Not So Sweet…How Sugar And Diet May Be Affecting Your Skin

Dietary choices can have a significant impact on our mental and physical health. But, that’s not all. What you choose to eat can also affect your skin. Choosing certain diets might not only be good for your training or health goals — getting ready that half marathon, reducing body fat, lowering blood pressure, attaining a specific CrossFit goal — but also help improve your skin.

Many people put a lot of work into maintaining their skin without ever considering a vital piece of the puzzle. Using the right products to care for your skin is essential, but what you put inside your body can affect the condition of your skin as much as what you apply on the outside. More than anything else, your sugar intake can significantly impact your attempts at achieving healthy skin. The great news is…some of the power is in your hands, and I have two great diet suggestions to help!

Skin Health and Sugar

For those who have a hard time resisting their sweet tooth, the harmful impact of sugar on the skin might be a blessing. Everyone knows that a high-sugar diet leads to all kinds of health problems in the long run, but these vague concerns aren’t always enough to motivate anyone at the moment. Once you learn that the sugar you eat this morning might cause you to break out this evening, it might be easier to say no to that doughnut.

The science behind this connection is relatively straightforward. Any sugar you put in your body will eventually break down into glucose, which your body can burn for energy. When you eat foods high in sugar, your insulin levels go up, and your body starts using the excess glucose for other things, including uses for which it is not intended. In a process known as glycation, glucose begins linking up with the protein molecules that form your skin, which weakens the whole structure.

The result is stiff, dry skin, and inflammation. Inflammation, in turn, leads to acne and other skin conditions, and that’s only in the short-term. Over a lifetime, chronic inflammation causes permanent damage like wrinkles and sagging skin. The good news is that making a change now will not only save you from long-term damage but can also decrease inflammation and acne within six days.

The Culprits

Once you’ve resolved to take better care of your skin through your diet, you should start by eliminating the worst offenders first. You will probably struggle if you try to remove sugar from your life completely, but some smaller changes can set you on the road to a healthy, glowing complexion.

Refined sugar is the principal culprit, as it breaks down into glucose immediately and causes an insulin spike. Refined sugar, as is found in candy, soda, and many packaged foods, should be avoided. Other simple carbohydrates also break down quickly, so stay away from (or at least moderate your consumption of) white bread, fried food, fruit juice, pasta, pizza, and similar foods.

Dairy products are a bit of a wildcard. Consumption of dairy has been linked to acne and damaged skin in some people, but not in others, so it all comes down to your unique biology. If you reduce your sugar intake and still find yourself breaking out, you might consider forgoing milk, cheese, and cream as well.

The Helpers

While your primary goal should be reducing the amount of sugar in your diet, consuming antioxidant-rich foods is a great way to counteract the impact of sugar. So, consider regularly integrating foods like broccoli, kale, blueberries, seaweeds, and asparagus into your diet.  If you are having trouble avoiding refined sugars, you should look for foods containing vitamins B1 and B6. These vitamins inhibit glycation, meaning less of the sugar in your body will end up in your skin. 

Reducing inflammation by eating anti-inflammatory foods can help keep your acne under control. Anti-inflammatory foods include healthy fats like avocado, lean protein like chicken breast, and fibrous foods like broccoli.

Aside from your diet, lifestyle changes can also mitigate the impact of sugar on your skin. Not getting enough sleep or being chronically stressed causes your body to release cortisol, which leads to an insulin spike and allows any glucose in your body to start doing damage. In other words, taking care of your skin is the perfect excuse to spend more time relaxing and sleeping late.

Paleo, Whole30, and Your Skin

Beautiful skin is one of the many claims behind those who adhere to a Paleolithic diet, and science seems to support this. I asked Dr. Loren Cordain, one of the worlds foremost authorities on the evolutionary basis of diet and disease, and founder of the Paleo Diet, about the impact certain foods, can have on our skin. Dr. Cordain said,

For people with acne, diets similar to the Paleo Diet, that is, diets that are high protein, low glycemic load, and free of dairy have been clinically proven to improve acne symptoms.”

There’s a reason many beauty supplements contain protein-rich formulas: proteins are essential for healthy skin. Proteins are broken down into amino acids which are the building blocks for all of the protein found in the skin, hair, and nails, and in the rest of our body. Protein isn’t the only thing essential for our skin, eating adequate healthy fats is important as well. Healthy fats found in avocados and olive oil can help your skin stay hydrated and protected from harmful elements.

Similar to the Paleo Diet, Whole30ers may also see improvements in their skin. As an elimination diet, Whole30 takes Paleo one step further by combining protein-rich foods with an adequate amount of natural fats, while eliminating sugars and alcohol. On Whole30 you can expect to consume meats such as poultry, fish, and red meat; veggies, some fruits, and fats. What you won’t eat are grains, beans legumes, dairy, additives, or artificial sugars.

Both Whole30 and the Paleo Diet cut out common foods known to trigger inflammatory responses in our body. Inflammation has been linked to triggers cells which clog pores, leading to acne and skin flare-ups. Sugars, fried foods, refined carbs, dairy, and saturated fats can all trigger an inflammatory response in our body. By cutting out these foods, you might see dramatic improvements in skin clarity, especially if your diet was high in processed foods or sugar. Although Whole30 is only 30-days, changing your diet has an immediate impact on your skin health. It only takes a week to see noticeable skin improvements as a result of the dietary change. Did you question those crazy Whole30ers who claimed their acne went away? Well…you might want to investigate further because chances are…it did!

Take Care of Your Skin Inside and Out

Something as important as taking care of your skin warrants a thoughtful, holistic approach. It is essential to use the right skin care products to treat the outward symptoms of damaged skin, but equally important is avoiding the foods that trigger inflammation and can damage your skin in the first place. Making healthy food choices is crucial when it comes to your skin health. Give the Paleo Diet or Whole30 a chance! By taking control of your diet, you can look forward to healthy, youthful skin that lasts a lifetime.