When it comes to acne, the debate in the scientific community revolves around whether diet plays a causative role. (1) What I can tell you from personal experience is that diet plays a definite role in making skin better or worse — at least for the large majority of us. So today I will be highlighting 8 foods that you may want to pull out of your diet if you struggle with acne. But before we go there, let’s get a brief overview of what acne actually is, and how it forms.
What Is Acne?
Acne is not all that well understood, even by scientists. (2) Since we have no formal cure for it, it makes much more sense to avoid developing acne in the first place. Technically, acne is classified as a disease that affects the skin’s oil glands. Think of your pores (the small holes in your skin) as pipes to the oil glands (underneath your skin). Anything clogging up these pipes, and you’ve got acne. Beyond that, your oil glands produce sebum, which for our purposes, you can think of as simply “oil.” Many people are unaware that all of this is constantly going on, inside our bodies — all of the time! But these complex processes are all affected greatly by simple changes in diet, so be careful about what exactly you put in your mouth.
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What Causes Acne?
As you may have been able to piece together, when too much oil (sebum) is produced, a plug is formed with dead skin cells (gross!) and clogs up your pipes. Technically, what’s really going on, is your follicles are being blocked. (3) Once red bumps or cysts appear, this process has already happened. So when it comes to preventing acne (which is everyone’s goal) the key lies directly in your diet. When the right amounts of insulin (and other chemicals) are produced, your sebum production should remain consistent – leaving you zit-free. So without further ado, here are eight acne-causing foods to immediately stop eating!
Bread is problematic for many reasons. But when it comes to acne-causing foods, the main culprit here is gluten. Gluten can not only lead to small intestinal damage, but it also increases systemic inflammation. (4)
Interestingly, bread may be depleting some of your valuable antioxidant stores, which means you are more likely to develop acne through that mechanism, as well. In addition, many scientific studies have linked psoriasis to gluten sensitivity. (5) Beyond that, there are even some studies which show that gluten sensitivity is linked to dermatitis herpetiformis. This condition is even sometimes called “celiac disease of the skin.” Bread is problematic for a lot of other reasons, as well, so it is best to leave this out of your daily diet. (6) Try baking up any of these gluten-free breads instead!
Continuing our gluten theme here, bagels are another widely reported culprit of acne development. (7) However, what I did not mention in the bread section, was that foods that cause quick insulin rises have been commonly documented to cause acne issues. This expands beyond bagels and includes pasta, refined grains, white flour, and other acne-causing foods high on the glycemic index. This is one of the many reasons why Paleo-friendly carbs (like sweet potatoes) are a much better choice. Check out the 21-Day Paleo Meal Plan if you need help on deciding what exactly to eat!
3. Potato Chips
Potato chips (made with white potatoes) are one of the most popular junk foods in the United States. (8) However, not only are chips fried in nasty oils and lacking in almost all vitamins and minerals, they’re also one of the major acne-causing foods that ruin our skin. The reasoning here is largely the same as our first two points: chips contain far too many carbs, produce a quick insulin spike, and lead to systemic inflammation. On top of that, the industrial seed oils used in making potato chips are very high in omega-6 fats, which is very bad news for your body. (9) Try eating some wild-caught fish (which is high in beneficial omega-3s) instead. This pan-seared tuna steak is delicious, loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, and is just one example of the many better dietary choices out there.
4. Milk Chocolate
There’s no older known group of acne-causing foods than chocolate, and recent scientific studies have confirmed this link. (10) But why is chocolate so bad for your skin? Well, you know that quite enjoyable cascade of chemicals and neurotransmitter action that occurs in your brain seconds after a decadent bite? Turns out that it is also causing a flood of acne-causing chemicals to disperse, as well. (11) Mainly though, the problem with chocolate is the sugar. Chocolate may be great right after a breakup, but that quick sugar rush can wreak havoc on your skin. Steer clear, and opt for the very dark kind, if you must indulge. Darker chocolate will have more antioxidants and be much lower in sugar than milk chocolate. Win-win.
Milk is a staple in the standard American diet (SAD). But should it be? Dairy undoubtedly has a lot of problems. But when it comes to acne, there are two main issues which crop up. The first is that dairy is highly insulinogenic. This means that the body produces quite a bit of insulin when you consume milk. As we’ve already covered, this is bad news for your skin. But the second issue, somewhat unique to milk, is that it is a hormone-dense delivery system. (12) Hormonal issues have been linked with acne problems for many years. (13) If acne is an issue for you, definitely steer clear of dairy.
6. Ice Cream
Ice cream may be one of the worst culprits when it comes to acne-causing foods. In fact, multiple scientific studies have linked ice cream to bad acne breakouts. (14) Why is this? Well, you are not only getting the issues found in milk, but you are also adding in sugar! No wonder ice cream is a direct ticket to breakouts. If you absolutely have to indulge in some kind of frozen dessert, try to go for some frozen berries, or this healthy Paleo Vanilla Mango Ice Cream. Both of these are much better options if you want to maintain clear skin.
Soda is hands down the worst acne-causing food or drink in the standard American diet. Besides being loaded with fructose (which has its own unique set of problems), soda is entirely devoid of any nutrients. As pointed out by many different scientific researchers, soda is almost on par with alcohol when it comes to how damaging it is to your body. (15) But how does it cause acne? Well, quite simply, fructose is sugar — and soda is loaded with both. This sugar causes a huge insulin spike, and then a subsequent crash, which is part of why you’re actually hungrier after consuming a soda. (16) Ditch the dark brown poison, and replace it with water instead. Your skin will thank you.
I can already feel the hate mail rolling in, but it simply offers almost no benefits to us. It is high in carbs, topped with dairy, and devoid of nutrients. And we can’t seem to stop eating it. Pizza is — unsurprisingly — also one of the worst acne-causing foods for your skin. The cheese is problematic enough, but when you add in the gut-wrecking gluten, you are just waiting for a breakout to happen. Try any of thesegluten-free pizza recipesinstead of delivery.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, sticking to a whole-food, low-sugar diet, is the best approach for limiting acne-causing foods. Eat lots of cruciferous vegetables (which are also beneficial for many other reasons), grass-fed protein, and healthy fats. (17)
Since your skin is the body’s largest organ, treat it right, with a nutrient-dense diet. Of course, you must also not discount the importance of a proper lifestyle, as well. Get plenty of sleep (8-9 hours per night), drink at least 64 ounces of water per day, and exercise regularly. Do not use any harsh chemicals on your skin, and try to limit touching areas prone to acne. Having blemishes is a surefire way to ruin your day, so make sure you avoid the foods listed above to boost your confidence and look flawless!