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Published on September 03, 2015

Are tomatoes causing that pain in your knee?Are tomatoes causing that pain in your knee?

Say it isn’t so. Can tomatoes really cause gout?

A new study released in August reported that tomatoes were the fourth most common trigger for gout after seafood, alcohol and red meat.

Researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago pooled and analyzed data from 12,720 male and female members of three long-running U.S. studies. The data showed that tomato consumption is linked to higher levels of uric acid in the blood, which is the major underlying cause of gout.

In addition, the researchers surveyed 2,051 New Zealanders with clinically verified gout. Of these, 71 percent reported having one or more food triggers, with tomatoes as a trigger in 20 percent of these cases.

Gout is a painful and debilitating form of arthritis that affects more than 6 million men and 2 million women in the United States. The study’s results drew a mix of caution and skepticism from Courtney Driscoll, clinical nutrition manager for Cape Cod Healthcare.

“It’s wise to be open-minded when a healthy food is found to be linked to adverse effects on certain conditions,” said Driscoll, who plans menus for patients at Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals.

“Tomatoes have several healthy properties, including lycopene, which has been thought to help decrease the risk of prostate cancer in men,” she said. “They also are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. In addition, tomatoes carry a lot of water, which is helpful in remaining hydrated.”

Tomatoes also contribute to a heart-healthy diet low in sugar and carbohydrates, Driscoll added. “They are also a significant source of potassium, which helps muscles contract, regulates blood pressure and may reduce the risk of kidney stones and bone loss as you age.”

Her advice: “Approach a study like this with a degree of balance,” she said. “And like most foods, moderation  is always a good strategy.”

For example, eating tomatoes fresh may be healthier than cooking them, which can release some uric acid, which contributes to gout. Processed tomatoes may contain sugar and salt, which also could trigger gout.

And make sure you seek advice from your physician before giving up on an otherwise healthy food like tomatoes, she said. Taking medications that can prevent attacks of gout would allow patients to reap the health benefits of tomatoes.

In fact, the New Zealand study’s authors recommended taking such drugs, including Allopurinol, that have proven very effective at reducing uric acid levels.

Some of the other foods that can lead to gout are well established. Among them:

  • Organ meats, such as liver, kidneys, sweetbreads and brains
  • Meats, including bacon, beef, pork and lamb
  • Game meats
  • Any other meats in large amounts
  • Anchovies, sardines, herring, mackerel and scallops
  • Salty foods
  • Gravy
  • Beer
  • Fish and seafood (other than high purine seafood)
  • Oatmeal, wheat bran and wheat germ

Foods that are safe to eat include:

  • Green vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Breads and cereals that are not whole-grain
  • Butter, buttermilk, cheese,and eggs
  • Chocolate and cocoa
  • Coffee, tea and carbonated beverages
  • Peanut butter and nuts
  • Dairy products, including low-fat or nonfat milk and low-fat yogurt.

Finally, stay hydrated, Driscoll advised. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day, as they help flush uric acid from the body and help prevent recurrent gout attacks, she said.

“Don’t change your diet without consulting your physician or a dietician,” she emphasized.