Sugar: The Silent Menace On Your Youthful Looks
by Rachel Thomas
These days almost anything and everything comes with some kind of health warning. Some are obvious and carry large warning labels such as tobacco products or addictive medication, whilst others like tanning or junk food we hear about through the media and small print.
It’s a scientifically accepted fact that smoking causes the skin to age faster, and over exposure to the sun or fake tanning will eventually have an effect the opposite of the youthful, brown-kissed colour it’s supposed to provide. However there is something just as harmful to the skin that is not common knowledge or pummelled upon by experts and frequently. This substance is found in almost every modern day food item.
The substance is sugar.
Even some of the savoury items you wouldn’t expect contain sugar. In his 2004 documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock uncovered that only seven items (including drinks) on the extensive McDonalds menu contained no sugar, and that was only before the addition of seasoning or dipping sauce. Surprisingly, even the salads contained sugar.
You may assume this is only relevant to the fast food industry, but household food items on our shopping lists are not clean from these facts either. A lot of these sugary products also contain other poor health catalysts like refined flour, sweeteners, stimulants and trans fat, all adding up to a combination that will eventually take a noticeable toll on your well-being.
There are two different types of sugar; natural sugars that are found in fruit and milk are less of an issue as they are not in excess and release into the body gradually for a steady and longer energy boost, while unnatural sugars that are added to products have no nutritional value and affect both ends of the scale in hyperactivity and lethargy. We are already aware of most of the risks of overindulging on sugary foods such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and dental problems. But what are the effects it can have on the skin?
One of the thousands of processes going on in our bodies constantly is Glycation. This is where sugar and protein cause an improper bond in the body and result in Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). Although this is a natural human body process it should be kept to a minimum if not avoided completely. The more sugar you consume, the more AGEs present in your blood system. The two protein fibres most prone to such damage are Elastin and Collagen which are responsible for keeping the elasticity and firmness of the skin, leading to the skin becoming saggy and wrinkled. Scientists believe the damage over a lifetime of AGEs rears its ugly head when you hit your 30s and rapidly continues thereafter.
Sugar also causes inflammation which is our immune system’s way of fighting off injuries and infections. The digestive tract is designed to flush out bacteria and viruses in the food you consume before sending all the required nutrients around the body. A rapid rise in blood sugar makes your body assume something bad has invaded and the immune system kicks in to fight it off. Inflammation has been linked to signs of aging as well as diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Of course, there are ways to combat this. A balanced diet is the key to maintaining health benefits, including complexion. Foods like avocados and vegetable oils contain vitamin E which strengthens collagen, has anti-inflammatory benefits and helps to repair damaged skin. There are many vitamin E supplements on the market too, although these should be used as an aid and not as a replacement to eating healthy. The process that produces AGEs can also happen during cooking from using high temperatures and caramelizing or browning foods. Adding water during cooking, using slow, boiling or steaming methods and eating raw foods (like carrot sticks or salmon) reduce and/or eliminate this chemical reaction.
Giving up sugar completely would almost be impossible to do with today’s lifestyles and eating habits. However, moderation and consideration to what you put into your body can still go a long way.
(Rachel Thomas writes for BeFlattered Health and Beauty. She tries to stick to a modest diet but sometimes a bit of chocolate is too much to resist! No one expects anyone to live a perfectly healthy life, but Rachel is a believer in reading the ingredients on the back of packets and avoiding the bad stuff whenever possible.)