Is Sugar Bad for Arthritis?

Sugar triggers inflammation in multiple types of arthritis

Arthritis is a condition that primarily affects the bones and joints due to inflammation. Foods that cause inflammation may make arthritis symptoms worse. Sugar is one of these inflammation-causing foods that should be limited or avoided.

This article will go over what you should know about sugar and arthritis. You will learn what research says about whether sugar makes arthritis symptoms worse or if sugar causes inflammation that can lead to arthritic pain.

Woman preparing cupcakes at home

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Sugar and Arthritis

Sugar is one of a few foods that should be minimized or avoided if you have arthritis because sugar can cause inflammation. Some of the foods and ingredients to avoid include:

  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar (particularly added sugars and table sugar)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends keeping your intake of added sugars to less than 10% of your total daily calories as part of a healthy diet. For example, in a 2,000 daily calorie diet, no more than 200 calories (or 12 teaspoons) should come from added sugars.

You may not be aware of how much sugar you're actually eating because there are a lot of added sugars in foods you probably eat every day. That's why you should read labels and ingredient lists carefully to know how much sugar you are consuming.

You can spot them by looking at the ingredients and nutritional information on packages for words ending on “-ose" as well as these terms:

  • Cane sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Sucrose

Some common foods that have unexpected added sugar include pasta sauce, dairy-free milk substitutes, ketchup, packaged oatmeal, cereal, bread, boxed and canned soups, and yogurt.

Natural Sugars vs. Added Sugars

Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk (lactose). Added sugars are any sugars or caloric sweeteners that are added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation.

Added sugars or sweeteners can include natural sugars such as white sugar, brown sugar, and honey as well as other caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured (such as high fructose corn syrup).

Besides sugar, other inflammation-worsening foods to avoid include:

  • MSG
  • Trans fat
  • Omega-6
  • Saturated fat

Before changing your dietary habits, you should ask your healthcare provider about your options and find the best fit for your needs.

Does Sugar Cause Inflammation?

You should be cautious about eating added sugar if you have arthritis. Studies have shown that sugar consumption increases inflammation in humans. Consumption of excessive amounts of sugar or a moderate amount over time will increase inflammation in the body.

The inflammation from sugar can worsen many health conditions, including arthritis. For people with arthritis, it is recommended to eat anti-inflammatory foods and reduce their intake of added sugars.

Many foods and beverages have hidden sources of sugar. That's why it's important to read the labels and ingredients of the foods and drinks that you eat. For example, studies have shown that beverages such as sugar-sweetened soda are associated with an increased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Other Risks of Sugar

In addition to promoting inflammation, sugar is known to increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular health, and obesity. All of these factors can complicate arthritis.

Sugar and Rheumatoid Arthritis

You particularly may need to reduce your sugar intake if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an inflammatory and autoimmune disease that affects the joints in the knees, wrists, and hands. It can create chronic pain in the body.

When RA affects the joints, they become inflamed and cause damage to the joint tissue. Other areas impacted by RA are the lungs, heart, and eyes. It is frequently suggested that RA patients take disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to help reduce joint inflammation.

There is evidence that sugar can contribute to RA symptoms. A study of 217 RA patients found that 24% of the participants reported that foods affected their RA symptoms. Desserts and soda with sugar were the most common foods that participants said made their RA worse. On the other hand, the researchers found that 20 specific foods actually improved RA symptoms. Among the top positive foods were blueberry and spinach.

In another study, the regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda was associated with an increased risk of RA in women.

Sugar and Osteoarthritis

You may also want to avoid sugar if you have osteoarthritis (OA), which is the most common type of arthritis. OA most commonly affects the knees, hips, and spine.

When a person has osteoarthritis, the tissues in the joints start to break down over time. The severity depends on the level of pain and how it affects their daily activities. Diet is one of the factors that may help ease the pain and improve OA symptoms as it can help reduce inflammation.

Research supports the recommendation that people with OA should consume foods rich in antioxidants and vitamins C, A, and E. In addition, consuming vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes decreased the symptoms of OA and the progression of the disease.

One study concluded that a diet high in sugary foods and fat increased inflammation and caused obesity. Both factors have a negative effect on the joints including increased osteoarthritis in the knees.

Sugar and Gout

People with gout may need to cut out sugar. Gout is inflammatory arthritis that affects one joint at a time. Gout happens when there are higher levels of uric acid in the blood than normal. This type of arthritis can be managed through self-management, including diet changes, and medications.

Studies have shown that high sugar intake—including foods and beverages with high fructose such as orange juice and soda—is known to increase serum uric acid levels. This happens when the body breaks down fructose, purine is released. When purine breaks down in the body, uric acid is produced and forms crystals called monosodium urate in the joints. These crystals build up in the joints, tissues, and fluids within the body, causing gout.

This is not good for gout patients because they already have increased uric acid. However, more research is needed to determine the relationship between uric acid and increased levels linked to beverages.

Sugary Drinks and Arthritis

Sugary drinks can also be a problem if you have arthritis. Studies have shown that there is a strong association between gout and sugar-sweetened soft drinks containing fructose. Research also shows that there is evidence that fructose has a “specific effect in promoting obesity in the U.S.”

Other studies have concluded that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda can cause an increased risk of RA—however, that doesn’t include diet soda. Sugary drinks are known to increase inflammation in the body.

Soda is another source of sugar to avoid if you have arthritis. An average can of soda is 150 calories and the majority of the calories is from added sugar. There is an average of 10 teaspoons of sugar in an average can of soda. In addition, soda tends to have high amounts of phosphate. If phosphate is not properly balanced with calcium it can cause damage to the bones.

What About Diet Soda?

Many diet sodas have low-calorie sweeteners, which contain little or no calories. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners:

  • Saccharin
  • Acesulfame
  • Aspartame
  • Neotame
  • Sucralose

Some diet sodas may also contain stevia, a natural sweetener that also has zero calories.


Avoiding sugar may help your arthritis symptoms. Choosing anti-inflammatory foods can help prevent inflammation that makes arthritis worse. If you want to avoid sugar because you are concerned it will make your arthritis worse, there are other ways to add a sweetener to your tea or favorite recipe. The Arthritis Foundation suggests consuming natural sweeteners like honey, agave, and pure maple syrup in moderation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does sugar cause arthritis inflammation?

    Sugar can cause inflammation in the body, which may affect the joints. If you have arthritis, you may notice that sugar makes your symptoms worse.

  • Does cutting out sugar help arthritis?

    If sugar is contributing to inflammation in your body, you might notice that limiting or cutting back on sugar helps lower that inflammation, which in turn could help reduce your arthritis symptoms. Since arthritis is driven by inflammation, if you can lower your levels of inflammation it might help keep the disease from progressing.

  • Which foods make arthritis worse?

    Foods that promote inflammation, including sugar, may make arthritis worse. If you have certain types of arthritis, like gout, foods that have a lot of uric acids can make your condition worse.

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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.
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By Yvelette Stines
Yvelette Stines, MS, MEd, is an author, writer, and communications specialist specializing in health and wellness.