For many women, it's almost a reflex to reach for a soda with lunch or dinner—or both. However, there are several health reasons you may want to think before you drink.

Bottles of soda on ice.

Why avoid soda?

Past research has already connected drinking soda every day with higher risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Now a new study finds that it may be linked to higher risk for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) as well.

See: Risk Factors for Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

In the study, researchers analyzed the results of the Nurses Health Study I and II, which followed nearly 190,000 women for 2 decades. They found that women who drank more than 1 sugar-sweetened soda a day were 63% more likely to develop RA than women who drank less than 1 soda a month. This was after accounting for other factors such as weight, age, smoking, and alcohol use. The risk was even greater for women older than 55. 1 "Sugar-sweetened soda consumption and risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women." Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep; 100(3):959-67.

This doesn't mean that soda consumption causes RA, necessarily; it just demonstrates that they're connected. However, if soda has a role in the development of RA, it's important to know how you can take action to lower your risk.


Tips for cutting down on soda

If you're ready to cut down on your soda consumption, here are some tips to get you started:

  1. Switch to diet soda.

    Diet soda, which uses artificial sweeteners rather than sugar and has few or no calories, was not found to be associated with increased RA risk in the Nurses Study. If you want to continue drinking soda, switch to diet.

  2. Find a good substitute.

    Drink seltzer water or carbonated no sugar added juices for the same fizz as soda. Or better yet, drink water instead. Your water doesn't have to be plain—you can make it more interesting by adding lemon, lime, cucumber, or mint.

    Or drink skim milk. The Nurses Study found that drinking skim milk actually cuts the risk for RA—possibly because of the healthy vitamin D it contains.

  3. Taper off gradually.

    Don't try to quit all at once, especially if you consume several sodas a day. This can make quitting much harder and also cause caffeine withdraw. Instead, use a "step down" approach by cutting your consumption in half each week.

  4. Stop super sizing.

    You can still have soda occasionally—but when you do, choose the smallest size. Try to stick to a serving size no more than a regular can of soda, which is 12 ounces.

  5. Read the label.

    Pay attention to the sugar and calorie content, and read the ingredient list for sugar products such as high fructose corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, or honey. And make sure to read the serving size. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda may list nutrition information for a serving size of 8 ounces, meaning there are 2 ½ servings in the bottle.

  6. Put a water bottle on your desk and a water filter pitcher in your refrigerator.

    When you have the means to drink cold filtered water conveniently available to you throughout the day, you're more likely to choose that option.

  7. Don't be fooled by other unhealthy alternatives.

    Don't pass up soda just to drink sports drinks, sweetened teas, or juice "cocktails" instead. These beverages have the same amount of sugar and calories as soda—and sometimes even more.

Learn more

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Diagnosis

What Are Anti-Inflammatory Foods?

  • 1 "Sugar-sweetened soda consumption and risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis in women." Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep; 100(3):959-67.