For many years researchers and skin specialists believed that there was no connection between diet and skin health. Acne was caused by hormones or by poor cleanliness and a whole host of other outside elements. However, in recent years more and more evidence is coming to light regarding diet and skin health. A recent study by RMIT University in Australia and the Department of Dermatology at the Royal Children’s and Royal Melbourne hospitals has turned up some compelling evidence to indicate that diet plays an enormous role in the health of our skin.
Part of the study pointed to the unarguable fact that whilst acne is very prevalent in Western societies it is practically non-existent in more traditional communities; hunter gatherers are rarely reported to suffer from acne and Eskimo communities who eat seasonal and caught foods only began to suffer from acne in the 1950s…when American companies began working in their land and employed many locals. This led to those employees and their families suddenly chancing their dietary habits and within 15 years acne had reared its ugly head.
Those dietary changes were of course the inclusion of processed foods and much more sugar than these people had ever before been exposed to.
What is acne and what causes it?
Before the acne diet is discussed, it is important to fully grasp what acne actually is…it’s not just a breakout of spots or pimples which is something which many teenagers and even people in their 30s are prone to now and then. Acne is a chronic skin condition where the spots, pustules and cysts are more extreme and they don’t only affect the face but can appear on the back and shoulders as well as the neck.
Acne can be painful as well as unsightly and at a time when a young person wants to feel their best, it is a particularly cruel condition…sapping confidence and making young people very unhappy.
When hair follicles and pores become blocked with old skin cells and naturally occurring oils, the sebaceous glands beneath the skin’s surface keep on creating oil regardless…this creates in turn a “back up” of oil….that’s the lump or bump which can look so red, sore and unsightly.
There are various types of acne and they’re generally classified as mild, moderate and severe. Mild acne consists of blackheads and whiteheads which don’t become especially raised or sore in appearance but can still be unsightly. They won’t usually appear anywhere else but the face. Moderate acne can include papules which are raised and inflamed lumps and pustules, which are raised, inflamed and include an infected looking “head” of white or yellow. Severe acne is the most debilitating of the types and it includes cysts and nodules which are very large, inflamed, sore and uneven in appearance; this type of acne can strike the face and the body at the same time.
How can the Acne Free Diet help?
For many years, the link between diet and acne has been ignored and this has been based on two poorly controlled studies both of which were published over 30 years ago! Now the team from RMIT University, led by Doctor Neil Mann have not only challenged this but have created a carefully constructed diet which can change the course of acne over as little as 12 weeks.
On the face of it, the diet is very simple…and that is also the core of the idea behind the Acne Free Diet. By following a diet unlike most other modern Western societies, people are finding that their acne is clearing up and becoming a minor issue or even a thing of the past. The diet is based on the diets of those hunter-gatherer societies who never suffered from acne.
It is a diet free from processed and sugary foods…an extremely healthy diet and one which is simple to manage and easy to stick to; it involves eating more lean protein and low Glaecaemic index foods such as Basmati rice and beans.
The study involved two focus groups, all of which were young men between the ages of 15 and 25. One group stuck to a normal Western diet which included processed foods high in sugar and fat and the other group ate a diet which imitated that of the hunter gatherer…so plenty of fish, lean meat, eggs, pulses and greens.
At the end of the test period, the young men who had followed the healthier diet showed more than 50% improvement in their acne symptoms whilst the other group showed no such improvement. The men on the healthy diet also showed a reduction in insulin resistance as well as a reduction in the presence of hormones which are linked to acne.
The improvements in skin was said to be significant and noticeable and the decrease of insulin resistance was a wonderful side-effect which could help people prone to diabetes in the future. Well-being and confidence was also said to be at an all-time high amongst the young men who ate the hunter gatherer style diet.
The Demonization of Carbs
In recent years, carbohydrates have suffered a severe knocking from various “experts” who claim they are responsible for everything from weight gain to skin issues when in fact they are a vital part of a healthy diet. Carbs play a vital role in the supply of energy to healthy, active people and they are also the only food which affects blood glucose levels. This is linked to the Glaecaemic Index mentioned earlier…or GI for short. GI measures the rise and fall effect which certain foods have on blood glucose.
