If you’re a person “d’un certain âge” or even someone slightly younger it’s time to face up to the truth about sugar. Put down the cookie and your caramel flavored coffee and lend me your ears, cause it’s time for a smackdown.
Most of us are well familiar with the fact that refined sugars especially are empty calories. Unless you’ve had your head inserted in a box of Captain Crunch ostrich-style for the last decade or so it’s no secret – sugar offers only a quick caloric spike, a dive into abysmal blood sugar depths after the high, and no trace nutrients whatsoever. It’s a dietary distraction at best. Sugar is like that bad boy from high school with the motorcycle, the sexy smile and dangerously good looks that gives you one hell of a ride physically and emotionally and then drops you cold, craving more, and definitely worse for the wear. The alarm bells go off but we don’t listen – we’re suckers for the rush and we just want more. How could something so much fun be so bad?? But oh, it is.
Sugar is like legal crack to your body. It’s fuel but it’s addictive. It changes your brain chemistry so memory functions are impaired and you’re more prone to depression and dementia. Sugar is also linked to the release of opioid, euphoric chemicals in the brain which causes you to go back for more like the little red rubber ball attached to a paddle. You’re after that next hit, after which you just bounce back for more. High consumption of sugar in all its forms (glucose, fructose, sucrose, processed grains, etc) prompts you to retain weight, can spur the onset of diabetes, and prevent you from consuming quality foods that actually have benefits for your body.
But that’s not all. Sugar is also a culprit in aggravating acne, and recently has been implicated in the onset of wrinkles and age related damage. Your skin can quite literally be a billboard for every Cinnabon and eclair you’ve ever eaten.
Your age shows by virtue of AGEs – Advanced Glycation End Products. These are chemical compounds created by the presence of excess sugar in your body that react with, harden, and thereby degrade your collagen and vascular structures. Glucose in your bloodstream attaches itself to a lipid or protein in your tissues to form them. Skin’s youthful appearance is supported by collagen, a prime target of AGEs. Nutrient delivery to the dermis comes via tiny capillaries which can become hardened and restricted through glycation. The AGE buildup process becomes exacerbated after age 35 and continues to worsen with advancing years. Unless you don’t give a hoot (and chances are you give at least a little one) then as you reach your third decade of life you should be fighting to preserve your skin structure like an ecologist preventing a piece of native prairie from being bulldozed.
AGEs are formed in large part by consumption of simple, processed carbohydrates, though they may also accumulate by a few other routes such as oxidative stress, sun exposure, and even consumption of foods that are fried, grilled, roasted or baked. (per the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition January 2013)
The good news is that this means those fine lines, the sagging, and loss of firmness are to a degree within your control. While our bodies need some sugars as part of our diet for at least a portion of our fuel avoiding excess and refined sugars can make a marked impact on your efforts to retain your youthful visage and healthy resiliency inside as well.
Restorative Recommendation: Cut your consumption of foods containing excess sugar and high levels of refined carbohydrates.
This can be a really tough proposition for a lot of folks, especially in the USA where sugar is added to practically everything and whole foods are uncommon. It sneaks its way into you by way of sauces, dressings, processed juices, sodas, most mass market yogurts which are little better than sugared dairy with fake fruity colors, your daily latte (even if you take it without a sweetener, because dairy has a lot of lactose, which is a sugar), and even low fat foods which are pumped up with sugar to replace fat content.
Here’s the basics. Sugar is digested and released into your blood stream shortly after it is consumed. The simpler the carbohydrate molecules the faster the release. If you eat a whole bunch at once then what you get is a big blood sugar spike. If you’re active at that moment and the sugar is needed as cellular energy it gets burned off. If not then the pancreas has to emit insulin to control the spike and bring levels back to normal, as well as convert the unused glucose to glycogen for storage in the liver and muscles for future energy usage. If you are constantly overworking this cycle insulin is constantly deluging your bloodstream, and excess insulin can cause inflammation.
