Peanuts are enjoyed worldwide. But are peanuts good for gout sufferers? Do they raise the risk of recurrent gout attacks? Read on to discover why the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think.
Peanuts and Gout
Up until fairly recently gout was popularly known as a “rich man’s disease”. However in order to understand why it was often referred to as such it’s necessary to understand what causes gout, its effects on the human body, and what sorts of snacks and foods are acceptable for those suffering from gout.
Today we’re going to take a close look at peanuts…
Firstly, what is gout?
Gout is a painful arthritic condition caused by an excessive build-up of uric acid in the blood. If this continues unabated uric acid crystals can form in the joints, triggering an inflammatory response that produces the classic symptoms of gout: inflammation, swelling, shiny red skin, heat, stiffness, and great pain.
These “gout attacks” — also called gout flare-ups — happen most often (~70% of the time) in the joint at the base of the big toe. However, they can also occur in other joints, such as fingers, knees, elbows, and feet.
Gout used to be referred to as the “the disease of kings” or “rich man’s disease” because it was much more prevalent among the well-off, largely due to their diet and lifestyle.
For the longest time, only the upper strata of society could afford to regularly and frequently consume high-protein, animal-based foods, such as game, red meat, fish, shellfish, and other rich foods. (Large quantities of wine and other alcoholic beverages were regularly consumed too.)
In general, higher protein foods tend to produce higher amounts of uric acid, so the build-up of excess uric acid tended to affect the wealthy much more than the less well-off.
The less wealthy enjoyed a more modest (and coincidently healthier) diet, largely consisting of plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, along with things like eggs and dairy. Very limited amounts of meat and fish were consumed, if at all.
(Note: this is somewhat similar to the Mediterranean diet espoused by many experts today.)
Luckily for the less well-off back then, these types of foods lack the high concentrations of purine; the precursor of uric acid…
The Purine Connection
Uric acid is formed when the body breaks down chemical compounds called “purines” that exist, at varying levels, in the cells of all living things, including humans, animals, and plants.
Uric acid is a byproduct of this metabolic action so that the more high-purine foods you eat the more uric acid is produced in your body.
This is why gout sufferers are usually obliged to change to a low-purine diet by completely avoiding high-purine foods (e.g., game, organ meats, seafood, etc.,) and only consuming limited amounts of moderate-purine foods (e.g., red meat, poultry, and some types of fish, such as cod and salmon).
Low-purine foods are things like vegetables, fruit, berries, whole grains, legumes, seeds, eggs, milk, cheese, unsalted butter, natural yogurt, and even some fish species, such as plaice and monkfish.
Modern Diet and Gout
Today, due to large scale food production and the power of the large supermarket chains to command lower wholesale prices, foods that were once the preserve of the wealthy are now available to us all.
So the average person today faces the same gout challenges as the wealthy did back in the day. In fact, today, gout affects some 41 million people worldwide, including over 8.3 million people in the USA alone.
However, we know much more about gout today than back then. We know, for instance, that a purine-rich diet increases the risk of recurrent gout attacks.
And avoiding recurrent gout attacks is extremely important, not just because they’re so very painful and debilitating, but because they’re associated with some very serious health problems.
Studies associate recurrent gout with permanent joint damage, stroke, kidney stones, kidney disease, heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and even a higher risk of death.
Which is why, as previously mentioned, gout patients are usually advised by their physicians to move to a low-purine, gout-friendly diet.
But the diet should also contribute to overall health and weight goals, since being overweight is a known high risk factor for gout.
So where does the humble peanut fit into all of this? Are peanuts safe in a healthy gout diet?
Are Peanuts Good (or Bad) For Gout Sufferers?
Peanuts are a very good source of high quality protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and essential vitamins and minerals. They’re clearly a very nutritious, healthy food.
This is backed by research which shows that those who regularly eat nuts and peanuts have a lower risk of coronary disease, heart disease, and stroke.
That being said, for a number of years, it was thought that the consumption of peanuts contributed to increased levels of uric acid and that these legumes (they aren’t nuts) should be avoided at all costs.
But avoiding peanuts completely can be an enormous challenge, given that they’re so widely available and are to be found in a wide variety of fillings and snack foods.
However, the good news is that those suffering from gout have little to worry about when it comes to peanut consumption — as long as they don’t have a peanut allergy of course!
Peanuts are low in purines (i.e., less than 100 mg uric acid per 3.5 oz serving) so, as far as their purine content goes, gout sufferers can consume them without fear of an unacceptable spike in uric acid levels.
Peanuts are high in calories and fat (most of it “good fat” it has to be said). And some brands have added sugar, many in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.
So there’s a risk of weight gain when they’re consumed excessively. Remember, being overweight is a high risk factor for gout. And studies associate high-fructose corn syrup with an increased risk of gout.
And there’s more…
Peanuts are high in oxalate, a natural compound found in many plant foods, that can bind with calcium in the body to form painful kidney stones. These can prevent the kidneys working to their full potential and impede uric acid excretion.
But these challenges can be overcome
As with most foods that were proscribed for many years (such as peanuts) the health benefits of consuming these types of foods outweigh the risks associated with their consumption.
A balance can be struck between their undoubted health benefits and their downsides simply by consuming them in moderation, i.e., 15 to 20 peanuts a day.
And their preparation is important too: the best option for gout sufferers being fresh, raw peanuts with the skin on. The skin contains the highest amount of antioxidants and high amounts of fiber.
Roasted peanuts are acceptable, as is peanut butter, but no more than 2 x tablespoons a day of peanut butter.
It’s worth noting that a potential problem with both salted peanuts and peanut butter is the amount of sodium they contain that’s absorbed by the body.
Although unrelated to gout, this can have adverse health effects on those suffering from such things as impaired kidney function and hypertension (high blood pressure).
In Summation: Are Peanuts Good for Gout?
Around 41 million adults are affected by gout worldwide. The incidence of gout increases with age, with the majority of sufferers being men. But women are also affected, especially after the menopause. In fact, gout in women has doubled over the past 20 years.
According to a large number of research papers, nuts, along with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (such as peanuts) and dairy products are a healthy food choice for gout sufferers.
So, are peanuts good for gout sufferers?
Yes, peanuts are safe in a gout diet, but the key is moderation: no more than 15 to 20 peanuts a day or 2 x tablespoons of peanut butter per day. And better if in their purest form, without additives.
Who Should Avoid Peanuts
Peanuts can trigger a life-threatening allergic reaction among a very small group in the general population. And this can happen with minute peanut particles. So folks with a peanut allergy should scrupulously avoid all peanuts, peanut butter, and any and all foods containing nuts.