Fast food is very popular because it’s convenient, reasonably priced, and tastes great! But what if you suffer with gout? Read on to discover why fast foods should be avoided or, at the very least, severely limited.
Fast Food and Gout
As you’re about to discover, fast food has several health risks, but so do many processed foods you’ll find on supermarket shelves, so I include processed foods under the banner of “fast foods” for the purposes of this article.
What is Meant by Fast Food?
Fast food is a broad term that refers to a type of food that’s prepared commercially, with the focus on customer convenience and speed of service.
Fast food typically consists of things like burgers, fried chicken, french fries, hot dogs, pizzas, and many others.
It’s very purpose — convenience, speed of service, and relatively low cost — means that fast food menus contain mass-produced, pre-prepared, foods and other ingredients, as well as artificial additives to help extend shelf life, enhance color, enhance taste, and so on. They’re generally high in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and sugar.
So, while fast food, sometimes referred to as “junk food”, can be convenient and taste good — really good in many cases — they aren’t the healthiest of cuisines.
Fast Food Health Risks
Fast food is very often high in calories, saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and sugar, which can all contribute to an increased risk of health problems.
In addition, fast food is often low in fiber and other essential nutrients, making it difficult to get the nutrition your body needs.
Some of the health problems linked to a diet high in fast food and other processed foods include:
- Obesity: Fast food is often high in calories, unhealthy saturated and trans fats, and added sugars, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity.
- Heart disease: A diet high in unhealthy fats can increase cholesterol levels, which can increase the risk of heart disease.
- Diabetes: Fast food is often high in added sugars, which can contribute to the development of diabetes.
- High blood pressure: Fast food is often high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure.
- Gastrointestinal problems: Fast food is often high in fat and may be low in fiber, which can contribute to constipation and other gastrointestinal problems.
It’s important to note that fast food is not the only type of food that can contribute to these health problems. Any diet high in processed foods, unhealthy fats, sugary drinks, and alcoholic drinks, can increase the risk of these and other health problems.
Overall, it’s important to follow a more balanced diet that’s rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins, to reduce these risks.
What is Gout?
Gout is a painful form of inflammatory arthritis whose root cause is unusually high levels of uric acid in the blood, a condition called hyperuricemia.
If the condition isn’t addressed, and quickly, microscopic crystals can form out of the uric acid and deposit in and around the joints; the big toe being the most common site for a gout attack — also known as a gout flare. Apart from the excruciating pain, symptoms include swelling, redness, heat, stiffness, and tenderness.
Uric acid is a waste product created when enzymes breakdown purines: natural chemical compounds found in our food and in our bodies. Excess uric acid is normally excreted in urine, however, when too much is being produced, or not enough is being excreted, uric acid builds-up in the bloodstream.
Around 30% of the uric acid produced in the body comes from the purines in the food we eat, so that gout patients are usually advised to move to a low-purine diet, that promotes low-purine foods, limits moderate-purine foods, and completely avoids high-purine foods.
- High-purine foods to be avoided include: wild game, organ meats, seafood, gravies, and yeast products.
- Foods to be consumed in moderation are things like: lean red meat, poultry, and certain fish and shellfish species.
- Low-purine foods include: vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy products, eggs, and whole grains.
Setting aside, for a moment, just how unhealthy fast food can be for your overall health, let’s look specifically at its impact, if any, on gout.
Does Fast Food Cause Gout?
Normally, the first thing we look at when considering a food’s suitability in a gout diet, is its purine content, since more purines consumed means more uric acid produced.
But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different types of fast foods to consider, which is well outside the scope of this article.
That being said, any item that includes meat or seafood, for example, would have moderate-to-high purine content, depending on the meat or seafood species. So these would be consumed in moderation or avoided completely.
However, notwithstanding purine content, fast foods have ingredients and additives in common that we can look at in terms of their potential impact on the risk of gout.
Let’s take fructose, fat, and salt, as just three examples…
Fructose, usually in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), is the sweetener of choice across a vast range of fast foods, processed foods, and drinks.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, a 2008 study found that men who drink two or more sugary drinks a day have an 85% higher risk of gout than those who drink less than one a month.
And, as we saw earlier, a high-sugar diet can increase the risk of diabetes which, in itself, has been linked to a higher risk of developing gout.
Unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fats) are a problem too, since they can lead to weight gain: studies have shown that being overweight/obese is one of the highest risk factors for gout.
It’s reckoned that around 75% of the salt we, in the West, consume comes from processed, prepacked foods, including baked goods.
Too much sodium can lead to hypertension, which studies have shown to be independently associated with an increased risk of gout.
Finally, fast foods are often low in essential vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper joint health, which can increase the risk of developing gout.
So, even without considering the impact of purines, which is considerable, we can see that fast food is a risk factor for gout.
Overall, it’s clear that fast food can have a significant impact, not just on your general health, but also on your gout, due to its high calorie, purine, fat, salt, and sugar content.
Additionally, fast food is generally low in fiber and essential vitamins and minerals that are important for proper nutrition and, where lacking, may contribute to the development of the condition.
The best way to minimize the risk of gout is to make healthy dietary choices, one of which is to completely avoid (preferred) or severely limit fast food. “Severely” means rarely, say, once every two or three months at most. And, even then, choose the “least unhealthy” options.
Eating a well-balanced, gout-friendly diet that’s high in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, low-fat dairy, and moderate amounts of lean proteins, can help to reduce the risk of gout.