Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis characterized by excessive swelling and extreme tenderness in the joints, most often the metatarsal-phalangeal joint located in the big toe. The signs, symptoms and general manifestations of gout are closely linked to poor dietary patterns and its occurrence has also been shown to parallel that of many lifestyle-related conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.

Although once considered a “male-only disease” the risk of developing gout is greatly increased in both men and women alike if preventative measures aren’t taken. Gout is caused by excessive accumulation of uric acid and uric acid salts in the bloodstream so what you eat and what you do plays a critical role in its onset. To reduce your risk of developing gout or to effectively treat it if you already have it, here are six lifestyle-related strategies that have been proven highly effective.

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Consume Meats and Seafood in Sensible Portions

Although gout is closely linked to consumption of meats and seafood, it’s not necessary to eliminate these foods from your diet, as they are excellent sources of protein and a host of much-needed vitamins and minerals. When it comes to reducing your risk of gout, the key word is “moderation”. With that said, if you’re one who enjoys an occasional meal of surf and turf, the most important thing is that you don’t go overboard.

When it comes to meat, limit your consumption to 1-2 weekly servings and choose free-range, grass-fed over grain-fed varieties whenever possible. As for seafood, opt for 2-6 weekly servings in the forms of wild salmon, trout or tilapia.

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Drink Moderate Amounts of Coffee

So I confess, I’m a coffee drinker. But, I’m not being biased here. Yes, drinking coffee may seem unorthodox to some as it contains abundant amounts of the natural stimulant caffeine. However, long-term moderate coffee consumption (1-3 cups a day) is associated with much lower incidents of gout in both men and women. In addition to its caffeine content, coffee is a valuable source of potassium, magnesium, and potent antioxidants like phenol chlorogenic acid.

Collectively, these nutrients have been proven to reduce circulating levels of uric acid thereby helping to alleviate many of the signs and general manifestations of gout.

Related Article: Why You Should Drink at Least One Cup of Coffee Every Day

Include High-Quality Dairy Foods in Your Diet

A high intake of low-fat dairy foods is associated with a decreased risk of gout attacks, as they’ve been proven to decrease uric acid levels in the bloodstream. Let me emphasize the words “low-fat” as “full-fat” dairy foods don’t offer the same protection. For maximum benefits opt for 2-3 servings a day in the forms of skim milk, yogurt and/or cheese. In addition to their gout-fighting potential, these foods are also an excellent source of high-quality protein, calcium, and health-promoting probiotics.

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Up Your Intake of Fresh Vegetables and Fruits

Increasing your daily consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits is one of the absolute best ways to reduce your risk of gout. In addition to being virtually “purine-free” these foods house enormous amounts of vitamin C (ascorbic acid), the potent water-soluble antioxidant that plays a critical role in proper functioning of the body’s immune system. Like other gout-fighting nutrients, vitamin C exerts its protective effects by reducing circulating levels of uric acid.

You can substantially reduce your risk and improve your overall health by including at least 4-6 servings of vegetables and 2-4 servings of fruit into your everyday diet. To maximize the beneficial effects of vitamin C, it’s best to consume such foods in raw form.

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Steer Clear of Empty-Calorie Beverages

Avoiding empty calorie beverages like sugar-sweetened soft drinks, beer, and spirits is critical for both the prevention and management of gout. In and of themselves, soft drinks have no place in a healthy balanced diet as they are unnecessarily high in calories and wreak total havoc on blood sugar (glucose) levels. Moreover, the fructose contained in these beverages is known to substantially increase uric acid production.

Now, compared to soft drinks, the negative effects of alcohol are not as pronounced, particularly when it comes to dry or semi-dry wines. However, the combination of alcohol and yeasts housed in beer and spirits can put circulating uric acid levels in total disarray. Still, if an occasional beer or spirit is a lifestyle choice, moderation is of the upmost importance. “Moderation” is 1-2 servings a day for men and just 1 for women.

Related Article: How Drinking Red Wine Every Day Supports Good Health

Exercise Regularly and Engage in Physical Activity

Due to its combined effects on metabolism, body weight and the overall occurrence of lifestyle-linked diseases, regular exercise training is a key strategy for lowering your risk of developing gout. If time presents a barrier to exercise, commit to making simple, subtle lifestyle changes. Try walking or jogging a mile before work, taking a brisk walk during your lunch break, and then capping it off with another walk or jog after work.

In addition, set a goal to implement some stair climbing into your daily routine by eliminating ALL elevator usage. For muscle maintenance, which is crucial for good health, perform 1-2 sets of about 8-10 whole-body exercises with resistance (body weight, dumbbells or tubing) just 3 days a week.

So there you have it: Six highly effective lifestyle-related strategies for preventing gout. Even if you’re not at all concerned about developing this inflammatory arthritic condition, incorporating such strategies will help you maintain an adequate level of physical fitness, improve your quality of life and, ultimately, reduce your overall risk of lifestyle-related disease.