The Best Diet to Fight Acne – How your Diet Causes Acne & What to Eat for Clear Skin! – 80 Twenty Nutrition

The Best Diet to Fight Acne – How your Diet Causes Acne & What to Eat for Clear Skin!

What you eat could be causing breakouts. If you’re struggling with acne and aren’t sure what to do about it beyond trying every face scrub and cream on the shelf, it’s time to take a look at what you’re eating. Some foods can lead to a breakout, while others work wonders for clear skin. Wondering how to get clear skin with diet? Here’s the best diet to fight acne:

Best Diet to Fight Acne - by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Toronto and California

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How does acne form?

Acne occurs when glands in your skin (called sebaceous glands) are overactive. These glands normally produce an oily substance called sebum to keep your skin from drying out. That’s totally healthy, but when they produce too much oil, the oil can block your pores and trap more oil and bacteria inside the pore. That blockage and buildup becomes a whitehead or blackhead, or can become a sore, red pimple when the bacteria trapped inside starts to infect your pore or gets inflamed.

Changes in hormones (like those that come with puberty, pregnancy, stress, and menstruation), genetics, and skincare products all play a role in how active your sebaceous glands are, and therefore how likely you are to develop acne. Fortunately, there’s a growing body of research looking at how your diet affects acne. What you eat could be the difference between clear skin and blemishes.

What does research say about diet and acne?

There’s no conclusive body of research that points us to certain foods to eat or exclude to get rid of acne. The research we do have gives us a better idea about which dietary habits are related to acne. So if you want clearer skin, it’s all about the big picture of your overall diet rather than individual acne-fighting foods.

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Glycemic index, glycemic load and acne

One study found that diets with a lower glycemic load resulted in significant improvements in acne, and a similar study found that teens who followed a diet with a low glycemic load had about 20% fewer acne lesions than those who followed a control diet after 12 weeks. In the latter study, refined carbohydrates, which have a high glycemic load, were replaced with lean proteins and high-fiber whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.  

Glycemic load is a measure of how much and how quickly a food raises your blood sugar after you eat it. Refined carbohydrates like sugar and white flour spike your blood sugar quickly, but don’t provide much lasting energy, since your insulin hormone levels also increase quickly to help your body absorb the energy. That high blood sugar spike is what makes refined carbohydrates high on the glycemic index, while carbohydrates that are high in fiber have a lower glycemic load. Fiber essentially slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, so a slice of whole grain bread that has plenty of fiber will be digested more slowly than white bread, where most of the fiber has been removed. That slow digestion means that carbohydrates are absorbed slower, so your blood sugar and insulin levels don’t rise quickly and then crash.

Best Diet to Fight Acne - by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Toronto and California

image: Unsplash

Eating foods with low glycemic load keeps your blood sugar levels more steady, and in turn keeps your insulin hormone levels steady. Since hormone fluctuations can affect acne, keeping insulin levels steady is good news for clearing breakouts!

Does dairy cause acne?

Several studies have also looked at the correlation between dairy consumption and acne, but with far less reliable results. One study asked women to recall how much dairy they ate in high school (at least 10 years after they graduated high school) and how much acne they had during high school. While the study found a correlation between high dairy consumption and presence of acne, it’s important to keep in mind that counting on memory isn’t the most reliable way to collect data.

Another study of teenage boys also found an increase in acne associated with increased dairy intake, though it also used surveys asking about self-perceived acne and dairy consumption. Relying on subjective information (people’s opinions) rather than objective data (having dermatologists classify the acne in a way that can be consistently measured and validated) isn’t the most reliable approach. That means the results could be very skewed based on how severe participants perceive their own acne to be and how accurate they are at guessing how often they consume dairy. All in all, we don’t have conclusive evidence that there’s a strong association between consuming dairy and having acne.

Anecdotally, I have found with some of my clients that skin issues are linked to a food sensitivity. This could be a sensitivity to dairy, gluten, soy or other foods. My best suggestion is to try removing these foods from your diet one at a time for at least 2 weeks and see if your acne gets any better. It’s a great idea to meet with a registered dietitian who specializes in food sensitivities (I do!) who can help you figure out what you’re sensitive to. A dietitian will also make sure you’re getting all of the nutrients you need while limiting the foods you’re eating. This is so important and so underappreciated when trying an elimination diet!

Greasy, fatty foods and acne

Many people assume that eating oily foods leads to oily skin, which in turn leads to acne. You may be surprised to learn that there are no studies examining the direct effects of fatty, oily foods on acne!

Best Diet to Fight Acne - by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Toronto and California

image: Unsplash

Some researchers have raised the point that the type of fat may play more of a role in reducing acne than just cutting down on fats and oils in general. Since omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory, they might help reduce inflammatory acne (the red, painful stuff that happens when pores become inflamed), while pro-inflammatory fats (like omega-6) might make that inflammatory acne worse. The standard Western diet tends to be pretty high in inflammatory omega-6’s (found in lots of vegetable oils that are used in processed and fried foods) and high-glycemic foods (like refined flours and sugars). Although there’s no concrete evidence to show us that a diet high in omega-6’s and refined carbs is directly causing acne, it likely doesn’t do much to help, and can certainly take a toll on other aspects of your health. Read more about an anti-inflammatory diet and how it can help improve your health here!

Digestion and acne

Constipated? If you’re not having a bowel movement at least every other day, chances are you have acne. When your digestive tract is out of balance and not functioning or emptying properly, you can end up with a buildup of toxins in your bloodstream. Those toxins include harmful bacteria,  the hormone androgen, which signals for your sebaceous glands to produce more sebum. The increase in sebum along with other toxins like bacteria leads to acne.

Breaking out is a signal that there could be hormone imbalance and toxin buildup in your body, which points back to a digestive system that’s not working properly. Relieving constipation helps empty your digestive tract of potential toxins, and the first step to relieving constipation is getting more fiber in your diet! Fiber helps your stool move more quickly through your digestive system and is found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds (all low-glycemic foods that do double duty to reduce acne!). Check out some of my favorite high-fiber recipes:

Best Diet to Fight Acne - by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Toronto and California

What’s the best diet to fight acne?

Although there’s no cure-all diet to get rid of acne once and for all, we can take a hint from the research and make healthy choices that might help improve acne, and certainly won’t hurt.

Eating or excluding a single food isn’t likely to make a huge difference in your acne, but changing your eating habits to be healthier overall might help while also encouraging overall health.

Include low-glycemic foods, anti-inflammatory foods like omega-3’s, fruits, and vegetables for clearer skin and a healthy digestive system. 

Acne Fighting Diet - The Best Diet to Fight Acne: What to Eat & What to Avoid by Christy Brissette, media registered dietitian nutritionist and president of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Toronto and California

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The best diet to help manage acne falls right in line with a healthy eating plan I’d recommend to just about anyone else: Focus on whole grains over refined grains, minimize added sugar, include plenty of omega-3’s, opt for lean protein sources, and load up on fruits and vegetables.

Just like I’d recommend for anyone working through dietary changes – listen to your body! If you find that dairy (or any other food) increases your acne symptoms, work with a dietitian to help phase those foods out while maintaining a balanced diet.

 

What helps (or has helped) you control acne? Have you found any dietary triggers?

 

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