Sugar Aches & Inflammation

By Darlene Kvist, MS, CNS, LN
February 14, 2017

Yes, you read that right. Sugar-aches. I don’t mean the sugar lust that comes from the aroma of fresh brownies or the Blizzard-of-the-month sign at the Dairy Queen®. I mean what happens after you consume high-sugar foods that in turn create inflammation, aches and pain throughout your body; in other words, sugar-aches.

bodyache.jpgDo You Have Sugar-Aches?

This achy feeling may appear as stiff joints, achy muscles, migraines, added asthma or PMS symptoms. Chronic sugar-aches can lead to giving up your favorite pastimes such as golf, gardening, or other activities because you're in too much pain.

Let's back up. Where do your sugar-aches originate? They can come from a mocha and muffin at the coffee shop or maybe from a generous serving of pasta, or sub sandwich, at lunch. On the other hand, they may be from the hard to resist candy stash at your co-worker’s desk.

You're probably getting the picture ... sugar is hiding, in high amounts in many beverages and foods. 

While you wouldn’t consume spoon after spoon of plain sugar, you may drink soda or eat popular foods that result in sugar-overload in your body without realizing it.

Here's a simple equation to see how much sugar you are actually consuming, beyond what's listed on the label. 4 grams of carbohydrates = 1 teaspoon of sugar in your body. When you check product labels, look for serving size so you can complete the equation for the amount of food or beverage you want to consume.  

Sugar-Loaded Snacks to be Cautious of:

  • PotatoChips.jpgPotato chips: A nine-ounce bag of chips breaks down into 32 teaspoons of sugar (most people can’t stop after four or five chips). If you wash down the chips with a soda, that’s another 16 or more teaspoons of sugar.
  • Dots: One box of movie-theater sized Dots contains 5.5 servings. If you consume the whole box, you have eaten the equivalent of 48 teaspoons of sugar! (Maybe that’s the reason you are so stiff when you leave your seat at the end of the movie.)
  • Blizzard: One small Dairy Queen Blizzard has 530 calories and 83 grams of carbohydrates, which equals 21 teaspoons of sugar. And that's a small size!

This list is just a start to be cautious of. Read about even more with this Healthy Snacks Debunked post. 

A Natural Solution to Sugar-Aches

Instead of relying on an endless supply of pain relievers to manage aches and pains, I have a better suggestion – start eating real foods and see how much better you feel. In 2002 the American Journal of Cancer Nutrition found that foods high in sugar resulted in inflammation. So the research, and 20+ years of clinical experience, have shown that food choices directly affect levels of pain and inflammation in the body.

As a nutritionist, I see clients’ lives change dramatically when they eliminate processed, high-sugar foods and switch to real foods. Clients that could barely climb the stairs to our office on their first visit returned to their favorite activities after following an anti-inflammatory eating plan for a few months.

Eat This, Not That 

The key to avoiding sugar-aches lies in eating real foods instead of processed foods. What do we mean by real foods? 

  • healthy_food.jpgProteins – Meats (hamburgers, bacon, chicken anyone?) and eggs.
  • Carbohydrates – Vegetable carbs are best, three additional servings of vegetables per day have been shown to reduce your risk of stroke by 22%.
  • Healthy Fats – Butter, olive oil, bacon grease, avocados, olives and nuts to name a few.

In combination, this trifecta eaten at every meal and snack helps decrease inflammation and support the body. Real foods can ease the inflammation you feel, as well as hidden low-grade chronic inflammation associated with Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease and strokes.

Get some ideas on how these real foods translate to delicious meals through our What A Nutritionist Eats blog series. 

Remember that highly processed foods (pizza, cereal, granola bars, popcorn and the list can go on forever), mostly all contain sugar and trans-fats (damaged fats and oils that are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, such as margarine and refined vegetable oils) which are known to increase inflammation and pain.

Do your own experiment. Stop eating processed carbohydrates for three full weeks. Avoid soda, candy, chips, cereal and bagels, and I am willing to bet that you will experience less pain and inflammation. Then come back and let us know how you feel!

