Why You Should Avoid Sugar if You Have Arthritis

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Arthritis is a condition that primarily affects the bones and joints due to inflammation. There are certain foods that should be minimized or avoided for individuals with arthritis because they cause inflammation. Some of the foods and ingredients to avoid include:

  • Refined carbohydrates
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar
  • MSG
  • Trans fat
  • Omega-6
  • Saturated fat

Before changing your dietary habits, it is important to contact your healthcare professional to discuss options that are the best fit for you.

Woman preparing cupcakes at home

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Guidelines On Daily Sugar Intake

The CDC suggests keeping the intake of added sugars to less than 10% of the 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.

Sugar and Arthritis

Sugar is known to increase inflammation in the body. Consumption of excessive amounts of sugar or a moderate amount over time will cause inflammation in the body. This can lead to many health conditions, including arthritis. For people with arthritis, it is recommended to eat anti-inflammatory foods and reduce sugar.

Does Sugar Cause Inflammation?

Arthritis patients should be cautious when consuming sugar because studies have shown that sugar consumption increases inflammation in humans.  Many foods and beverages have hidden sources of sugar, so it is 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 is associated with an increased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (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 damages 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 was a study of 217 RA patients to determine the effect that food had on their RA symptoms. In the study, 24.0% of participants reported that foods affect their RA symptoms. They found that specific 20 specific foods improved RA symptoms. Among the top were blueberry and spinach. They found that desserts and soda with sugar were the most common items that made their RA worse. In another study, the regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda is associated with an increased risk of RA in women.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It 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 shows that people with OA are encouraged to consume foods rich with antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E helped. In addition, consuming vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes decreased the symptoms and disease progression. One study concluded that a diet high in sugary foods and fat increase inflammation and cause obesity. Both factors have a negative effect on the joints including increased osteoarthritis in the knees.

Natural Sugars vs. Added Sugars

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


Gout is inflammatory arthritis. It 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 and medications.

Studies have shown that high sugar intake including foods and beverages with high fructose such as orange juice and soda are 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 acids. More research needs to be conducted to determine the relationship between uric acid and the specific increased levels from beverages.

Other Risks

Sugar does more harm than good to the body, it is known to increase the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular health, and obesity. All of these factors along with arthritis can complicate the condition. There are a lot of unknown added sugars in foods that we eat every day. It is important to read labels and ingredients to know how much sugar you are consuming.

Hidden Sugars

Sugars are added in many foods that we consume. Reading the ingredients and nutritional information on packages look for items ending on “ose."  Some common foods that have unexpected sugar include pasta sauce, dairy-free milk substitutes, ketchup, packaged oatmeal, cereal, bread, boxed and canned soups, and yogurt.

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

Sugary Drinks

Sugary drinks can be problematic for arthritis patients. Studies have shown that there is a strong association between gout and sugar-sweetened soft drinks containing fructose. There is also the conclusion that fructose has a “specific effect in promoting obesity in the US.”

There is also research that concludes that regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda can cause an increased risk of RA. This doesn’t include diet soda. Sugary drinks are known to increase inflammation in the body.

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. 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.

What About Diet Sodas?

Many diet sodas have low-calorie sweeteners, this is a sweetener that contain little or no calories. The Food and Drug Administration has approved five artificial sweeteners:

  • Saccharin
  • Acesulfame
  • Aspartame
  • Neotame
  • Sucralose

It has also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener.

Healthy Sugar Alternatives for Arthritis Patients

There are healthier options if you want to add some sweetener to your tea or favorite recipe. The Arthritis Foundation suggests consuming honey, agave, and pure maple syrup as these items can be safely consumed in moderation.

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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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