These Foods Are Bad – And Even Ugly – For Your Skin

Dr. Janet Zand

June 14, 2019

We talk quite a bit about healthy habits for the skin. A healthy diet is one of those foundational habits. You know that eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables is great for your skin.

But did you know that if you pair those with the wrong foods, you could undo all your hard work? There are definitely foods that are good for the skin. But others are bad. And some are downright ugly.

Of course, refined carbohydrates (processed sugar and flour) top the list. These carbs won’t nourish your body or your skin. But they will nourish the unhealthy bacteria in your gut. And when bacteria get out of balance, your whole body begins to suffer. That includes your skin – your largest organ.

Keep in mind that acne is a bacterial condition. To avoid breakouts, you need to stay away from unfriendly bacteria from the outside and the inside.

Too much sugar will often increase your oil production. When you consume a lot of sugar, your body has to quickly produce insulin to get that sugar out of your bloodstream and into your cells. Research shows that spikes of insulin can tell your skin to produce more sebum, or oil. This can clog your pores and, when mixed with the wrong bacteria, lead to acne.

I’ve mentioned before that sugar creates a byproduct called advanced glycation end products, appropriately abbreviated AGEs. This happens when digested sugar molecules attach themselves to proteins like collagen. As you can imagine, this isn’t good for your collagen. In fact, once this sugar-protein bond forms, there’s nothing the body can do about it. You’ll just have to wait until you can build more protein.

What’s Worse Than Sugar?

In general, refined sugar is bad for your skin. But there’s a type of sweetener that goes beyond bad into the ugly camp. Believe it or not, it’s the no-calorie sweeteners.

You might think these allow you to get the taste of sugar without the weight gain. But the truth is pretty ugly. Sure, these little packets might taste sweet. But when your body doesn’t actually get the sugar it was expecting, you’ll start craving the real thing – and you’ll likely give in to those cravings.

Plus, research shows that even artificial sweeteners can raise your blood sugar. And once you succumb to the cravings they induce, you’ll experience a double-whammy. If you really need a sweetener, stick with an unrefined form such as honey, maple syrup, or applesauce.

This Food Triggers Inflammation in Your Skin

Next up is dairy. Many people find that dairy triggers inflammation. This inflammation can cause skin flare-ups in the form of pimples, eczema, and even rashes. And if you’re consuming conventional dairy products, you’re likely getting a dose of growth hormones and antibiotics. Getting your hormones out of balance, especially estrogen, may contribute to cystic acne.

Of course, you can minimize this risk by choosing organic products. But even organic products won’t help if you have lactose intolerance or a dairy sensitivity. Lactose intolerance affects an estimated 25% of the U.S. – and up to 75% of the population in other areas of the world.

Regularly consuming something your digestive system doesn’t tolerate well can affect your entire body. This is a major source of inflammation, which can show up on the skin. Try cutting back on dairy and see how you feel. You might be one of the one-in-four Americans with this intolerance.

Next up is another potential source of inflammation: wheat. Yes, the gluten-free bandwagon has gotten loud. But many people do indeed struggle with sensitivities to the wheat commonly used today. Most of the wheat you’ll find in products lining the grocery store shelves is “dwarf wheat.” And it’s genetically engineered with more gluten and phytic acid than our grandparents were used to. It’s no surprise that the introduction of dwarf wheat has gone hand-in-hand with the increase in wheat and gluten sensitivities.

Anything that you absolutely can’t digest is going to fall in the “ugly” camp. If you have a true gluten allergy – celiac disease – your skin may be the least of your worries if you accidentally ingest gluten. But even a sensitivity can trigger inflammation, as with dairy. And once again, that can show up on your skin.

If you do have a gluten sensitivity, you’ll need to stay away from not just wheat but a variety of other foods that contain this protein. Gluten often shows up in condiments, processed meats, and other surprising foods.

If you’re sensitive to gluten, consuming it can cause your body to overproduce a protein called zonulin. Zonulin plays a key role in the digestive tract. Its job is to keep an eye on the junctions between the cells that line the walls. If these junctions get too large, undigested food and toxins can slip out into the bloodstream, triggering – you guessed it – inflammation.

But if you have too much zonulin, it gets confused. The protein will actually start to break apart these junctions. And once again, you’ll end up with worsening acne, eczema, or other skin woes.

If you do have a gluten sensitivity, you’ll need to be careful with this next category of potential bad guys too: alcohol. Most types of beer contain gluten, so you’ll want to stick with wine or spirits—if you choose to drink at all.

A Drink That Causes Dark Circles Under Your Eyes

Yes, we’ve all heard the argument that red wine contains antioxidants. And if you’re going to drink, that’s probably your best bet. But all forms of alcohol contain sugar, which we already discussed, and alcohol is also dehydrating. If you’re struggling with dark circles around your eyes or you can’t seem to get your skin to retain moisture, try cutting down your alcohol intake.

Speaking of dehydration, excess sodium can be a major contributor. And processed or cured meats, like bacon or brined turkey, are chock-full of sodium. This can lead to puffy skin. You do want your skin to retain moisture. But sodium-driven water retention isn’t the way to do it!

Processed meats may also contain sodium nitrates. These preservatives can compromise collagen. And the loss of collagen can contribute to premature aging.

Other sneaky sources of inflammation include spicy foods and caffeine. Not everyone struggles with this. But these are potential triggers to keep an eye out for. If you’re struggling with acne or eczema flare-ups, try cutting back on spicy foods or coffee. Caffeine in particular can raise your cortisol levels. And disrupted hormones can cause your immune system to respond with inflammation.

Many of these so-called “bad” foods are only bad news for some people. You may need to experiment with removing one category at a time from your diet and see if you notice a decrease in inflammation. Even seemingly healthy foods, like certain nuts, can be bad for certain populations.

Of course, if you have a nut allergy, nuts might fall into the “ugly” category. You should definitely stay away from anything that triggers an allergic reaction or is difficult for you to digest. But other nuts might be bad if they cause you to consume too many omega-6 fatty acids.

You probably know that you need omega fatty acids. These fats are called essential for a reason. But you need to get the right balance of omega-3 and omega-6. If you get too many omega-6 acids, you could trigger – you guessed it again – inflammation. Unfortunately, omega-6s are a lot easier to find than omega-3s.

Processed foods are typically the biggest source of omega-6s. Cut those out first. Eat raw nuts in reasonable amounts.  Excess nuts can add excess omega-6 to your diet, so don’t overdo them.

The Fast Way to Poor Skin Health

Speaking of processed foods, there’s one final category of food we need to talk about. Some of the foods we’ve discussed above are bad for some people but not others. But this final category is just plain ugly. That’s because no matter what your particular digestion is like, you’re likely to find something bad for you here.

This ugly category is fast food. Processed meats topped with cheese on a gluten-filled bun? Check. An artificially sweetened, caffeinated drink with a sugary white-flour nut-topped pastry? Check. Some fast-food joints are even selling alcohol these days. And don’t even get me started on the sodium content of fast food. Talk about ugly! Even the condiments are loaded with sugar. And anything fried is going to raise your omega-6 levels faster than the fries themselves disappear.

If you want healthy skin, stay away from fast food. It just isn’t worth trying to find a hidden gem in all that ugliness. You’re much better off eating at home. Stay tuned for more information on good foods for your skin. Your meals may not be as fast, but you’ll put yourself on the fast track to radiant skin.

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