Asparagus and gout: At least one study shows that purine-rich vegetables, like asparagus, don’t increase your gout risk. But some sufferers are convinced it triggers gout attacks. So, is asparagus safe to eat with gout or not?
Asparagus and Gout
I can eat asparagus without it triggering a gout flare but I don’t eat it every day, only occasionally, and only in small portions. On the other hand a relative of mine reports that, more often than not, he gets an attack after eating asparagus.
Many people linking their consumption of purine-rich vegetables, like asparagus, with subsequent gout attacks can be found online. While others, like me, seem to be able to consume it without any problem.
Why does it seem to affect some of us but not others? Is asparagus good or bad for gout?
To answer that, first, let’s take a quick look at what gout is…
Gout is a painful form of arthritis caused by too much uric acid in the bloodstream, a medical condition called hyperuricemia, out of which tiny, needle-shaped, uric acid crystals form in your joints and associated tissue.
The body’s natural inflammatory response to these crystals causes the typical symptoms of gout attacks (flares): redness, swelling, inflammation, stiffness, warm to touch, and severe pain. Around 70% of such gout flares occur in the big toe.
Uric acid is a waste product, a byproduct of the breakdown of purines in your body’s cells and in the food you eat. Different foods contain different levels of purines: some have high amounts, some have moderate amounts of purine, and some have low purine concentrations.
The more purines you consume…the more uric acid is produced…the higher the gout risk. So gout patients are usually advised to adhere to a low-purine diet in order to mitigate the risk of gout flare-ups.
So can asparagus be part of a gout-friendly diet?
Garden asparagus, scientific name Asparagus officinalis, is a herbaceous, perennial plant belonging to the order Asparagales. The young shoots (spears) are a highly prized delicacy that can be boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted or chopped-up and added to things like omelets, quiches, and soups.
Such nutrients are known to have an overall health benefit, for example, it’s thought that the nutrients in asparagus may reduce the risk of some medical conditions, such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
It’s also thought that they may help to regulate blood sugar, support gut health, boost mood, and strengthen the immune system.
So, asparagus is certainly highly nutritious, but is it safe for gout?
Is Asparagus Safe to Eat if You Have Gout?
It would seem it is: A large study of 47,150 men over 12 years, by Hyon K Choi and colleagues, suggests that moderate consumption of purine-rich vegetables, such as asparagus, doesn’t increase the risk of gout.
So, according to the study, eating asparagus in moderation shouldn’t be a problem. ‘In moderation’ means no more than 3.5 oz of asparagus per serving, equivalent to 3/4 cup of chopped asparagus. And not too frequently; not every day.
But, notwithstanding the results of the Choi study, how can we explain those gout sufferers, like my relative, who are pretty sure that when they consume asparagus it invariably triggers a gout attack?
The first thing to consider is that those linking asparagus with a gout attack have based it on their own subjective observations and assumptions. And we don’t know how much and how often they consume asparagus.
Also, it can be very difficult to link the consumption of any one particular food to a gout attack with any degree of confidence, without first knowing the subject’s uric acid level prior to eating the food. It could be that eating it pushed an already very high blood uric acid above the saturation point for urate crystal formation.
Finally, it could it be that they’re outliers as far as eating asparagus and other purine-rich vegetables is concerned. In other words, some people’s metabolism maybe can’t tolerate even limited amounts of some purine-rich vegetables, like asparagus. So what might be a relatively low-risk for the majority of us when consumed in moderation, is high risk for them.
So taking Choi’s and other similar studies into account, eating asparagus in moderation should be safe for the majority of us.
However, if you’re still having gout flares, even after limiting its intake, then it’s a good idea to get your uric acid levels checked. If you do have high uric acid levels then your doctor / healthcare provider may well advise some dietary and lifestyle changes, in addition to any medications they may prescribe.
This usually entails moving to a more balanced, healthy gout diet in order to reduce the amount of purines consumed daily. This helps to reduce the amount of uric acid being produced in your body and thus lowers the risk of gout attacks down the line.
The types of foods to be completely avoided are high-purine foods, such as organ meats, wild game, some red meat, and certain types of seafood. Some, like chicken, beef, lamb, pork, salmon, and cod, are moderately-high-purine foods, so can be eaten in moderation.
But there are also some high-purine vegetables / plant foods, things like dried mushrooms, dried peas and dried beans, that should be avoided too.
Fructose is another area of concern. It has been associated with an increased risk of gout, so products with added fructose, especially with high-fructose corn syrup, have to be avoided, for example, sugary soft drinks and sodas are particularly harmful.
Even some fruit juices contain added fructose. And diet sodas may not be the answer since they contain other additives that you may wish to avoid. (I cover this in more detail here: Diet Coke and Gout.)
Alcoholic beverages — beer being the worst culprit — are also high risk factors for gout, so best avoided altogether. At the very least they should be cut back on, and certainly no binge-drinking.
And if you’re overweight your doctor may also advise getting back down to a healthy weight, since being overweight is another risk factor for gout. Perhaps it only needs some regular exercise to get rid of the excess weight.
Frequently Asked Question
What’s the difference between green asparagus and white asparagus?
Green asparagus and white asparagus are the same plant. The difference is down to the way they’re grown…
White asparagus is grown underground (often under black plastic covers) to completely block out the sun’s rays. As the shoots continue to grow, more and more soil is piled on top to keep the sun out, right up until the day the spears are harvested. This prevents photosynthesis by the sun without which the plant can’t create the chlorophyll which would normally turn the spears green.
Green asparagus, on the other hand, is allowed to grow above the soil in full sun which means that photosynthesis can create the chlorophyll that turns the spears green.
The different cultivation methods also affect the taste. Green asparagus has a hearty, earthy, grassy flavor; whilst white asparagus has a much milder, delicate, sweeter taste.