Once a person experiences an agonizing attack of gout, they’re usually eager to find ways to avoid another encounter with this painful condition. Gout occurs when uric acid in the blood crystallizes out into joints or other bodily tissues – causing inflammation. This leads to pain, redness, and swelling – most frequently involving the big toe. Some people are genetically susceptible to gout, but diet is a major factor too. One food people avoid for fear of causing a gout attack is tomatoes. What’s the association between tomatoes and gout? Are they safe to eat if you have gout?
Gout and Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family of vegetables. Nightshade vegetables include such popular veggies as potatoes, eggplant, peppers, tomatillos, pepinos, pimentos, tamarillos, and tomatoes. Some doctors advise people who have inflammatory conditions such as osteoarthritis and gout not to eat members of the nightshade vegetable family because they contain alkaloids. Alkaloids are natural compounds that protect plants from being devoured by insects.
Why Are the Alkaloids in Nightshade Vegetables a Problem?
Many people think alkaloids have undesirable effects on the body, although there isn’t a lot of research to support this. Some experts believe alkaloids cause neurological problems in sensitive people by inhibiting an enzyme that’s important for nerve function called cholinesterase. Some also believe they increase inflammation and joint damage – which isn’t a good thing if you have gout or osteoarthritis.
Gout and Tomatoes: Should You Eat Them?
The limited research available on this issue suggests that the alkaloids in tomatoes and other nightshade vegetables don’t increase the risk of gout unless a person is sensitive to them. The key to lowering the risk of gout is to avoid high-purine foods that the body breaks into uric acid. These include game meat, organ meats, beef, pork, bacon, lamb, processed meats, sardines, and herring – among others. These foods are more likely to cause a gout attack than munching on small quantities of tomatoes.
On the other hand, some people may be more sensitive to the alkaloids in nightshade vegetables. For this reason, it’s a good idea to keep a food diary to see if tomatoes and other nightshade vegetables increase the frequency of gout attacks. If not, it’s probably safe to eat tomatoes in modest quantities. Talk to your doctor first, and be sure to cook them – since cooking lowers the alkaloid content by almost half.
World’s Healthiest Foods website.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.