Foods with a high GI measurement include sugary breakfast cereals and biscuits as well as white bread and potatoes. These foods are digested fast, absorbed fast and they cause blood glucose levels to shoot upwards rapidly…providing a short lived “kick” of energy. This cheaply gained energy causes the pancreas to produce high insulin levels…and it’s those insulin levels which stimulate the hormones associated with acne.
Low GI carbs such as Basmati rice, beans, porridge and wholegrain bread do the opposite. They provide energy over a sustained period of time…and don’t cause insulin levels to spike.
What the Anti Acne Diet Involves
The foods which you can safely eat on the Anti Acne Diet include the following.
- High fibre breakfast cereals such as rolled oats and natural muesli
- Grain bread, fruit loaf and sourdough
- Basmati rice, Doongara rice, wholegrain pasta, noodles
- Crispbreads with grains
- Fresh fruits and vegetables especially bananas, apples, carrots, sweet potato and sweet corn
- Plain popcorn and unsalted nuts
- Water, fruit juice and low fat milk
Pretty much any fruit and vegetable or salad is a great choice so when participants experienced the desire to snack on sugary foods, the advice is to grab a handful of berries instead.
What about meals?
When planning your meals, remember that a portion of lean meat is advised with lunch and dinner. You can vary the types of meat which you choose and keep portions to realistic size.
It is advised for those following the diet to eat at least 3 portions of red meat per week. Lamb, beef, veal or fish are all good choices for dinner. For lunch, a portion of lean chicken, turkey or fish is a good idea as they’re packed with nutrients and low in fat. Dairy should be eaten 3 times per day and do remember to include eggs.
Add leafy green vegetables and salads to your plate as well as legumes, rice or beans where possible.
Remember to go low GI
Breakfast is the perfect time to get strict and remember to choose a good kick start to your day; porridge or muesli is ideal as they are low GI and will see you through until your next snack or meal.
Fruit should be included as a snack and aim for around 3 pieces per day. During the evening which is a danger point for many people…a time when unhealthy snacks seem more tempting, have popcorn (unsweetened) to hand as well as dried fruit or nuts. These are all proved snacks for the Anti Acne Diet and with results expected within 12 short weeks, it’s worth making the extra effort.
Sometimes it’s hard to stick to special diets because food is habit forming…meaning that it feels “easier” to open a packet and throw something into the microwave than to plan a healthy meal…but this needn’t be the reality if you are willing to plan a little and to ensure that you always have plenty of choices at hand.
- Two boiled eggs with two slices of wholegrain toast
- Baked beans with two slices of wholegrain toast
- Fruit smoothie made from one piece of fruit, spoon of honey and small tub of natural yogurt or half tub natural yogurt and half glass of milk
- Two slices wholegrain toast, sautéed mushrooms and tomato slices
- Ham salad sandwich made with wholegrain bread, 100g ham, mixed salad and a little mustard
- Chicken and pasta salad made with 100g skinless chicken, cup of wholegrain pasta, mixed salad and a sprinkle of seeds
- Lamb salad made with 100g diced lamb, mixed salad and oil-free dressing.
- Roast lamb with mixed roast vegetables
- Chicken stir fry with Basmati rice made with 100g of lean, diced chicken
- Salmon and rice made with grilled salmon and fragrant Basmati rice infused with lemongrass, served with fresh green salad
- Steak sandwich made with lean steak and served on wholegrain wrap with mixed peppers and salad
Keeping Things Interesting
Remember to use herbs and spices…keep pots of fresh herbs to hand in order to spice up your meals. Keep an imagination when it comes to desserts…you are allowed two small scoops of ice cream a week in addition to a cup or large pot of natural yogurt. These are great when mixed with soft berries or with honey. Snack foods should be kept accessible and in small portions…don’t put popcorn in a large bowl and smother it in butter. Use a small bowl and a little salt…this makes a great alternative to crisps or chips.
If you’re eating out, you don’t need to completely avoid sauces and dressings but do ask that they are served on the side or in a separate container. Then you only need a small taste of them and won’t over indulge so easily. When trying to work out if a food is good for your skin or not, ask yourself how much it has been “altered” by any processing…is it an unnatural colour? Has it been coated in anything such as breadcrumbs or sugar? If the answer is yes then avoid it!
Keep your skin clean and free of perfumed lotions and potions and wait for the improvements to begin!