The reason why our diets are showing up on our faces.

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We all know by now that cutting sugar out of our diets is important, and that sugars have a seriously negative impact on our bodies. Most health campaigns link sugar to obesity, or cardiovascular health—but what about our skin? No matter how diligent we are with our skin-care regimens, if our daily sugar intake is too high, it can speed up our natural aging process. Dr. Julia Segal, ND, a naturopathic doctor from Physio Med in Toronto, explains “Skin care products may have less of a noticeable effect on the skin when there is a high sugar burden, simply because their positive effect competes with the opposing and damaging products of high or erratic blood sugar.”

So how exactly do sugars damage our skin?

Through a tricky process called gylcation. Glycation is when a sugar binds to a protein in the bloodstream creating a by-product created called an Advanced Glycation Endproduct, or an AGE (ironic, right?). Dr. Segal notes: “Advanced Glycation Endproducts damage proteins and collagen in the skin, reducing tissue integrity, which eventually may mean more sagging and wrinkles.” Most anti-aging skin-care products contain retinol, which speeds up the production of collagen, but if your diet is too high in sugar the collagen cannot operate properly, regardless of how much is present.

Sugar Sources in the Diet

Refined sugars in our diets come from processed foods. “Because refined sugar in the diet is pro-inflammatory, there are some facial signs of consuming too much of it. There may be puffiness around the eyes or sinuses as the mucous membranes become engorged and foster more harmful bacteria and fungi. Lustreless or discoloured skin can also, over time, result from the long-term sugar-coating of the skin’s proteins,” explains Dr. Segal. Refined sugar is easy to spot, since processed foods have packaging labels that list the contents. What we should be cognizant of is the fruits and grains that we eat. Fruits and grains have nutritional value (vitamins, proteins, fibres), however many of our favourites top the charts on the glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) measures how quickly carbohydrates turn to glucose (sugar) when we eat them. Examples of high GI foods include strawberries, melons, bananas, and any white-flour breads and pastas. Foods with low GI include cranberries, blueberries, apples, and whole grain bread and pasta products. To satisfy the requirements of Canada’s Food Guide, women between the ages of 19 to 50 need to consume seven to eight servings of fruits and vegetables, and six to seven servings of grain products daily; so keep eating your fruits, veggies and grains, just choose lower GI options!

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Repairing AGE Damage

Anti-oxidants, super heroes that battle AGEs in our skin, are found in low GI fruits and vegetables. AGEs actively attack our natural anti-oxidant enzymes, so it is important that we consume anti-oxidant rich foods like berries, green tea and avocado. Dr. Segal notes: “The same types of foods that are good for you to eat and prevent disease internally, will assist the skin when applied externally. Try Graydon’s Green Cream ($29, The Big Carrot and clinicalluxurybynature.com), full of broccoli seed oil, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”

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Keep Your Skin Happy

Protecting our skin is top of mind during the summer when we layer on the sunscreen and hydrating lotions. We take extreme measures to protect our skin externally, but often forget that we can protect internally, too. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet will not only make you feel amazing, but keep your skin looking supple. “The skin only tells a story about the events happening inside the body’s matrix. Our bodies are always healing and regenerating their cells—so the sooner we remove the obstacles to this process, the better chance there is of regaining radiant, strong skin,” concludes Dr. Segal. Keep reaching for those dark-coloured fruits and vegetables (a sign of high anti-oxidant content) to complement your anti-aging routine from the inside out.