That said, each body is extremely unique with your own health history and goals. For a more targeted approach and help reading your body’s cues, consider a nutrition consultation, available by phone or in-person with one of our nutritionists.

Nutrition is your best line of defense against sugar-aches!

For more inspiration and information, check out these free resources.









*Results described are not typical and will vary for each individual.

About the author

Darlene founded Nutritional Weight & Wellness. In her 25 years as a counselor and nutritionist, Darlene has helped so many people change their lives using the power of real food. She is a licensed nutritionist who earned the title Certified Nutrition Specialist from the American College of Nutrition, a prestigious association of medical and research scientists to further nutrition research. She has served on the Board of Dietetics and Nutrition Practice for the State of Minnesota.

View all posts by Darlene Kvist, MS, CNS, LN


I have been off sugar for the past two years. Now that I am post menopausal, I have very sore achy feet in the mornings. I'm guessing it has to do with hormones. I also don't eat dairy due to inflammation. Any suggestions?
February 15, 2017 at 5:58 pm


For aches & pains we'd suggest looking at sources of magnesium, our relaxation mineral. Good food sources would include nuts/seeds, grass fed meats, and even leafy greens; think spinach, collard greens or kale. Many individuals supplement with a high quality magnesium for extra support.

You also might enjoy listening to this previous radio show:

I took one of Darlene's classes and my sugar ache/inflammation was my sinus and sinus headaches. After 3 weeks of eliminating processed foods and sugar my sinus problems decreased and now after 6 weeks they are gone. My culprit was potato chips.
March 1, 2017 at 8:07 am


That's fantastic news, thanks for sharing! 

Mary Pat Hauck
What about gluten free rice or beanitos chips or gluten free crackers for sugar aches? Also I eat 86% dark chocolate 5 grams sugar 15 carbs?
March 1, 2017 at 10:32 am


Any carbohydrate, even the gluten free versions will turn into sugar.  Depending upon your inflammation level a small serving of those foods might be ok.  For other people they will cause more pain.  The serving of dark chocolate still turns into almost 4tsp of sugar in your body.  

What is the recommended number of grams of sugar/carbs per day?
March 1, 2017 at 1:39 pm


We recommend about 30g of carbohydrate per meal and about 5-15g per snack. But everyone is a little different depending upon age, gender, and activity level.

Julie L. Pfeiffer
Darlene- Hello! I called Nutritional Weight and Wellness last Friday 2/24/17. Spoke w a pleasant staff member in your St. Paul Office. I have listened to Sat. radio show on and off for several years. I LOVE all of the vital news and information regarding/ Real Foods and your HEALTH. I can apply this researched information everyday to my own personal life as well to family and friends. I will soon be turning 54 in May. A journey back to 2010 ..... approaching 47 a event changed my life. I was blessed with becoming a MOTHER again!! A pregnancy filled with emotion, ( older and wiser ) parents and the responsibilities of Motherhood. Into the 6 mo. I drank the required sugary liquid drink to test for diabetes. Yes! I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes. My beautiful Son is now 6! In Kindergarten and my shining STAR
March 3, 2017 at 1:10 pm

the only reason why i finally found this site is cuz i been suffering from horrible backaches and knee/leg stiffness for years. im pretty fit(so i thought) but even though i work out, i love sweets. so i have secret staches all over my house with chocolates and chips, sadly yesterday i went to Mexico to pig out with barbacoa, and all the mexican sweets which i dearly love. only to suffer with pain all night and all day today. i knew sugar kills liver, but not my joints;(. great! so now i must give up my killer sweets lest i want to end up ina wheelchair. whata sucker
March 9, 2017 at 3:20 pm

