By now, it’s common knowledge that sugar-intake is linked to both acne and AGING. Let’s talk about how sugar affects your skin and body, and what you can do about it.
How Sugar Affects You
I know when I eat baked goods or, god forbid, ice cream that my face is DOOMED. The very next day I will have broken out in juicy new, super inflamed pimples.
Why does this happen?
When you eat sugar or carbohydrates this starts a pretty complex process occurs in your body.
The sugar is turned into glucose and is released into the blood. The brain signals your pancreas to release insulin – which tells your body to store excess sugar as glycogen in your liver and muscles. Glycogen stores function as energy stores.
Later, when you need energy to run away from a tiger, your glycogen stores will provide you with quick energy.
But the problem occurs when we eat too much sugar. This overwhelms the glycogen stores to the point where they become insulin resistant – they simply run out of space to store excess glycogen from sugar.
So the pancreas has to work overtime to produce more insulin to tell the body to store more glycogen. This is the beginning of a huge problem…Potentially resulting in DIABETES.
As you can see, digesting sugar is no small feat for the body. With too much sugar and insulin in the blood your body experiences inflammation.
It’s normal for your blood sugar to spike after a meal, but it’s not normal to become excessively elevated and STAY that way.
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Insulin spikes cause your body to activate sebaceous glands, making them excrete far more sebum – eating too much sugar can cause super oily skin.
Too much sebum also means an increased likelihood of pores getting clogged, since the sebum has to get out through the pore. If the sebum runs into an obstacle such as dead skin cells, this can cause your body to send in anti-bodies and cytokines to help clear up the area…Resulting in inflamed, red pimples if you are additionally experiencing chronic inflammation.
Luckily, insulin resistance and chronic inflammation usually go together…Not a good thing for your face.
But there’s more!
If you have excess sugar floating around your blood, it will bind to collagen and elastin (and other proteins) and make your skin STIFF and saggy. This process is called glycation.
Your body forms Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs) which assault your immune system further, causing more inflammation. As the name suggests, AGEs are actually aging…
Not only does sugar cause bad skin, but it also ages you. For this reason, it’s really important to minimize sugar and AGEs in your body.
Sugar And PCOS
Women who eat too much sugar suffer probably the worst consequences…they get acne, hair growth on their FACES, hair loss on their heads, and even infertility! This is called polycystic ovarian syndrome, caused by high levels of male hormones circulating in the blood. And you know the good news? PCOS is a nutritional, not gynaecological disease.
Sugar And Teenage Acne
If you or someone you love is suffering from teenage acne, then the answer can very well lay in their diet. It’s important to take kids off sugar and put them on a diet full of healthy fats, lean protein, and veggies. In fact a study was done on kids – one group was fed the typical high-sugar American diet, the others where fed a whole food, low-glycemic diet. Who do you think experienced significant improvements in acne?
Not only did the whole food group experience better skin, they also lost weight, became more sensitive to insulin, and saw less of the pimple causing sex-hormones circulating in their blood.
I can vouch for this…I ate more sugar than 5 people in my teens. As a result I had really inflamed, red pimples all over my face. I wish I knew how sugar affected my skin, but nobody talked about this stuff back then.
Sugar And Cystic Acne
I know that people suffering with cystic acne see an improvement in their skin after cutting out sugar, and this makes absolute sense given that cystic acne is a severe inflammatory response.
The Glycemic Index
Some foods spike your blood sugar more than others. The foods that spike your blood sugar most quickly are called high-glycemic foods, while the foods that release the sugar more slowly are called low-glycemic foods.
A big randomized prospective controlled study found that people who had higher sugar intake and a high glycemic diet (more bread, rice, cereal, pasta, sugar, and all kinds of flour products) had significantly more acne.
This means that a diet of lean meats and veggies produces NO pimples. Hooray for whole foods!
When you’re cooking starches, like potatoes and food made of wheat, know that the heat causes a process known as gelatinization, which can lead to raising the glycemic index of the food item. You should avoid starches fried at a high heat or that are commercially processed – fries!
Is Fructose Healthier Than Glucose?
Not all sugar is created equal. But if I had to choose, I’d say that glucose is slightly more innocent than fructose.
Fructose is the sugar found in fruit, and you might think it’s healthy because it’s natural.
Well, from an evolutionary perspective, our ancestors only had access to ripe fruit at the end of summer. This made sense, because they needed extra fat to brave the cold winter.
That’s right. Fructose makes you fat! It is primarily processed by the liver, and it produces fatty acids and the worst form of cholesterol.
You pack on more pounds consuming fructose than you do consuming glucose.
Glucose, is used by the brain and by pretty much every cell in the body, and doesn’t present the same metabolic burden as fructose.
Fructose is a pro-inflammatory sugar, that creates AGEs and speeds up the aging process. Who would have thought that fruit isn’t innocent in all this?
If you’re going to eat fruit, try to eat berries because they contain less sugar and tons of antioxidants.
What To Do For Clear Skin?
Eat waaaaaay less sugar if you want to see a big difference in your skin and in your longevity too.
As a standard to limit glycation, it makes sense to eat less than 25 grams of sugar a day – that means less than 25 grams of fructose a day too.
For reference, one medium-sized apple has 12.5g of fructose.
Minimal sugar means you’ll stop stressing your body, you’ll improve insulin sensitivity, and you’ll reduce inflammation. All of these factors contribute to clearer skin. Eating less sugar is also anti-aging!
Culprits To Avoid:
- white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey
- simple carbohydrates like bread (whole grain too!), pasta, soda, cookies, cakes, pies…
- fructose in agave syrup and fruit
You can mediate the negative consequences of sugar by eating healthy fats like macadamia nuts, avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil.
When you eat a balanced meal with more fat, you’ll feel more satiated and satisfied and will crave less sugar. We usually crave sugar to compensate for eating too few healthy fats. A rule of thumb for high-quality oils is to eat a thumb-sized amount with every meal. If you’re eating nuts, then a handful of nuts is a good portion.
I know that for me, limiting sugar was the hardest diet change to make. It took years of resistance until I finally got fed up so much with my skin that I knew I had to make a change!
I started eating almost no fruit, and since giving up grains, most desserts are now off the table for me anyway.
Hot tea at night is the best for getting rid of sugar cravings, with the added benefit of relaxing me before I head off to bed!
Good luck, I believe in you!
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