We all know how easy it can be to pack on the pounds during the upcoming marathon of holidays starting, but hardly limited to, the Super Bowl of over-indulgence—Thanksgiving. While it’s important to try to watch what we eat during these tempting times, it can be even more essential for people who suffer from certain conditions, including gout.
Full disclosure: My husband, The Lawyer, gets gout every once in a while. His big toe hurts like heck! And what is it that he has decided is the culinary culprit? The evil comestible that causes his uric acid to soar sky-high and create an excruciating flare-up of the acute arthritis that afflicts him and millions of others in the United States alone? Could it be an excess of, say, beef, shrimp or beer—or even turkey with stuffing and gravy? No, no! He claims the pain can only be from eating … wait for it … asparagus! Yes, with all the other dietary transgressions he does commit, leave it to him to decide to only eschew something healthy—an innocent vegetable that just happens to also contain purines. I give up!
Gout is the most common form of arthritis in men over 40, and is increasingly found in women after menopause. It is caused by excess uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is the natural result of the body breaking down molecules, those purines which are found in things we eat, and can be higher in certain foods and beverages. Unfortunately, such traditional holiday fare as red meat, shellfish, pâté, sugary drinks and alcohol can trigger an attack. (Not to mention, of course, the dreaded stalks of asparagus.)
The symptoms of a gout attack include redness and swelling in the joints, and can occur in any joint of the body. Eight million Americans including actor and performer Jim Belushi have gout, and in recent years the incidence of gout has increased drastically. Indeed, while Jim was making millions of people laugh on his hit show, According to Jim, he was dealing with this chronic disease, which is certainly no laughing matter.
“I suffered through a few gout attacks and thought to myself, I can tough this out,” says Belushi. “But the pain became so unbearable I couldn’t even drag the sheet over my toe without being in absolute agony. I had to do something about it.” Belushi hasn’t had a flare in years thanks to sticking to his treatment routine.
Many gout sufferers still have to watch what they eat in order not to aggravate a gout flare, especially during the holidays. “I try to avoid alcohol, specifically liquor and beer, which tend to be triggers for me,” Belushi admits. “But as long as I stick to my treatment regimen, I can enjoy a glass of red wine.”
Some other great ways to eat healthy and reduce the risk of a flare over the holidays include:
-Pass on the gravy. Recent Gout Guidelines, published by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR), recommend limiting table salt, which is often plentiful in sauces and gravies.
-Try a low-sugar cherry pie. According to research reported in Arthritis and Rheumatism, eating cherries can reduce gout attacks by 35 percent.
-Swap out the pâté for raw veggies (e.g., carrots and celery) and pair with a low-fat sour cream dip. The ACR’s Gout Guidelines recommend avoiding all organ meats.
Since gout is both chronic and progressive, in addition to healthy eating, it is important to talk to your primary care physician to find the treatment regimen that works for you. If it’s severe, you may need to see a rheumatologist. Left untreated or undertreated, gout symptoms may become increasingly more frequent and can lead to joint destruction/deformity, decreased kidney function and kidney stones.
Thank goodness The Lawyer doesn’t like liver!