Tony. Reilly
Excellent information.
April 2, 2017 at 7:24 am

Darlene L.
One bite of anything sweet and I am hooked again on sugar. I crave and think about sugar and foods with sugar but sugar is destroying my health. I am 100 lbs over weight and have been for over 30 years - all due to eating sugar/wheat foods, I have lost half my teeth to sugar. Sugar is as bad as any drug for robbing you of your health and well being. I am trying again to not eat sugar, I've made it through one day. My husband has no such problem and freely eats all kinds of sweet treats in front of me. I can't expect him to not eat what we always have just because now I am not able to due to joint pain. I feel so alone in abstaining from the foods I love so much. I also can not eat dairy besides sugar and wheat. Sometimes life seems bleak. I was glad to find this site and listen to other people in similar 'boats'.
April 12, 2017 at 10:09 pm

Anita D
Finally I know what ails me. I thought it was just my imagination. Whenever I eat a lot of sweets, my knees and other areas would ache. I did not realize that sugar could cause pain as well as weight gain. I am giving up sugar. I am tired of hurting
April 27, 2017 at 10:02 pm


We're so glad this article helped you and wish you the best of health!

Cindy W
I have lived with inflammatory pain now for several years. Sometimes to the point where I feel like I cannot even walk. I went on the whole 30 diet to see if that would help. I felt so amazing for the first 3 weeks. It was incredible. I followed the diet to the letter. Starting my fourth week I started with my pain again. I have now idea why. The only mistake I made was eating 3 pieces of sausage. It did have sugar in it. Could a small amount like that cause me such pain?
May 11, 2017 at 7:35 am


It sounds like food really makes a big difference for your health! Yes - sugar is a very inflammatory food for many people. I would also think of the potential food additives in the sausage that could have also increased that inflammatory pain. MSG, gluten, and nitrates/nitrites are often added to processed meats. It is hard to say exactly what caused your pain without looking at your diet and health history, but I am very confident that you would be able to live pain free with an individualized meal plan. I would recommend you set up an appointment with a Nutritional Weight & Wellness nutritionist to see what foods are best to keep your inflammation low.

WOW WOW WOW !!!!!!! What a wonderful discovery.
Thank you Darlene ...for 3 years im suffering woth severe aches and pains and my doctors think i complain too much.
My condition has bafled them . Im sick and tired if their diagnosis that dont work.

This cutting out carbs and sugars makes a lot more sense than taking statin drugs.
They are confused by my blood eorks that shows all positive numbers.

I have abstained from sugars and carbs for one week ..and wha lah no aches and pain. I ate my favorite sweets again and
May 12, 2017 at 4:01 am

Margie Skolaut
I am sure you are on target for me - please help! I have not been tested but my inflammation is really getting bad overall.
May 22, 2017 at 10:39 am


Hello, glad you found us. We'd encourage you to stop in for a nutrition consultation either by phone or in-person, you can find more info here, 

Kelly VDA
I have been suffering for moths. I spent $1,000 on blood work and doctor visits to be tested for RA, fibromyalgia, vitamin deficiency, etc. and nothing came up. So hard to get out of bed in the morning or when I have been sitting for a while. Feels like stiff joints and this could all be caused from sugar? I have never eaten healthy so why all of a sudden would it start? How long does it take to reverse?
June 14, 2017 at 7:29 am


Yes - sugar is a very inflammatory food for many people. I like to think of sugar as a razor in the body - it creates little cuts in the tissues and low levels of inflammation. You may not necessarily feel the damage as a teen or young adult, but the compounded effect of eating sugar or other inflammatory foods over time can start to break down the joints. Often that is when we start noticing pain or decreased mobility. I would also think of the potential foods that could have also increased that inflammatory pain; for example gluten, man-made fats, and food additives like MSG. It is hard to say exactly what contributes to your pain without looking at your diet and health history, but I am very confident that you would be able to live with less pain by addressing the foods you eat. I would recommend you set up an appointment with a Nutritional Weight & Wellness nutritionist to see what foods are best to reduce the inflammation in your joints and increase mobility. In terms of healing or reversing that damage, that can vary between people. Some notice a change within a few days, others a few weeks. If you have never eaten healthy you will likely notice a difference to the same degree of change you make with real food.