So you’re inflamed, and there’s free glucose running about in your blood. That glucose then reacts with your lipid and protein structures, resulting in glycation. Those little lines on your forehead you love to fret over are actually all those cookies coming back to haunt you…
No skincare product can eradicate the results of these internal processes. Your food is powerful and literally changes the structure of your body. If you think you can get away with a super dose of anti-aging serum and eat your cake too, unfortunately the truth is damage is still piling up. And, double whammy, a recent study has even shown that sugar consumption increases free radicals in your blood stream and lowers your levels of alpha-tocopherol, the active form of Vitamin E and an excellent antioxidant. This leaves all your organs more vulnerable, and your skin more prone to sun damage.
Healthy eating is one of the most affordable ways to have fantastic skin. Anti-aging specialty skincare may cost $50 to $200 per product. With expenses like that buying and eating your organic produce starts to look quite cost-effective and prudent.
The best results of course would come from both clean eating and excellent, nutritive skincare. If you’re binging on processed foods and heavy sugar you are effectively throwing your skincare dollars down the drain. Not many of us have money to be tossing, and besides the other side effects of too much sugar are dire – increased diabetes risk and all its complications, hardening of the arteries, strokes, arthritis, and other ailments.
It is impossible for you to avoid ALL sugar. Fruits and vegetables digest as sugar in the body and the beneficial micronutrients that come from plants are valuable, and your body has to run on something. The goal should be to eat foods that digest and release sugars more slowly into the body. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains also come with a lot of fiber that slows digestion and therefore slows the release of sugar into your bloodstream.
How to avoid buildup of Advanced Glycation End Products in your body from food
1. Eat as many raw foods as possible.
The raw food camp really has something going for it in avoiding buildup of AGEs. The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition notes, “Browning of food during cooking is used to enhance the quality, flavour, color and aroma of the diet. This process (known as the Maillard reaction) generates large quantities of AGEs.”
Fresh raw foods have none of these complications, and contain higher quantities of beneficial nutrients as well. Veggies and unroasted nuts are fiber filled and supply antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and lots more good stuff. Fruits are good too, but be mindful of how much sugar they are adding. They’re the best kind of sugar to have – at least it is bringing lots of vitamins with it – but to avoid AGEs you still need to balance them with consumption of less sugary foods. Raw or sprouted “breads” and cracker recipes are available on many raw blogs to help you use just whole, raw grains more often.
One of the awesome things about raw foods is that just by virtue of the fact that they are pure, whole, and unchanged you can be sure easy-peasy that they don’t contain added sugar. That’s one load off your mind and makes your eating simpler. Processed or packaged foods must be examined closely. Dried fruits often contain added sugar, making what otherwise seems like a natural, healthy choice into something you should limit.
Meat might seem like a fine way to avoid sugar – a la Atkins – but the problem becomes that most meat is cooked, and as I’ll cover below the way a food is cooked determines its content of AGEs as well.
2. Cook foods only by boiling, steaming, poaching, boiling or slow cooking. Avoid dry heat cooking methods like baking, grilling, roasting, barbecuing, and frying which exposes fats to oxidation and rancidity in addition to AGEs.
Wet heat cooking methods were found to have the lowest AGE formation. Grilling and barbecuing have already been found to create carcinogenic substances in meats especially – that blackened crispiness is packed with Heterocyclic Amines or HCAs, which are cell mutagens.
Other roasted foods are also suspect, even ones you might not immediately think of. Coffee, for example, is roasted to give the beans their lovely dark flavor which means coffee could increase AGEs in your body. Roasting is very common for nuts to give them flavor. Even roasted veggies (which taste delicious due to the caramelization) are suspect. During the roasting of red peppers the skin blackens in the oven, part of how you know it is done. That blackening and caramelization has AGE written all over it. It’s enough to make a girl cry over her pan of peppers…
Since baking is a problem any baked bread is a potential AGE source also. Not only are refined flours spiking your blood sugar, the baking process itself is adding AGEs. Limit your bread and baked goods consumption.
