veganism is a way of living, which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.”– From The Vegan Society’s formal definition
The vegan lifestyle chooses to abstain from using any products made directly or indirectly from the slaughter of animals including leather goods, wool, silk, beeswax soaps, and candles. Also, vegans avoid latex products from animal fats and cosmetics tested on animals.
Less Meats, Less Purines, Less Uric Acid
Gout patients are instructed to avoid purines, but a purine-free diet does not exist. Purines are usually found in the same foods that contain proteins.
Remember, purines are necessary to build DNA and synthesize proteins in the body. It would be highly unlikely to remain healthy if you avoided purine entirely.
Foods vary in purine content similar to calories, proteins, and sugars. Nevertheless, research confirms diets consisting of animal meats and seafood with high-purine content trigger gout more frequently than diets consisting of only fruits, vegetables and legumes.
Except for pescatarians, all vegetarians and vegans refrain from eating meat and seafood. These two major food groups include foods with the highest amount of purines. If foods like beef, pork, animal organs, fish, and shellfish are excluded, then less likely uric acid levels will increase.
Plant-based Foods That Help
Obviously enough, when animal-based foods are omitted from the diet, the intake of plant-based foods need to increase significantly.
To maintain a balanced diet, vegetarians must find more essential nutrients from fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs, grains and breads are essential to maintain a balanced diet. For gout sufferers wanting to lower their uric acid levels, the most helpful foods are fruits.
Fruits that contain a high amount of vitamin C, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents improve or minimize gout symptoms. Cherries and berries in particular are loaded with anthocyanins. These antioxidants play a direct role in the breakdown and excretion of uric acid.
Most fruits are alkaline-forming foods. Simply put, after fruits are metabolized, their remaining byproducts become alkalizing. These byproducts cause bodily fluids like urine to be more alkaline or less acidic. This is important delays gout development because when urine is less acidic, more uric acid flushes from the body.
[For the complete explanation on Alkaline-forming foods, click: What And Why Alkalizing Foods Help With Your Gout]
Note, low-fat milk is an animal based food that can help fight gout. Studies show that drinking low-fat milk and eating low-fat dairy can reduce uric acid levels in gout patients. Additionally, there are proteins found in milk that promote the excretion of uric acid.
Since the vegan diet does not allow the consumption of dairy products, one study showed vegans had slightly higher uric acid levels compared to vegetarians who consumed milk regularly. However, the uric acid levels of vegans did not reach levels to cause concern.
Keep in mind, natural cherry or berry juices are more effective than milk for fighting gout. However, it can only help to include both in a diet.
[For a more in-depth explanation how cherries alleviate gout, click: Cherries Are The Aces You Need When Dealing With Gout]
Related Health Conditions
Hyperuricemia is the main health condition for gout but impacts chronic kidney disease (CKD), cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of the these conditions.
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)
According to National Kidney Foundation, there is a direct relationship between chronic kidney disease (CKD) and gout, where people with CKD are at higher risk for gout, and those with gout are at higher risk of CKD.
Note, it is under debate whether hyperuricemia an independent cause to chronic kidney disease. However, other studies confirm uric acid hinders kidney functions, and hyperuricemia influences kidney disease.
In a 2019 study published in the Clinical Journal of American Society of Nephrology (CJASN), long term statistical results indicated subjects following a healthy plant-based diet had a lower risk of developing kidney disease.
Common foods recommended for people with kidney disease are red cabbage, garlic, onions, cauliflower, bell peppers, apples, berries, cherries, and grapes. These gout-friendly foods are rich in vitamins, fiber and antioxidants that assist your kidneys to flush out toxins as well as uric acid.
Type 2 Diabetes (T2DM)
In a two way relationship as kidney disease, gout patients are more likely to acquire type 2 diabetes, and diabetic patients are more likely to develop gout. An in-depth study from 2013, correlated high levels uric acid with both hyperinsulinemia (high insulin level) and insulin resistance.
In addition, low glycemic foods and complex carbohydrates keep kidneys healthy, and can improve blood sugar levels and the body’s response to insulin. Examples of plant-based low glycemic food: quinoa, brown rice, legumes, oatmeal and lentils.
Incidentally, for both gout and type 2 diabetes patients, avoiding sugar-sweetened and high fructose corn syrup products are highly recommended. Eating and drinking less products with high-fructose can improve insulin resistance and lower uric acid production.
Cardiovascular Disease and Atherosclerosis
In 2018, the American Heart Association (AHA) stated gout patients have an increased risk of heart disease or stroke. In a 2019 report also from the AHA, long-term statistical data revealed adults with diets consisting of more plant-source foods and less animal products, have a lower risk of heart disease.
