Everyone knows that the sun is enemy No. 1 where skin is concerned. Wrinkles, discoloration, and cancer are hefty prices to pay for a lifetime spent ignoring the existence of SPF. The deleterious effects of sugar on the skin, however, are less well known.
But the research is there: If you want to improve the quality of your skin — and look younger longer — lay off the cupcakes.
Blame a natural process called glycation. Our bodies are designed to metabolize roughly the amount of sugar in two or three small pieces of fruit per day. After that, there is a glucose overload. That overload can cause a reaction called glycation. And that’s where things go awry.
Glycation is when sugar molecules bind to fats and proteins, forming what scientists call “advances glycosylation end products,” or AGEs (an appropriate but coincidental acronym). Since collagen and elastin — the things that keep skin looking youthful — are proteins, they suffer. Under the influence of glycation, skin loses elasticity. It wrinkles and sags. We look tired and older.
Know the Limit
To be fair, it’s not just cupcakes that can do skin in. It may not surprise you that a Sprinkles red velvet cupcake with frosting has 45 grams of sugar. But you might be shocked to learn that an Odwalla superfood juice drink has 50 grams of sugar. Pretty much all processed foods, not just sweet ones, have added sugar. That’s just about every sauce and dressing and cracker and can of soup you can buy. And then there’s the matter of high-glycemic carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, white rice, and potatoes, which quickly turn to sugar in the body.
In March 2015, the World Health Organization released guidelines for sugar consumption, causing an internet buzz. A mere 25 grams per day is where WHO set the limit for an adult of normal weight. That’s just 6 teaspoons — or about the equivalent of the amount in one Yoplait yogurt. All over the world, people asked, Can anyone but the most stalwart of nutrition fanatics live in a state of such deprivation?
What to Eat
Yes, fruit has sugar. But you don’t have to remove it from your diet. Eat it in moderation. Eat it whole (the fiber and other nutrients in a piece of whole fruit allow the body to process it more slowly). Berries are an especially good choice, since they are lower in sugar than some other fruits and contain lots of antioxidants.
Vegetables are important, obviously. Think greens (spinach and kale), reds (beets, red peppers, and tomatoes), and oranges (sweet potatoes and carrots). Foods rich in omega-3s are also important for beautiful skin. Fish (mackerel, salmon, tuna) and lean, grass-fed meat fall into this category. So do eggs from free-range chickens, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts and avocados. And few years ago, bone broth emerged as a food for great skin due to its high collagen and gelatin content.
Staying hydrated is also key to a youthful complexion. The adage about drinking eight glasses a day is still good advice.
And what about the occasional cupcake? We say eat that, too. After all, life is too short not to.