11/02/2013 11:25 GMT | Updated 12/04/2013 06:12 BST

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Am I Sweet Enough?

"A woman has the age she deserves" - These words come from none other than Coco Chanel. She knew the value of living well inside your skin. Living with a sweet tooth can be worse for you than you think. We all know sweet treats add inches to the waistline, but did you know that chocolate could also give you wrinkles?

Yes, the sworn enemy of dieters has another drawback possibly more irreparable than cavities and one that is more irreversible than a couple of stones of unwanted fat. New research published in The Journal of the American College of Nutrition has shown that it can also cause skin to prematurely age. This is caused by sugar attaching itself to proteins in the body causing them to become brittle. Skin is made from structural proteins such as elastin and collagen fibres. Protein keeps these supple so the implications for ageing are obvious. In a nutshell, sugar hastens the degradation of elastin and collagen, both key skin proteins. In other words, it actively ages you.

The way this happens is when you have too much sugar in the body it produces a waste product called advanced glycosylation end products-AGE for short, rather ironically. Increased levels of this molecule cause the fibres in the skin to stiffen and lose elasticity. Imagine that your collagen is your skin's mattress and the elastin fibers are the coils holding it together. The sugar attacks these fibers, making them less elastic and more brittle so they break. The result is that your once-youthful skin starts to sag and look old. If you have normal, healthy collagen and elastin, your skin will snap back to its original position after you smile. But if your collagen and elastin has been made brittle by this process called glycation, skin becomes prone to breaking, it can't snap back the way it once did. That's when fine lines and wrinkles appear - and they don't go away.

Your digestive system and your skin are inextricably linked and carbohydrates are essential for healthy digestion, but stick to the unrefined wholemeal variety. Refined white carbohydrates are turned to sugar by the body so it has the same effect on your skin as processed sugar. Wholemeal carbohydrates are more slowly digested so help to keep your blood sugar level for a slow release of energy and less cravings for sugar. The other reason to reduce sugar-induced ageing is to avoid diabetes. The body's ability to produce insulin is compromised by frequent consumption of processed carbohydrates and sugars. This can lead to diabetes. Diabetes is defined as a disease that speeds up the ageing process, because it oxidises body cells and causes complications like cardiovascular disease, which is associated with old age. It's not just the sugar we eat, but the way we eat it that harms our skin. Cooking and caramelising our food at the high temperatures that occur during barbecuing or cooking on a griddle is a real no-no. Cooking food that's made up of sugar, protein and/or fat to a high heat creates the AGE bad by-products. Conventional wisdom used to hold that when you ate something containing AGEs, they would simply pass through the digestive tract. But that turned out to be wishful thinking. The cake baking in the oven may have a gorgeous golden crust, but inside each delicious crumb is a time bomb of ageing in the form of AGEs. The bottom line is that a diet high in sugar, especially foods with the sugar-protein-heat combination, can cause premature ageing, or worse.

The good news is that it's within your power simply reducing your sugar intake, to turn back the clock by ten years and improve the texture, tone and radiance of your skin. Firstly, you can begin regularly consuming antioxidants such as green tea, blueberries and red cherries which help to neutralise AGEs. The main step however is to stop adding sugar to any drinks and cut down to a minimum sugary product.

Without sugar in the diet skin will very quickly look younger. I have witnessed many remarkable changes in many of my clients' skins when they eliminated simple sugars from their diets. Not only did they lose weight but sometimes in as little as ten days they saw an increased glow, radiance and elasticity in their skin and face. And within a year, their body had changed completely as well-believe me, it's cheaper than a face-lift - with much longer lasting results!

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