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Carbs and Acne: What’s the Connection?

You may have noticed your doctor’s tendency to ask about your diet while diagnosing your general physical health during routine checkups. Following the same rule as your doctor, paying close attention to your diet can help you diagnose some aspects of your skin’s health as well.


The April 2014 issue of the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology published research showing the direct correlation between carbohydrates and acne. While we’d like to emphasise here that carbs have not been declared as one of the scientifically proven causes of acne, but it is safe to say they do have a tendency to make acne worse in pre-existing cases.


And the main culprit? Foods with a high glycemic index.


In simple terms, glycemic index (GI) is a measure of the rate at which your blood sugar rises after eating carbs.


Studies have shown that foods with a higher glycemic index can cause your blood sugar to rise more rapidly than foods which contain the same amount of carbohydrates but a lower glycemic index. The main takeaway from this should be that the carb content of your food does not directly correlate with the glycemic index of your food.


Recognising which foods are in the high GI category is probably the best way to go about avoiding worse acne or making it worse.


Foods with a high glycemic index include:

  • Potatoes
  • White sugar
  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Short grained rice
  • Processed foods high in white flour
  • Most cereals and instant oatmeal

According to Jennifer Burris from the NYU Steinhardt’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, eating these foods can cause a “domino effect” leading to worse acne and skin problems.


Here’s a step by step analysis of what happens in your body when your blood sugar rises rapidly:


  1. Your body produces high quantities of insulin.
  2. Increased insulin levels lead to the generation of more insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
  3. Increased IGF-1 generation makes your skin cells grow quickly.
  4. Rapid skin cell growth leads to greater sebum production.
  5. Sebum, the oily secretion on your skin, can clog your pores and cause acne.

But... every dark cloud comes with a silver lining!


The acne and other negative side effects resulting from eating food with a high glycemic index can be offset by eating the opposite kinds of foods - those with a low glycemic index such as:

  • Complex carbs like whole grains
  • Honey/agave nectar instead of processed sugar
  • Brown/wholewheat bread
  • Brown rice
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Fish, lean meats and eggs

And while what you eat mostly determines both your overall physical health, as well as that of your skin, coupling a good diet with other good habits like proper sleep, a structured lifestyle and a good skincare routine can certainly help keep those pesky spots at bay.


For more tips on expert skincare, explore the rest of our blog.

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