This has helped me a lot. I eat a lot of carbs and I found out that they turn into sugar. My muscles hurt me so bad every time I walk but in going to change my eating habits. Thanks so much. Linda
June 30, 2017 at 7:47 pm

Hello, I would like to know if "AGAVE" is extra high in sucrose, and is it better to use honey. My hands swell and are so painful, my knees swell and I can hardly walk. I went to doc and had the RA blood test, but I do not have RA.....I quite white sugar and brown sugar and I only use AGAVE now.
Is this causing my painful inflammation and swelling?
July 16, 2017 at 11:14 am


Agave has been marketed as a “natural” sweetener because it comes from the sap of the agave plant. However, it is highly refined through a chemical process that makes it extremely unhealthy. Agave is 70-90 percent fructose. It is a high calorie sweetener that has been linked to weight gain. Fructose is a major contributor to insulin resistance. It has also been shown to increase  LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A better alternative would stevia which comes from a plant and research shows it is a safe sweetener.

Maria Merola
I have bad inflammation- stopping sugar
July 19, 2017 at 12:50 pm

april vacca
I am about to try a life style change of eliminating sugar and breads/grains that may cause inflammation. Suffering with aches and pains all over, hard to get out of bed. My question is ....should i eliminate fruits also because they are a source of sugar? I really want to give this a best chance to determine if these foods have been making me sick and hurting all the time.

August 7, 2017 at 10:42 am


Fruits are real foods, but like you mentioned they do still have natural sugars in them. I imagine you will start to notice a difference when you start to remove the more processed carbohydrates and added sweeteners. I don't think you need to eliminate all fruits, but choosing fruits that are naturally lower in sugar would be a great strategy for you while you heal. Some of my favorites are blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, and even kiwi. I find that clients feel best when they keep fruit to smaller servings - like 1/2 to 3/4 cup at a time. Of course we recommend eating that fruit with some healthy fat (like avocado) and some animal protein (like chicken or fish). If you are still struggling to put together an anti-inflammatory plan, make an appointment with one of our nutritionists. They would be able to guide you to an individualized plan to get you feeling better!

Besides sugar, I took dairy out of my diet ten years ago. The casein in the dairy made me hurt all over. I was in tears and could barely walk. Cheese is the most concentrated casein. Greek yogurt is almost all casein. So if anyone is reading this and you're still hurting, take sugar and dairy out of your diet. Gluten does not bother me but that can be another factor for many. Good luck!
August 8, 2017 at 7:19 pm

Im so glad i found this site. Very informative, have been dealing with lower leg pain/cramps for the last 5 years. I do eat alot of sugar and the doctors dont know what to do for me other then throw pills at me. Blood tests always come back good. From reading this article about sugar i will definitely watch my sugar intake.
August 13, 2017 at 7:16 am

Hello I eat way to much sugar being diabetic I know better. I'm tired of the joint pain and stiffness and my feet hurt. I thought it was due to my new job walking a lot but now I know it's consuming to much sugar. I am ashamed of myself and I know better so I will do better. This article really helped me. So I'm going to stop with all this sugar consumption and eat more healthy. Thanks again
August 24, 2017 at 10:31 am


Thanks for reading and best of luck on your journey, you can do it! 

hi, im 49 yrs old and suffered from years of stiffness / aches , brain fog and many other symptons , ive also had both hips replaced through working in physical and heavy jobs all my adult life plus i also have wear in a lot of other areas , ,,,,,,after a recent stomach issue which i just could not seem to kick i was advised to try cider vinegar with 'mother' , i started the cider vinegar and and stayed off sugar and gluten and also through feeling horrid i didn't eat a lot in general ,
within a day or so i felt like a new man, almost no aches / stiffness and felt clearer head wise,,,,,, once i felt better i started eating a lot more of a normal diet and the issues returned as i started to eat various things again , i had a sugar crave recently so i had a few glasses dry ginger ale and two different small cakes ,,,,,, i then felt absolutely vile for the next few days , bad cramps all over , joint aches , felt vile inside all over, lost and kinda depressed , head spinning etc etc etc ,,,,,,, it was simply vileness ,,,,,, im now going off sugar for good, im also going to drop a lot of gluten products and try to monitor msg also ,,,,,,,, if i need to sweeten anything i use a little raw sugar , white sugar is truly evil , they say its the worst addictive drug in the world ,,,,, all i know is i cant push through that cramping and pain any more , im so over brain fog and all the feelings of vileness i seem to suffer , as much as i enjoy an occasional cake desert or soda etc ,, its not worth the vileness it also brings !!!!!!
August 24, 2017 at 5:07 pm