3. If you eat grains choose only whole grains.
Processed grains are a major source of refined sugars. This includes pastas, white rice, any white breads, and flours. Your body desperately needs the fiber included with whole grains to slow the digestion of carbohydrates. Most mass produced baked goods are major offenders. Purchase artisan, whole grain fresh breads if you desire bread, or consider skipping bread altogether.
Oats make a lovely raw muesli with a little almond milk, nuts, and dried fruit in the mornings. Boiled whole grain blends can be seasoned sweet or savory and don’t contain the AGEs created by baking.
4. Make your own sauces and dressings whenever possible.
Sauces and dressings are huge sources of hidden sugar. Look at any barbecue sauce, ketchup, and even many salad dressings from a conventional store and you’ll see high fructose corn syrup marching right at the front of the ingredients panel.
Even organic and “natural” sauces are often sweetened just with less offensive, less processed sweeteners. You can add flavor to your foods by using vinegars of all types, citrus juices, unique culinary oils like hemp seed, walnut, and quality olive oils, chiles (one of my favorite flavors), garlic, onion, and herbs. If you want a little sweetness you an add it yourself and control just how much goes in.
5. Eliminate all sugared beverages.
Beverages are one of the biggest sources of excess sugar, especially for Americans hooked on sodas and processed juices. A single soda or juice beverage can have between 150 sugared calories – about 40 grams. The American Heart Association recommends a sugar limit that “for most American women is no more than 100 calories per day and for most American men is no more than 150 calories per day from added sugars.” That is 25 grams of sugar for women and 37.5 grams for men. Just one soda puts you over your healthy limit.
Then add in all the hidden sources of sugar in your day and you can easily see we blow our limit by a lot. Save what little sugar you do eat for your food consumption and it will be much easier to control.
Instead drink water, carbonated water, fruit infused waters, unsweetened herbal, green, red, and black teas, and vegetable juices. Stevia can be a way to add a touch of sweetness without calories.
Just don’t think you’re doing yourself a favor by reaching for anything with aspartame or other artificial sweeteners. You’re better off learning to appreciate the flavor of unsweetened beverages, since these franken-sweets can damage your liver, alter your brain chemistry, and may actually encourage you to crave sugar in the long run. Kimberly Snyder, nutritionist and author, lists more dangers of diet soda.
6. If you must sweeten study your options and choose less processed sweeteners.
This lovely article on Inspiration Green details dozens of different names of sugar and sweetener additives. The author edits the list of options down to a number of cleaner options to use in moderation including:
Unrefined Coconut Palm
Organic corn (or glucose) syrup (not high fructose!)
Brown Rice Syrup
Barley Malt Syrup
Black Strap Molasses
Drastically decreasing sugar in your diet is not always easy work to do. For many people these changes require a holistic lifestyle overhaul. Once you start trying to avoid it you realize just how much of it you may have been eating.
The bonus is that the benefits of these changes extend far, far beyond your skin. The entire quality of your life and health will be improved, acne generally decreases, weight and body fat come into balance, and energy levels stabilize. The return to a whole food lifestyle can be inspiring in many ways as you explore flavor combinations and foods you may not have previously tried. In fact many people experience a renaissance in their excitement for food when switching to clean, plant-based, minimally processed foods. There are many raw, plant food, and vegan blogs that can offer you creative cooking ideas.
For further articles detailing information on glycation and sugar-induced aging check out some of the following links.
Prevention: Too much sugar can cause wrinkles
Glycation enhanced in post 35 and photo-aged skin.
Care2 Sugar and Inflammation
Study shows Glucose Consumption Increases Production of Destructive Free Radicals, Lowers Levels of Key Antioxidant
Elle.com Sugar and Aging: How to Fight Glycation
Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Dietary advanced glycation end product restrictions
Dietary Advanced Glycation End Products and Aging