Fish and Gout: What to Eat, What to Avoid

Nutritional value and purine content in fish

By now, you've probably received "the memo": Certain types of fish are great sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, lean protein, and essential vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants in vitamins B2, B12, and vitamin D. 

However, eating seafood, including fish, is also a well-recognized risk factor for increased uric acid levels in the blood, which can lead to a gout attack. And this is the last thing you want if you already live with gout.

This article explains the connection between the uric acid found in fish and gout. It also provides a breakdown of fish that contain low, medium, and high levels of a chemical substance known as purines (or purine compounds).

Fresh fish fillets for sale in seafood store

kali9 / Getty Images

Learn About Purines

Your body produces purines naturally, and you also get them from food. Trouble begins when your body produces too many purines, or you eat too many foods high in purines.

First your uric acid levels will increase. Then excess uric acid (which your body cannot excrete) turns to uric acid crystals. These crystals build up in the joints and surrounding tissues and trigger the painful symptoms of gout.

Also known as gouty arthritis, gout is a common type of arthritis that can flare up out of nowhere, causing sharp pain, swelling, and tenderness in at least one joint.

Fish contains low, moderate and high levels of purines. So if you consume too much of certain types of fish, the purines can build up and trigger a painful gout attack.

Recap

You need a healthy supply of purines in your diet. But if you have gout, purines can accumulate into excess uric acid in the blood because you can’t efficiently expel them. Uric acid then builds up in joints and causes the pain, redness, and swelling associated with gout.

Fish That Are OK to Eat

All fish should be eaten in moderation if you have gout or are at risk of gout due to hyperuricemia, which is a condition defined by having too uric acid in the blood.

Fish and seafood that are OK to eat when you have gout are those in the "low-purine category," meaning they have less than 100 milligrams of total purines per 100-gram serving.

The best options include Japanese eel, monkfish meat, and sablefish. The purine content of catfish, flounder, red snapper, salmon, sole, and tilapia skew slightly higher but are good options, too.

Low-Purine Seafood
Japanese eel 92 mg
Sablefish 88 mg
Monkfish (meat only) 70 mg
Purine Content per 100 g.

These fish varieties can be eaten fried, grilled, boiled, roasted, or barbecued. 

Fish to Eat in Moderation

Fish and seafood that are best consumed in moderation include those in the "moderate-purine category," or those with a purine content from 100 to 400 milligram per 100-gram serving).

Most types of fish fit into this range. They include carp, cod, flounder, haddock, halibut, pike, sea bass, and sole.

Moderate-Purine Seafood
Halibut 133 mg
Japanese sea bass 119 mg
Yellow striped flounder 113 mg
Carp 103 mg
Purine Content per 100 g.

These fish are typically served boiled, fried, steamed, or baked. 

Fish to Avoid

When you have gout, you should avoid fish in the "high-purine category," or those with a purine content of 400 milligrams or more per 100 grams of fish. Some of the most popular types of fish are, unfortunately, high in purines. They include crab, lobster, trout, and tuna. Other fish with high purine levels include herring, ocean perch, mackerel, sardines, scallops, and trout. 

They all can trigger what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls a "gout flare."

High-Purine Seafood
Anchovies 410 mg
Trout, unspecified 297 mg
Tuna in oil 290 mg
Tuna 257 mg
Sardine 210 mg
Halibut 178 mg
Salmon 170 mg
Crab 152 mg
Lobster 102 mg
Purine Content per 100 g.

The purine content above is approximate and can range between species and with cooking methods.

Cooking Tips

Avoiding certain types of fish may be the ideal, but it may not always be practical. (Think of a wedding or anniversary dinner where grilled trout headlines the menu.) In this case, it might be good to know that cooking methods affect the purine content of fish so that you can order accordingly. Boiling, poaching, or steaming in water can reduce the overall purine content of a fish dish.

Cooking doesn't always lead to the best outcome, however. Researchers have found a significant positive relationship between the risk of hyperuricemia (high uric acid level) and eating raw (sashimi and sushi) or roasted fish.

