Eat These Foods
for Clearer Skin
Research shows a clear connection between diet and acne.
You’ve heard the old adage ‘you are what you eat,’ right? Well, it certainly applies to acne-prone skin. Research strongly suggests that your diet can affect your complexion. Over the years, you may have been told not to eat greasy foods like pizza or French fries or sweet stuff like chocolate, because they were thought to make your skin oily and cause breakouts. And, it turns out there’s actually some truth to that, says Linda Stein Gold, M.D., a dermatologist in West Bloomfield, Michigan and advisory board member for The Acne Store. “The question of whether or not diet influences acne has been tossed around for generations,” says Stein Gold. The current school of thought is that diet does play an important role in many skin conditions, including acne. This is what we know about nutrition and breakouts, and what you should avoid—and fill your plate with—to stave off pimples.
Once and for all: Does dairy cause acne?
We all have that friend who ditched dairy and swears that her skin has never looked better—and she may be onto something. There is some research that’s looked at the effects of this food group and acne, specifically skim milk, says Stein Gold. In one study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, women with acne were asked to recall their high school diets, and those who drank at least two cups a day were 44% more likely to have acne.  In another study, adolescent boys who drank skim milk experienced more breakouts that those who avoided it. 
The current school of thought is that diet does play an important role in many skin conditions, including acne.
Why did skim milk, specifically, have this effect? Researchers aren’t exactly sure. Some theories suggest it’s the hormones in milk that increase inflammation in our bodies, stimulating or exacerbating acne. Others focus on the whey protein in all milk, which makes sense considering studies have also linked whey protein supplements to acne on the trunk of male bodybuilders.  So, should you avoid milk for clear skin? Stein Gold says no: “I would never tell a young person who drinks milk to stay away from it.” The biggest issue seems to be in those who drink three or more cups a day, not one or two. “And even if you're noticing a little bit of an exacerbation, we have ways to treat it,” she says.
Here are the foods to avoid for clear skin
Your mom told you again and again that greasy or sugary food would give you pimples—here’s why that may actually be true: These types of foods raise your blood sugar. What does that have to do with your skin? A lot, actually. Refined carbohydrates send your blood sugar soaring and also increase insulin levels. Additionally, this process boosts something called insulin growth factor type 1 (IGF-1), and that’s linked to increased sebum production and the potential development of acne. The foods that do this are known as high glycemic index foods. The glycemic index is a measure of how fast a food causes glucose (sugar) levels to rise in your system. Low glycemic index foods, on the other hand, keep those levels fairly stable.
Here are the best foods for clear skin
“We know that a healthy diet—one that doesn’t include a lot of sugars and starches, and is rich in whole grains, vegetables, some fruits, and more low glycemic index foods—will keep blood sugar levels down,” says Stein Gold. And eating low glycemic index foods doesn’t give the blood those bursts of insulin and increase IGF-1, which has been shown to reduce the likelihood of acne. In one small study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 43 males who ate a low glycemic diet for 12 weeks saw a decrease in acne compared to the control group.  Another showed that those placed on the South Beach diet (a low glycemic plan) for weight loss also experienced less acne. Bonus! 
“We don't have a lot of great studies that prove it yet, but there’s enough evidence to suggest that diet probably plays a role in clear skin,” says Stein Gold. “So, eating a healthy diet, and staying away from foods that you know affect your acne is probably the best approach.”
Linda Stein Gold, M.D.
Dr. Linda Stein Gold, Chair of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists, is the Director of Dermatology Clinical Research and Division Head of Dermatology at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. She received her medical degree from University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia, completed an internship in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
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