Introduction: How to Prevent Pimples and Reduce Acne Naturally by Eating Right
This Instructable will share why this works and show you how to determine what foods are potentially pimple causing.
- original image by slopjop available here shared under a CC license.
Step 1: Why Should I Care, Won't Pimples Just Go Away Once I'm 20?
Studies of various human cultures across the globe and my own experience indicate this is simply false. I'm 10 years past being a teenager, and will occasionally still get a pimple. More convincing perhaps, studies of non-westernized cultures that follow a traditional diet low in refined sugars and starches show a complete lack of acne in all age groups. Here's once such study found here. Similar reports can be found in the journals of pioneers and explorers who were among the first Europeans to contact indigenous peoples: no pimples, no acne.
- original image by gemsling available here shared under a CC license.
Step 2: Keep Your Insulin Levels Low
The (simplified) theory is that elevated levels of insulin cause pimples to form. Insulin is a hormone that is released in response to eating, and tells your cells to take in sugar from the blood (glucose) and store it for later use. Insulin has a tremendous number of other, down-steam effects on the body, many of which are not well understood. One of the effects of higher-than-normal levels of insulin is an increase in insulin-like growth factor-1, which shifts the body's endocrine balance and promotes acne (check here for a paper on this in the Journal of Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology). Insulin is commonly associated with diabetes, where the body becomes desensitized to the hormone and progressively more and more is required to keep blood-sugar levels in check.
Insulin levels and blood-sugar levels are closely related (diabetics measure their blood-sugar levels to determine if they need to inject insulin), and blood-sugar levels are controlled directly by what you eat. Sugary and starchy foods, like table sugar, potatoes, and bread, can raise blood-sugar levels quickly for relatively small portions. Fruits and vegetables act to raise blood-sugar levels more slowly and to a lesser degree because they contain different types of sugars (typically fructose instead of sucrose) and lower quantities of sugar for the same portion size. Meats, fats, and other non-carbohydrate containing foods have little influence on blood-sugar levels.
So, preventing acne is a matter of eating right to keep your insulin levels low.
Take note that there is a fundamental difference in this approach compared to other acne-remedies. Keeping insulin levels low addresses the root cause of acne while most other techniques (salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells more readily, antibiotics to kill the infecting bacteria, or birth-control pills to regulate hormonal levels) treat only the symptoms.
Step 3: How to Choose the Best Foods
Here's the simplified form: Eat fresh healthy food, and avoid processed and refined garbage.
For a more nuanced approach, you can check out the glycemic index and glycemic load of various foods. The glycemic index is a ranking of carbohydrates on how they effect your blood-sugar levels, i.e. how readily your body converts the components of a certain type of food to glucose. The glycemic load takes into account the type of carbohydrate in addition to how much is in a standard portion of various foods. If you're going to refer to just one measurement, go for glycemic load as it is a better measurement of your body's actual response. The University of Sydney has a glycemic index and load database you can use to check out your favorite foods. Here's a sample of some foods:
Food - Glycemic load
Apple - 5.9
Banana - 10
Broccoli - 0
Brown rice - 31.5
Cola - 17
Pizza (range) - 5-28
Booklets with this information are available, but when you're getting food it's much easier to simply remember to eat fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, lean meats, and seafood and to avoid basing your diet on anything that comes in a cardboard box. I've also heard it said this way: shop only from the edges of the supermarket -- the center isn't good for you.
Step 4: Personal Experience
Your results will vary. Your body is a complicated machine, and there are lots of inputs and effects. Some people can process lots of sugar and starch without any effect, while others will get pimples just thinking about candy. Exercise also plays a role, as it makes you more insulin sensitive, which is a good thing.
My personal experience seems to fall pretty squarely into this theory. I eat really well and have fairly clear skin. However, at certain events like birthdays or weddings, I just can't resist overeating refined sugar and starch, and inevitably end up with a pimple or two. For example, my last birthday party involved a seven-layer carrot cake, of which I ate an entire slice (the equivalent of nearly a half a normally sized carrot cake). This resulted in a few pimples over the next week.
Similarly, a friend would refuse to eat any pizza. He had determined, through trial and error, that a few slices of pizza would result in zits.
Step 5: Start With Breakfast
To give this a try, start by modifying your breakfast. You're probably already eating more refined and processed foods for breakfast than you care to admit. Also, if you're embarrassed, breakfast has the fewest number of people that will be asking why you've changed your diet.
Eggs (especially egg-whites) are great for breakfast:
Orange Fried Breakfast
Fruit smoothies are another quick and easy breakfast:
Apple ginger smoothie
or even faster:
apples and nut butter
ants on a log (celery, peanut butter, and raisins)
left-overs from the night before...
I'm not overly strict in my approach, and I don't think there's any need to go to ridiculous extremes, like eliminating carbohydrates altogether. I think the best approach is to base your diet on things you know are good for you, and to eat processed and refined foods infrequently.