During my journey to clear skin I discovered one of the main culprits for my constant breakouts was sugar! Managing my blood sugar levels, and ultimately quitting sugar has been my toughest challenge yet and I didn't realise just how addicted I was until I began the quitting process.
How does blood sugar affect my acne?
Whether you suffer from acne or just want beautiful skin, you need to keep your blood sugars as stable as possible to prevent spikes. When you eat something sugary, or you skip a meal, your blood sugar will spike. When sugars get digested, they can cause the pancreas to produce more insulin and the insulin like growth factor (IGF-1) to help maintain the balance of blood glucose. Too much insulin and IGF-1 will, in turn, trigger a release of androgen hormones. An excess of androgens means that our skin will produce too much sebum, which will then lead to clogged pores, blackheads and whiteheads which can then lead to further acne inflammation.
Let's face it, we all consume way to much sugar on a daily basis. Over time, all this sugar can lead us to become less sensitive to insulin (also known as insulin resistance), meaning that our pancreas has to pump out more and more insulin and IGF-1 to compensate. Studies have actually shown higher rates of insulin resistance in acne sufferers compared to people with healthy skin.
To cut a long story short: sugar = bad news for acne sufferers!
Is there such thing as a good sugar?
Added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. It's now believed to be one of the leading causes of chronic illness and disease. It's also really really REALLY bad for your skin!
Refined sugar is, by far, the worst out of a bad bunch, it's pretty much used solely as a flavour enhancer and is worryingly found in most packaged foods, condiments and drinks. Honestly, you'll be horrified at the amount of refined sugar that sneaks into your everyday foods items! The refining process of sugar strips it of all its nutritional value, making it "empty calories" and very high on the Glycemic Index.
What about natural sugars?
Simple sugars include natural sweeteners like honey, molasses and maple sugar. These simple sugars are unprocessed and natural, which means they contain more nutritional benefits such as antioxidants, flavanoids and minerals as well as having anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. However, they can still be high on the GI scale which is not good if you want to minimise acne/blood sugar issues.
Then there are the complex sugars like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These complex sugars contain an abundance of fibre, minerals and vitamins so it takes your body longer to break down which means there's less chance of a sugar spike.
Ok, I keep mentioning GI, but what really is it? The Wikipedia definition of Glycemic Index is a measure of the effects of carbohydrates (sugar) on blood sugar levels. Carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream have a high GI; carbohydrates that break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, have a low GI. I came across this really useful page which lists all the sugars and their GI (link).
Looking at that list we can cross off anything that says "artificial", "modified" or "alcohol" - we don't want to be going anywhere near those sweeteners! Opt for the natural sugars with the lowest GI and even then, use as little as possible! I recommend stevia and yacon syrup as these are both completely natural and rank between 0-1 on the GI scale - you can't get much lower than that!
Ok, I want to quit sugar! What else can I do?
As well as cutting right back on your sugar intake (I'm afraid you're going to have to start reading the labels of absolutely everything and binning anything that lists sugar as an ingredient!) it's vital that you eat regularly throughout the day. The key is little and often - this will keep your blood sugar levels steady and prevent any spikes - I always keep some seeds/nuts on me to snack on if I find myself getting peckish.
Sugar-free doesn't have to mean chocolate-free! Start your sugar-free journey by making some of my raw chocolate sweetened with stevia. Get the recipe here.
Do you find a low/no-sugar diet gives you glowing skin? Comment below!
Amy Saunders is an expert in natural beauty and founded her holistic skincare blog 'Get That Glow' after suffering from acne for over 13 years. Amy delves deeper into the root causes of acne, proving you don't need harsh chemicals to achieve a flawless complexion.