Most of us have experienced a pimple or acne breakout in our lifetime with the most likely time being the teenage years. Acne can continue throughout life for some people and it can become a damaging psychological and emotional issue as well.

With more than 85% of teenagers in Western societies experiencing acne, researchers have begun to focus on modifiable factors such as the relationship between diet and acne. Several recent studies show a correlation between high glycaemic load foods and acne.

Glycaemic load (GL) refers to how quickly a carbohydrate food raises blood sugar after being consumed. Less processed foods such as fruit, vegetables and unrefined grains have a lower GL load than carbohydrate foods from refined flours, sugar and juice.

So what’s the relationship between food and acne? Foods with a high GL raise insulin levels which in turn cause multiple changes in hormone production and other metabolic processes in the body. One of these hormone changes is to increase androgen production. Androgens are the hormones that cause increased oil production during puberty. Acne is caused by a build-up of dead skin cells and excess oil production in the pores, creating the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.

Professor Neil Mann, a Nutritional Biochemist and Head of Food Science at RMIT University, has been at the forefront of research focusing on the connection between modern diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease and the typical Western diet which is essentially a highly processed, high GL, carbohydrate rich diet. Professor Mann and his colleagues studied the role of these high GL carbohydrate rich diets and the incidence of teenage acne. In a randomised controlled trial over 12 weeks, teenage boys were given a diet with less carbs, higher protein and significantly lower GL. The experimental group on the low GL diet showed a significant improvement in acne, and hormonal aspects improved compared to a control group on a typical high GL diet.

So what does this mean in real terms –  increasing your intake of fresh, whole foods and reducing or even eliminating refined and processed foods (including fast food and softdrinks) will help keep your skin healthy and reduce the chances of acne.

Eat and enjoy daily

High-quality healthy fats: extra virgin olive oil, avocado, raw macadamia nuts, raw almonds, raw walnuts, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds, as well as rich sources of Omega 3 fatty acids like wild salmon, sardines, wild fish, flaxseed, walnuts and chia seeds.

Zinc and selenium rich foods: Zinc is found in in egg yolks, lamb, liver, oysters, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. Selenium is found in brazil nuts, molasses, eggs, garlic, apple cider vinegar, broccoli and brown rice (just 2 to 4 brazil nuts chewed until milky will provide daily requirement).

Vitamin A rich foods: eggs, carrots, green leafy vegetables and sweet potato.

Vitamin C rich foods: kiwi, sweet potato, red capsicum, brussel sprouts, pineapple, broccoli, strawberries, citrus fruits, parsley, papaya, rock melon

Vitamin E rich foods: nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocado, eggs, green vegetables

Water: Your body and especially your skin needs hydration. Drink two litres of plain water daily but herbal teas without caffeine or sugar are good alternatives.

Leafy greens and salad vegetables: These are loaded with vitamins and minerals, and fibre. Aim for at least 2 to 3 cups a day.

Eat less or remove altogether

Remove or reduce high GL, carbohydrate rich foods which are generally refined, high sugar and packaged foods including: packet biscuits, white bread, pasta, chips, fast foods, pizza, lollies, ice cream and softdrinks.

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