SOURCE: Total Dermatology SEE ALSO: UK’s 10-year-olds have consumed 18 years’ worth of sugar. We look at some of the reasons why sugar is bad for your skin. And it’s not just sugar, but also high-glycemic foods which quickly convert to sugar. This, in turn, raises insulin levels and puts unnatural demands on your body to deal with the food you just ate.
Simple carbohydrates, like refined sugar, white bread, and soda, cause insulin levels to spike, which leads to what Dr. Nicolas Perricone describes as “a burst of inflammation throughout the body.” Tip: Inflammation is not good for your body or your skin.
Sugars – the Wrinkle makers
Inflammation produces enzymes that break down collagen and elastin, resulting in sagging skin and wrinkles. Digested sugar permanently attaches to the collagen in your skin through a process known as glycation.
Sugars – Acne, insulin resistance, pigmentation and facial hair growth
Aside from increasing the effects of aging, glycation can also exacerbate skin conditions like acne and rosacea. Plus, the more sugar you eat, the more likely it is you’ll develop insulin resistance, which can manifest as excess hair growth (hirsutism) and dark patches on the neck and in body creases.
Understanding the glycemic index, the scale which determines how quickly blood sugar levels rise after ingesting particular foods (hence, the high- and low-glycemic labels), is key to making the right choices for your skin when it comes to sugar.
A 2002 study published in Archives of Dermatology shows strong evidence that certain foods can cause breakouts. Noting that acne is primarily a “Western” disease, researchers studied 1200 people in Papua New Guinea and 115 people in Eastern Paraguay (people who eat a diet of fresh plant foods and lean meat they raise themselves) and didn’t see a single pimple.
Skin’s Enemy Foods
“Aside from ‘McDonald’s acne,’ which is common with people who operate fryers, it’s not the fat in fast food that seems to cause breakouts; it’s the processed carbs,” says Omaha dermatologist Dr. Joel Schlessinger. “Pizza, burgers, chocolate and all the other old-wives tale culprits do seem to have a negative effect on skin – and science is finally catching up.”
A Special Note on Dairy
A 2005 article in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology examined the diets of 47,355 women and found a strong connection between milk and milk product (like cream cheese, sherbet, instant breakfast drinks and cottage cheese) intake and breakouts. Another study, of 4,273 teenaged boys also found an association between milk and acne flare-ups.
So what’s the link?
“Much of the milk that we drink is produced by pregnant cows and contains high levels of hormones that can send oil glands into overdrive,” explains Schlessinger. Progesterone, insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) as well as compounds that the human body turns into dehydrotestosterone (DHT) are passed on to the milk, which can aggravate acne. Unfortunately, you don’t get a pass for buying organic milk from cows that haven’t been treated with Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH). “The hormones are just as bad,” he insists. If dairy triggers your breakouts, “You simply have to avoid milk.” Schlessinger advises his patients to switch to almond milk, and cut down on cheese and other dairy products.
Foods You Should Eat
- Complex carbohydrates, like brown rice and vegetables. Low-glycemic options, like beans, nuts, and whole grains, as well as fibrous foods, which delay sugar absorption, also help control blood sugar levels. Do your best to follow an anti-inflammatory diet of healthy fats (like olive oil and avocados), lean protein (like salmon), fibre (like broccoli and cauliflower) and antioxidants (like berries) if you want glowing, youthful skin.
- Other Tricks To Counteract Sugar’s Effects On Skin
- Get plenty of sleep. When you don’t get enough shut-eye, your body releases the stress hormone, cortisol, which mobilizes sugar stores and causes your insulin to spike.
- Speaking of stress, try to keep yours at a minimum. Stress can spike insulin levels just like eating sugar can. The effects of stress are particularly correlated with acne breakouts.
- Eat frequent, balanced meals. Don’t think lowering your sugar intake means lowering your food intake per se. If your goal is to keep your blood sugar levels consistent, make sure to fuel up with low-glycemic, high protein food every three hours to avoid insulin spikes.
- Be mindful about how you prepare your food. When cooking starches, like potatoes and foods with wheat, keep in mind that the heat involved in cooking causes a process known as gelatinization, which can lead to upping the glycemic index of a food item. The takeaway? Avoid starches fried in high heat or that are commercially processed.
- Order counts. Eat your proteins first when sitting down for a meal, since they don’t stimulate insulin spikes and therefore keep your body from triggering the inflammatory effects caused when you ingest insulin-spiking foods.
- Good Fats are your friend. Healthy fats, like Omega-3s, keep your skin looking soft, supple and radiant (read: youthful).
Sugar Blues – If you or your children are “sugar addicts”, this book is a true eye opener.
“Consumed at the rate of one hundred pounds for every American every year, it’s as addictive as nicotine — and as poisonous. It’s sugar.”
Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
“He takes us into labs where scientists calculate the “bliss point” of sugary beverages…”