Why sugar is bad news for skin ageing (and 5 clever swaps)

Sugar, honey, honey...you got me wanting you! We all know by now that too much sugar is bad news for our bodies. But did you know it’s also one of the biggest culprits for our skin ageing prematurely? Let’s delve a little deeper into how sugar is processed, how damage happens and how you can still get your sweet fix in a healthy way.

Firstly, all sugars are not created equal

Sugar is not just what you plonk into your coffee, drizzle over your oats or the main ingredient of your favourite candy. There is sugar in alcohol, drinks, fruit, sauces, desserts, snacks...the list goes on. If you start counting the ‘added and hidden sugars’ we consume in processed foods (not from fruits and vegetables), these become worrying very quickly. Foods with a high glycemic index (high GI) also tend to contain more sugar.

South Africans, for example, consume between 12 and 24 teaspoons of sugar per day* – vastly more than the 9 teaspoons for men and 6 teaspoons for women that experts recommend.

The link between sugar and ageing

So what exactly happens when too much sugar is circulating in our bloodstreams? When you consume high glycemic foods, your body begins to break the sugar down into glucose. This results in a spike in your insulin levels and a burst of inflammation in your body. Here at Thoclor Labs, we talk about inflammageing a lot – the chronic, low-grade inflammation that is associated with age-related changes in the stem cells of your skin.

Researchers have also discovered a link between the amount of sugar circulating in a person’s bloodstream and how old they look. The reason for this is that excess sugar in the blood encourages a process called glycation - which ages the skin.

What is glycation?

Breaking sugar down into glucose and fructose is a normal process in the body. It’s what gives us fuel and energy. But, when we consume too many sugary or high-glycemic foods, these sugars react with proteins and fats in an abnormal way. This process is called glycation and the harmful molecules produced are called advanced glycation end products – better known as AGEs.

Now AGEs – the clue is in the name! – are bad news for your skin because firstly they can’t be reversed, and secondly, they affect things like:

  • Collagen production, which gives skin its firmness (excess sugar makes the collagen ‘rigid’)
  • Elastin, which helps the skin bounce back after being stretched (lost elastin results in sagging skin).

When AGEs accumulate in high levels, and your body can’t get rid of them, they increase the risk of many diseases such as diabetes, liver disease, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, high blood pressure and kidney failure.

AGEs and your skin

The process of glycation starts to happen when you’re in your 20s and starts to show up on your skin at around age 35. This typically leaves you with a range of complaints like age spots, fine lines, skin dryness, hyperpigmentation, dull skin, uneven skin tone, sagging, loss of subcutaneous fat (especially in the face), inflammation and even tumours.

When you add UV rays into the mix, glycation accelerates as the number of AGEs formed increases. If ever there was another reason to practice safe sun care, this is it!

The good news – how to snack for healthier skin

So what should you eat for healthy, glowing skin? Some dermatologists recommend eating only foods that have a GI of 50 or below and avoiding all starch entirely. You don’t have to go overboard but the best rule of thumb is to eat slow-release carbs and pulses (read more diet tips here).

Still want a sweet treat? Try these 5 healthy sugar swaps

We know nothing quite beats a scoop of ice cream on a hot day or a rich chocolate brownie but if you want to curb that craving and do some good, these are our top picks:

  1. Berries: High in antioxidants, berries can help protect skin by limiting the production of free radicals – the tiny reactive oxygen molecules that can cause damage to our skin cells, DNA, and collagen production which leads to premature ageing and cause wrinkles, sagging and roughness.
  2. Dark chocolate: When it comes to chocolate, the darker the better! Dark chocolate and cocoa contain flavonoids that are powerful antioxidants. These can help to prevent photo-damage on the skin caused by the sun.
  3. Carrots: Okay, so carrots are not the first sweet treat that springs to mind but used in cooking they can be especially tasty – plus cooking makes their benefits even more potent. Rich in antioxidant carotenoids, it can help protect skin against UV damage.
  4. Nuts: Almonds, Brazil nuts and walnuts, in particular, are known for containing ‘good fats’, full of essential lipids that create a protective barrier around skin cells and prevent moisture loss.
  5. Pomegranates: This fruit is not only high in water but the ‘jewels’ inside are rich in ellagic acid. This compound has been found to reduce wrinkling in response to UV radiation.

We hope you feel inspired to make better food choices for more glowing skin. It’s always best to fight inflammageing from the inside and from the outside – like we do with our GF2 Miracle Mist. Formulated with Hypochlorous acid (our body’s own immune molecule), it helps to reduce subclinical inflammation on the skin from environmental factors.

Try our GF2 Skin Rejuvenation today to restore, rejuvenate and retain healthy skin. If you have any questions on a specific skin condition, feel free to email us.

* https://www.wits.ac.za/news/latest-news/research-news/2016/2016-04/ssb-tax-home/sugar-facts/

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