What do Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba's baby, Tom Hanks, and supermodel Naomi Campbell have in common?
They all avoid sugar.
While their reasons for shunning sugar may vary - Gwyneth is a health advocate, Jessica Alba's baby was not within a healthy weight range, Tom Hanks was diagnosed with diabetes and Naomi used it to curb her anger - there is also scientific merit behind adopting a low sugar diet.
Sugar: the facts
- A diet high in sugar may shorten your lifespan according to scientists from the University of California in San Francisco. They found excess sugar consumption is indirectly responsible for 35 million deaths annually, worldwide, because it significantly increases the risk of AGE-related diseases including diabetes and heart disease.
- Glucose (the basic form of sugar) damages collagen - the anti-ageing structure in your skin - as it attaches to collagen and elastic fibres and forms advanced glycation end products. This cross-linking stiffens collagen and elastin fibres, making them difficult to repair.
- Research shows a low-sugar diet significantly reduces the sugar level within your skin.
- Sugar consumption contributes to loss of skin elasticity and can trigger the appearance of acne and premature wrinkles. (refs. at end of article)
I am a nutritionist who used to suffer from skin disorders (which cleared up when I changed my diet). So I know sugar affects my skin. However, my desire to avoid refined sugar might border on being a phobia...
I was once asked to buy soft drink for a dinner guest of mine who only drank Coke-a-Cola. So I went shopping to prepare for the event and as I walked up the soft drink aisle I noticed my heart began to race. I found the Coke and it was on special. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn't pick up the bottle. I left the supermarket soft drink-free and another family member had to purchase it.
I have the same sense of dread when I pass the sugar and baking section of the supermarket.
Sometimes I need sugar to bake a cake or muffins - I have a thing for making healthy muffins as you can see from my blog. So I use a natural sweetener called rice malt syrup. It's a pretty popular ingredient for healthy cooking now-days, and it's usually cheaper than buying honey.
Rice malt syrup
Ideally, your diet should have no added sweeteners, but for those of you who wish to use sweetener the best choice is rice malt syrup for two reasons:
- it is alkalising so it does not disrupt acid-alkaline balance in your body (all other sweeteners convert to acid in the body),
- and it’s low in salicylates and other natural chemicals.
[FYI: Salicylates can be problematic for people with eczema and/or chemical sensitivity. Honey and jams are very high in salicylates and they should be avoided if you have eczema.] Read about salicylate sensitivity here >
Rice malt syrup is not as sweet as sugar or honey so more is usually required in recipes. I use Pureharvest Rice Malt Syrup, which is available from Coles in Australia (I don't get paid to endorse either of them).
If rice malt syrup is not available in your country use real maple syrup instead (it's low salicylates) — do not use imitation maple syrup as it usually contains additives and refined sugar.
Sweeteners to avoid
If you have any skin problem at all, or if you have chronic candida or fungal overgrowth then I recommend you go sweetener-free. Sugar is strongly acid-producing and should only be used on rare occasions (i.e. when you make birthday cake for your loved ones). Avoid the following:
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrates
Invert corn syrup
If you have eczema, also avoid the following sweeteners as they may worsen eczema symptoms:
Sugar and children with eczema
For those of you who have a child with eczema, I don’t recommend you suddenly take every sugary food out of their diet. You can offer them sweet eczema-safe alternatives such as New Anzac Cookies and Pear Muffins from The Eczema Diet (also see recipes from my blog).
What about fruit?
Fruit contains a myriad of amazing antioxidants and skin-protective lycopene (think papaya) and anthocyanins (from most purple foods, cherries and pomegranate) so it's not a good idea to entirely avoid fruit.
Eat two to three pieces of fruit daily and avoid high-glycemic index fruits including over-ripe bananas (bananas are fine if they don't have brown spots) and dates (rated 100, which is higher that white sugar).
What about sugar cravings?
If you crave sugar, carbohydrates or alcohol it could indicate a vitamin or mineral deficiency. It can also signal you have candida albicans overgrowth.
Don’t ignore sugar cravings…
It’s important to listen to your sugar cravings as your body may be telling you something important about your diet. Before you reach for a biscuit or a chocolate, consider the following: sugar cravings can be a sign your body is low in the following nutrients:
- vitamin C or potassium from sweet fruits,
- magnesium and/or chromium from quality carbohydrates including sweet potato and wholegrains.
Chromium helps to regulate blood sugar levels – it literally helps the energy (glucose/sugar) provided in your diet, move into your cells for energy production. Supplementing with chromium and B group vitamins (especially niacin) can help you avoid energy crashes, so you're less likely to crave sugar.
Stop sugar cravings in 3 easy steps:
- Give your body the nutrients it needs... eat papaya or pawpaw to boost your vitamin C intake (if you don’t have eczema, try eating guava or squeeze a little lemon juice into a glass of water),
- eat banana for potassium, and take a supplement containing magnesium and chromium,
- and get more sleep - tiredness and late nights promote sugar cravings!
Look after your body with a healthy diet and adequate sleep, and watch your cravings disappear.