Saturday, 16 May 2015

Sugar and Arthritis - Should you cut sugar from your diet?

Eating sugar-free is the latest diet craze - we're frequently told that sugar has replaced fat as the big

diet baddy and that if we can just kick our sweet addiction we'd be slimmer, healthier and happier. There are even frequent articles talking about how pro-inflammatory sugar is and how dangerous it is for those of of us with arthritis. But what's the truth? Will cutting out sugar really help our joints? 

Most of us have a bit of a 'sweet tooth'- when we have something sweet we want more of it and we all know what happens when we at too much of anything - we get fat. It's this overconsumption of food that leads to the negative effects of sugar on our health such as type 2 diabetes, an increased risk of osteoarthritis and high blood pressure. Sugar itself doesn't directly cause these conditions (although your dentist was right - it does rot your teeth) but contributes to the risk of being overweight and all the pro-inflammatory biochemical changes that come with that extra weight.

But before you crack open that bottle of syrup, it's worth remembering that not all sugars are equal. If you are trying to eat a healthy diet to help manage your arthritis or your weight then you want all the energy you consume to count - everything you eat, as far as possible, should be bringing some added nutritional benefit alongside the calories. For example, a tablespoon of castor sugar is about 50 calories and so is an apple - they are both sweet but the apple also contains antioxidant vitamins and fibre. If you aim to follow the UK NHS advice and consume no more than around 53g sugar a day on a 2000kcal diet then the best way to make every gram of that sugar arthritis-friendly is to focus on avoiding added or extrinsic sugars - basically all sugar not contained within a food naturally (fruit juices or purees count as extrinsic sugars because in whizzing up the fruit the sugar has been released from the cell walls and no longer comes with a side helping of all the fibre from the fruit). 

As usual balance is key - whilst on one hand managing arthritis might be more straightforward if cutting out sugar was that magic answer, I for one am quite glad that just occasionally, when I'm having a flare and it's all to much, I can prise the top of the biscuit tin with my dodgy hands and enjoy a little sweet treat.

If you want to read more about sugar and health, check out this lovely explanation from the Science Media Centre.

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