Glad to hear you're discovering the relief from cutting out harmful foods. With your unique history we'd highly encourage you to consider booking a nutrition consultation with one of our nutritionists. 

following up from previous comment ,,,,,ive since discovered i have issues with im guessing gluten or sugar , i had one packaged pre made pancake the other night and felt like a truck had run over me later in the night , i felt absolutely vile , gut churning, wind, body / head floating feelings, head spinning , kinda like a horrid dull electricity flowing through me and much more .

im assuming that is an allergic reaction then ?

my question is : do you develop allergies or are they there from birth , ive eaten lots of things ie pancakes etc all my life and never seemed to have a issue , well maybe just not as bad as these are , ive stayed off sugar and gluten for a few months now , ive also had massive hassles / stress and some illness the last few years ,,, so is this now a temporary thing or a changing of the guard ?
im not stressed to have to go with out, just more curious than anything ?

August 27, 2017 at 6:19 pm


Sorry to hear about that and yes, it sounds like a sensitivity which could be due to a variety of reasons too lengthy to list here. Please consider scheduling a consultation with one of our nutritionists to learn more about your body and how to feel your best. 

Hello im here because my joint pain doesnt settle i have pain in my neck,shoulders,and hands. I cant do my activities like i use to , and i have consumed a lot of processed foods,like coke, sugar, chinese good energy is also less. ? all of this happens for not eating well?
September 1, 2017 at 2:45 pm


Yes, food has a direct, positive or negative, impact on our energy and aches and pains. Of course we can't provide more details without knowing more about your health history. We'd highly encourage you to make an appointment (either in-person or by phone) with one of our nutritionists who would be better suited to help you. 

I have inflammation in my shoulders that I've been trying to treat for 7 months. Physical therapy has helped a bit but My hips and knees have recently started to hurt as well. I cut out all sugar , dairy and refined foods and for the past 2 months I've only been eating healthy vegetables, salmon, pasture raised organic eggs , berries , nuts , cold olive oil and spices . I have not noticed a difference at all! Am I doing something wrong?
September 4, 2017 at 8:30 pm


Not something we could answer without knowing more about your health history. We'd highly encourage you to make an appointment (either in-person or by phone) with one of our nutritionists who would be better suited to help you. 

Been having legs pain for 2 years sometimes its not to bad blood test revealed nothing bad....any ideas what could be causing it
September 6, 2017 at 2:39 am


Not something we could answer without knowing more about your health history. We'd highly encourage you to make an appointment (either in-person or by phone) with one of our nutritionists who would be better suited to help you. 

What about diet soda? How does that effect your systems?
September 25, 2017 at 4:58 pm


Just as listed above, diet soda impacts your system in the same negative ways as listed above. We highly advice clients to completely cut out all types of soda. 

I'm so glad I found this site. I made this self discovery fifteen years ago. My peers thought I was nuts! I've balanced my sugar for fifteen years, just to cope. Now that I found this, I'm done with sugar for ever. As admin put it, sugar is like a razor! I couldn't describe it any better.

Sugar in the past has incapacitated me. I've not been able to stand alone without assistance, that's how bad. I dialed the sugar back, and noticed an improvement. What I thought may have been a coincidence then, is a fact not. For some like me, sugar is poison. Done with you sugar.
September 30, 2017 at 7:36 am

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