Atherosclerosis is a disease when arteries harden and narrow because of plaque build up. Plaque develops from the fats in animal meats. In time, strokes and cardiovascular issues can result from atherosclerosis.
There are several reputable reports in recent years that have proven vegetarian diets lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels, improve blood pressure/circulation, and reduce oxidative inflammation. A telling 2019 study done on endurance athletes reinforced and expanded on the nutritional and performance advantages of plant-based diets.
Gout does not just cause inflammation in a particular joint. It creates a chain reaction of oxidative stress throughout your body including your heart and arteries.
Since all cholesterol originates from animal-based foods and its byproducts, the vegan diet is the only diet that is cholesterol-free. With this in mind, the other vegetarian diets are still very low in fat and cholesterol since most do not include animal meats.
Some foods associated with lowering cholesterol and clearing up arteries are: asparagus, avocado, broccoli, nuts, peppers and turmeric. Again, all these foods are gout-friendly.
Plant-based Diet Deficiencies and Triggers For Gout
Even though a plant-based diet provides several health benefits, it does have some nutritional deficiencies and risky ingredients for gout. Also, there are some vegetarian foods that are gout causing and overlooked.
Plant-based Nutrient Deficiencies
Dried Fruits High in Fructose
Fruits are low in purines. However, purines are not what you should be worried about regarding dried or dehydrated fruits. It is the natural fructose in fruits that is in concern. As mentioned earlier, fructose initiates uric acid production. When eaten in raw form, it is very unlikely that you can eat enough fruits to cause a gout attack due to fructose.
However, when dehydrated, pieces of fruits can shrink to less than one fifth of its original size. Considering only a slight loss in fructose concentration, your intake of sugar and fructose can increase over five times per serving size without you even noticing.
Gout sufferers need to be aware of the dried fruits that contain the most sugar and fructose, which are raisins, dates, apricots and figs. Also, be aware of any additional sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.
Yeast is Vegan and High in Purines
Yeast is another food source in the plant-based diet but can trouble gout sufferers. Since yeast is a fungus, vegans and vegetarians can include it their diets.
Most yeasts provide healthful proteins, B vitamins and probiotics. Despite some nutritional benefits, yeast contains a high concentrate of purines.
There are a variety of yeast, but only a few are for human consumption. These types of yeast are: nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast, baker’s yeast, and extract yeast.
Nutritional yeast has a nutty and cheesy flavor which makes it a viable vegan substitute for regular cheese. Brewer’s yeast is the key ingredient to make alcoholic beverages.
Beer is a major gout starter because of its yeast content. As if you didn’t know this already! Brewer’s yeast has the highest concentration of purines, about three times the purines as baker’s yeast.
[For a deeper dive on brewer’s yeast and alcohol, click: Brewer’s Yeast Produces Beer And Uric Acid]
Baker’s yeast raises dough for baking breads. Yeast extracts are flavor enhancers widely used in packaged or processed foods.
Please keep in mind, most commercial breads are not high gout risks. The common brands now use more leavening agents than baker’s yeast anyway. However, you need to be aware that some cheaper baked goods and freshly-baked breads may contain higher amounts of yeast. If you really want to eliminate yeast from your diet, there are unleavened and yeast-free breads out there.
How much yeast is used in bread? No one really knows. I have never seen it on an ingredient label. Though, an indicator of yeast is if the bread has sour smell and taste. This usually mean more yeast was used. Further, sourdough typically uses wild yeast, which is more resistant to acidic conditions and more likely live longer. In my experience, I always got gouty when I ate sandwiches with sourdough bread.
The purpose of this post was not to convince anyone to go vegan, or even detract eating meat. It does support a fundamental dietary concept that’s been preached for years; follow a balanced diet. The fact is the majority of people enjoy being carnivores and overindulge. Consequently, the healthier foods that get neglected are plant-based
The major health benefits from a plant-based diet outweigh its minor limitations. With regards to gout, a plant-based diet is a low-purine, but not purine free. Vegetarian gout triggers like yeast and fructose can slowly raise uric acid levels to a tipping point where one juicy lobster tail sets off a gout attack.
Will I go full vegetarian? Probably not, but I won’t say never. Whether we can admit or not, we all fundamentally know that a diet with more plant-based foods than animal meats is healthier. Science confirms consuming more whole foods and less red meats can lower cholesterol, control weight, reduce blood pressure and lowers the risk of developing chronic gout.
I know old habits are had to break, but you got to break a couple to be GOUTPROOF.
- https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/Polls/2019_adults_veg.htm https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24553148/