Meat of the Matter: Shout Out to Gout

To paraphrase that old saying, “Nothing is certain in life except death, taxes, and another study claiming that eating red meat will tax your body and likely cause your death.”

From our friends at the British Medical Journal comes the proclamation that, “Eating a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and whole grains and low in salt, sugary drinks, and red meat is associated with a lower risk of gout than a typical Western diet.”

The team of U.S.-Canadian researchers claimed that people are more likely to develop gout, a very painful type of arthritis, if they indulge in food such as red and processed meats, soft drinks, french fries, sugar, sweets and desserts.

Forget the meat for a second. If you “indulge” in soft drinks, french fries, sugar, sweets and desserts, gout is probably not at the top of list of problems you find yourself confronting — not to mention that even among people eating that dreaded “Western diet,” gout affects only about 2% of the population.

A lot more than 2% of the population are indulging in processed meats, soft drinks, French fries, sugar, sweets and desserts, and we don’t a need scientific study to confirm that fact.

Medically, there is evidence that for those who are predisposed, the presence of high levels of uric acid in the blood can trigger the formation of small crystals around the joints, especially in the feet and toes. It’s an extremely painful condition, and attacks can cause sharp, intense pain to occur without warning.

In the BMJ study, the researchers analyzed data on more than 44,000 men aged 40 to 75 with no previous history of gout. During 26 years of follow-up, they completed detailed food questionnaires every four years.

Now, if you’re a regular visitor to this space, you know that food questionnaires are so fraught with variability and inconsistencies as to makes them next to worthless — especially when they’re only completed once every four years! I’d have trouble remembering what I ate for breakfast last week, much less four years ago.

Nevertheless, the research team confidently asserted that the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which loads up on fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products and whole grains, is associated with a lower risk for gout.

And the bad guy in the Western diet, of course, was red meat.

The hit list
Although meat is an easy target for media to blame when discussing gout, would you like to know what the “experts” have to say about the dietary choices that affect incidences of gout? According to — and if it’s on the Internet, you know it has to be true — the foods that are the worst offenders in triggering gout attacks feature the following items:

·         Beer. The preferred beverage of the sophisticated fans you find in stadiums and sports arenas causes the body’s uric acid levels to rise rapidly. So if you suffer from gout, or if you find yourself being regularly led away from sporting events by security, you might wanna dial back the suds.

·         Scallops. They contain purines, which are broken down into gout’s mortal enemy, uric acid. Then again, if scallops are a dietary staple, you’re either a seafood restaurant chef or you’re running a Japanese aquaculture business … which makes regular scallop-eaters a pretty small cohort.

·         Caffeine. Bad news, gout sufferers. As if your daily life isn’t already miserable enough, you can forget about that giant cup of cappuccino or that Big Gulp cola drink as your am pick-me-up.

·         Turkey. You thought you could eat any old white meat? Wrong. Only the other other white meat (chicken) is allowed. Thanksgiving dinner? Suck it up, bucko, and fill up on green bean casserole.

·         Gravy. Since you’re passing on the turkey anyway, you might as well skip the gravy, too. Hey, plain, dry mashed potatoes are really underrated as a center-of-the-plate entrée.

·         Herring. If your last name is Haraldsson, Østberg, or Svenhaugen, this could be a problem. For the other 99.9% of the world, OD’ing on herring really isn’t that big of a problem.

·         Liver. A favorite of nutritionists scolding us about our lousy diets, liver is the American equivalent of herring: A few people love it; the other 99.9% would rather eat cat food straight out of the can.

Many of those foods are also contra-indicated for people suffering from kidney problems, as well, and the anti-gout prescription also calls for “maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting caloric intake and getting regular exercise.”

Doesn’t that advice apply to all chronic medical conditions?

And by the way, purines are not some kind of chemical commando that attacks the body. They are a form of proteins that are essential in regulating everything from cardiac function to digestion to the activities of pain receptors.

That’s why they’re found in so many foods.

Granted, if you have developed gout, you need to cut out the liver, herring and scallops pronto, and stop drinking alcohol, lose some weight, get off the couch and into the gym.

There are about two hundred other health problems that require the exact same approach.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.


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