Purine is one of the building blocks of DNA and is therefore present in all of our body’s cells. It is also found in foods—some more than others in concentrated form. The natural breakdown of purine whether from cells or foods results in uric acid.
Uric acid is normally present in our blood at low levels and actually helps to prevent damage to our blood vessel linings. Kidneys help to regulate levels of uric acid by excreting excessive amounts through the urine. Under certain circumstances, the body might produce too much uric acid or have problems eliminating it due to metabolic conditions or faulty kidneys respectively. This can lead to the formation of uric acid crystals which get deposited in tendons, joints, kidneys or other organs and result in what is known as “gout.”
The average diet of an adult in the US contains 600-1000mg of purine on a daily basis1. Low purine diets are usually only recommended to those with gout or at risk of developing gout as a means of reducing the amount of uric acid production.
High-purine foods include2:
· Organ meats (brain, kidney, and heart)
· Shellfish, such as scallops and mussels
· Fish eggs
The following foods are moderately high in purine2:
· Meats, poultry, and fish
· Certain vegetables, such as:
· Dried beans
· Dried peas
Though many healthy foods including yellow peas might be moderately high in purines, it would take more than ten 3.5 ounce servings to reach the upper average intake of purine in one day (1). A couple of epidemiological studies on thousands of men and women have also concluded that purine-containing foods are not created equal (3,4). Specifically, moderate consumption of plant-based purine foods (such as from peas) was safer in terms of gout risk compared to consumption of purine from seafood and meat (3). In other words, seafood and meat were associated with a higher risk of gout, whereas meat-less purine sources had no associated risk. Needless to say, there is no reason to withdraw consumption of meat-less purine containing foods like yellow peas provided portion sizes are within reason and kidney function is healthy.
1. What are purines and in which foods are they found? The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2012. Available at:http://whfoods.org/genpage.php?tname=george&dbid=51
2. Gout. RD411. 2012. Available at: http://www.rd411.com/education-materials/diseases-and-medical-conditions/item/502-gout
3. Choi HK, Atkinson K, Karlson EW, Willett W, Curhan G. Purine-Rich Foods, Dairy and Protein Intake, and the Risk of Gout in Men. N Engl J Med. 2004; 350(11): 1093-103.
4. Choi HK, Liu S, Curhan G. Intake of purine-rich foods, protein and dairy products and relationship to serum levels of uric acid: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Arthritis Rheum. 2005; 52(1): 283-9.