Steam On

Steaming is a fast cooking method, and it's also healthy because it there is no need for oil, butter, or other fats. As culinary scientist Jessica Gavin says, "...perhaps best of all, steaming keeps all those valuable nutrients inside the food, instead of in the cooking liquid."

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The good news for gout patients (and fish lovers) kept rolling in when a (small) study found a relationship between consuming omega-3 acids and the risk of gout flare-ups. Specifically, consuming omega-3 fatty acids was found to decrease the number of gout flare-ups.

Omega-3 fatty acids were already highly regarded for their presumed ability to improve heart health and reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. This is why the American Heart Association recommends eating two servings of fish per week.

Fish like anchovies, herring, mackerel, black cod, salmon, sardines, bluefin tuna, striped bass, and whitefish are high in omega-3 fatty acids. It would appear that a green light could not be flashing brighter if you have gout and you're concerned about heart health. But it always pays to be certain, especially when you realize that the study was a small one (and could breed false hope). Plus, gout differs from one patient to another.

Summary

If you have gout, you probably know that you have to be careful about the types of fish you eat. You want to keep your purine levels low so that you do not trigger a gout attack. Some types of fish are OK to eat, some should be eaten in moderation, and others are best avoided. While you learn, mastering alternative cooking methods may help. "Moist" preparation methods can help lower purine content.

A Word From Verywell

Consider the advice of the Arthritis Foundation, which advocates on behalf of all arthritis patients: "Avoiding purines completely is impossible, but strive to limit them. You can learn by trial and error what your personal limit is and which foods cause you problems." You may wish to take this sensible advice one step further by consulting a nutritionist, who can guide you to the right foods and create a diet that suits your tastes and needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is gout?

    Gout is a painful form of arthritis that occurs when high levels of uric acid in the blood cause crystals to form and accumulate in and around a joint.

  • How is food linked to gout?

    Gout is caused by persistently high levels of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is produced by the breakdown of an organic compound called purines. They are found in high concentrations in foods like beer, meat, seafood, and sugar-sweetened foods. A purine-rich diet is one of several risk factors for gout.

  • Is fish bad for you if you have gout?

    Some fish may contribute to the onset of gout, particularly anchovies, herring, mackerel, and sardines. This doesn't mean you should avoid fish if you have gout. Rather, you should eat them in moderation. The benefits of eating fish (especially for heart health) may outweigh the risks.

  • What fish can I eat if I have gout?

    Low-purine fish include monkfish, sable, and eel. Those with moderate purine levels include cod, carp, flounder, halibut, haddock, pike, sea bass, and sole.

  • What fish should I avoid if I have gout?

    High-purine fish include anchovies, herring, ocean perch, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna. Moreover, roasting fish or eating raw fish (such as sushi) is associated with increased blood uric acid levels.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Arthritis Foundation. Which foods are safe for gout?

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gout.

  3. Kaneko K, Aoyagi Y, Fukuuchi T, Inazawa K, Yamaoka N. Total purine and purine base content of common foodstuffs for facilitating nutritional therapy for gout and hyperuricemia. Biol Pharm Bull. 2014;37(5):709-21. doi:10.1248/bpb.b13-00967.

  4. Ren Z, Huang C, Momma H, et al. The consumption of fish cooked by different methods was related to the risk of hyperuricemia in Japanese adults: A 3-year follow-up study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2016 Sep;26(9):778-85. doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2016.05.009.

  5. Jessica Gavin. Steaming 101.

  6. Zhang M, Zhang Y, Terkeltaub R, Chen C, Neogi T. Effect of dietary and supplemental omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on risk of recurrent gout flaresArthritis Rheumatol. 2019;71(9):1580-1586. doi:10.1002/art.40896.x.

  7. American Heart Association. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids.

  8. Ragab G, Elshahaly M, Bardin T. Gout: An old disease in new perspective – A review. J Adv Res. 2017;8(5):495-511. doi:10.1016/j.jare.2017.04.008.

  9. Arthritis Foundation. Gout diet dos and don'ts.

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.