You’ve likely heard that reducing your sugar intake is critical for your overall health, but did you know that sugar has a direct impact upon the appearance and health of your skin? Renowned skin expert Dr. Whitney Bowe has spent years studying how to help her patients get beautiful, flawless skin. And, while there are lots of creams and procedures out there, one of the easiest, most basic ways to improve your skin is through diet. What you eat can directly affect your skin-for better or worse! And sugar is one of the worst culprits in contributing to unhealthy skin and acne. Read here about the role of sugar in skin health, and get 3 food swaps to help satisfy your sweet tooth without damaging your skin.
As a dermatologist and research scientist, I have dedicated over a decade to the study of diet and the skin – how what you eat impacts your skin from the inside out. And sugar is one of the worst things for you-both inside and out! Sugar causes multiple changes in our body, from our cellular membranes and our arteries to our hormones, immune systems, gut, and even microbiome—the microbes in our intestines that affect our biology all the way out to our skin. Spiking insulin and inflammatory pathways are just a few ways that too much sugar harms our bodies.
Sugar also has a direct correlation to your skin’s appearance and health. Sugar causes damage to our skin’s appearance specifically through a process called glycation. Glycation is the biochemical term for the bonding of sugar molecules to proteins, fats, and amino acids. This bonding is a prominent feature of aging. When proteins become glycated, they become stiff and substantially less functional. You can imagine what that does to the proteins in your skin! They also tend to attach themselves to other similarly damaged proteins and form cross linkages that further inhibit their ability to function. But, even more key is that once a protein is glycated, it becomes the source of a substantial increase in the production of free radicals, which is not what we want for healthy, firm skin! Researchers have linked advanced glycation end products to hardened arteries, tangled nerves, wrinkles, and multiple disease processes. Collagen and elastin, the fibers you know keep skin firm and elastic, are among the most vulnerable proteins in this process.
The reality is that glycation to some degree is inevitable because it’s a product of our normal metabolism. However, we want to limit or slow down the glycation process. Many strategies to promote longevity and a youthful appearance are now focused on how to reduce glycation and even break those toxic bonds. But this can’t happen when we consume a high-sugar diet, which speeds up the glycation process. Cutting out sugar is the simplest way to reduce the glycation process and its damaging effects on the skin.
Don’t replace sugar with artificial sweeteners
You might be thinking – well, I will just use sugar substitutes to satisfy my sweet tooth instead of real sugar! But, fake sugar presents issues of its own. For a long time, we thought that these fake sweeteners were inactive ingredients in terms of their impact on our bodies. We thought that sugar substitutes such as saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), sucralose (Splenda), and aspartame (Equal) did not have a metabolic impact because they do not raise blood glucose levels. But it turns out that they can absolutely have an impact and cause the same metabolic disorders as real sugar.
How? These sugar substitutes cause temporary elevations in insulin levels and change the composition of bacteria in our gut—our microbiome—to favor unhealthy metabolism. Studies show that the gut bacteria of people who regularly consume artificial sweeteners is very different from those of people who do not, which is why eating artificial sweeteners has been linked with increased weight, higher fasting blood glucose, and elevated risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Artificial sugars also have a negative impact on your skin. In fact, these artificial sweeteners have the power to disrupt the gut’s microbial inhabitants so much that they negatively affect metabolism and blood sugar balance. This means that artificially sweetened diet foods and beverages not only increase the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, but also skin disorders like acne and rosacea through the domino effects of increased inflammation. Additionally, high insulin levels are a primary cause of hormonal imbalances and skin disorders, especially acne.
Try these food swaps to satisfy your sweet tooth without damaging your skin
If you are like me and sugary treats call to you after dark, don’t worry, you are not alone! I am living proof that you can still enjoy delicious, sweet treats that will love your body back and keep your skin healthy and radiant! Here are 3 food swaps that will help satisfy your sweet tooth without speeding up the glycation process.
Say NO to sweets and juices
Say YES to no sugar added smoothies.
Smoothies, unlike juices, are rich in natural fruit fiber, something that is removed when you juice. Try my dream smoothie for a delicious, skin friendly treat! I like to add a scoop of collagen protein to restore the collagen in skin that has been lost due to natural aging.
Say NO to creamers and skim milk
Say YES to unsweetened almond, coconut or soy milk.
Skim milk has actually been found to have one of the STRONGEST links to acne flares. We believe this issue arises from a combination of hormones that are found in skim milk as well as milk proteins like casein and whey.
Say NO to whey protein powder
Say YES to pure protein powders such as collagen protein, pea protein or rice protein.
Whey protein, commonly found in protein supplements and nutritional bars, has been shown to contribute to inflammation and acne flares. Make sure your protein powders and bars don’t contain whey.
Want to learn more about the sugar/skin connection? My new book, The Beauty of Dirty Skin: The Surprising Science of Looking and Feeling Radiant From The Inside Out, explains a lot more about the connection between a healthy gut and radiant skin. Plus, you’ll get a 21 day program to maximize skin health and beauty. Buy it here.
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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.