Now that I have my exercise routine down pat, I have begun a new dietary journey. A couple months ago, I was pondering the origins of acne: why people get it, and why I still have occasional flare-ups. It is nothing horrible, and I would certainly classify it as a minor problem. However, as a mid-20’s woman, it DOES get quite annoying, especially with my own wedding coming up! I have tried nearly every type of facial product available to “cure” acne: Perfect Skin, ProActiv, AcneFree, other drugstore-brand scrubs and lotions, all-natural remedies, and even a prescription facial wash from the dermatologist. Many of them worked for awhile…the prescription seemed to work a miracle, and Perfect Skin was actually great but too expensive to continue with…but after awhile my skin became resistant to the prescription and no longer did much for me. ProActiv worked for awhile, but then the Benzoyl Peroxide in it would seriously dry out my skin, creating yet another problem.
It occurred to me that maybe acne is an INTERNAL problem and does not have much to do with what products you put on your face. I did some Googling and found an article that contended that wheat/gluten and dairy have a direct correlation with causing acne. I then stumbled upon The Paleo Diet, which is a diet that directs its followers to eat much like our paleolithic ancestors: lots of meat and fish, fresh fruits, veggies, and certain oils. The man spearheading this movement is named Dr. Loren Cordain, and I discovered he also wrote a book called The Dietary Cure for Acne, which piqued my interest immediately. I ordered the book and just finished reading it. It’s a fairly thin book, and most of it outlines the scientific research behind this dietary cure. The last part talks about what foods to eat and not to eat. I won’t say the book was a waste of money, but if you’re interested in the science behind it I’d say get it. Otherwise, you can find most of the dietary information you’ll need online.
The 4 causes of acne are: 1) blockage of the pore, 2) overproduction of skin oils (sebum), 3) bacterial colonization/infection, and 4) inflammation of the surrounding tissue. What a person eats affects their production and levels of hormones, particularly insulin and androgens, and this is what causes problems on the skin. If you eat foods that are low in glycemic load (using the Glycemic Index chart), your body will not overproduce insulin. Also, we tend to eat more omega-6 fats than we should (ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be 2:1, whereas an American diet is 10:1). This wreaks havoc in our tissue and causes inflammation. One reason grains, particularly wheat, is bad is because they contain dietary lectins. Here is a quote from the book:
“Common dietary lectins from whole wheat (WGA), peanuts (PNA) and soybeans (SBA) impair the action of one of the glycosidase enzymes, known as zinc alpha (2) or glycoprotein or ZAG. This enzyme normally acts to dissolve three of the remaining proteins in corneocyte desmosomes…However, when you eat lots of whole wheat, peanuts, soy based food products and other legumes, their respective lectins” basically prevent zinc absorption. (I won’t torture you with science mumbo-jumbo!) So then this lack of zinc allows the corneocyte desmosomes to “remain partially intact, causing the corneocytes to adhere to one another.” This blocks the pores, which then contributes to causing acne. (quote from page 53 of The Dietary Cure for Acne, Loren Cordain, Ph.D)
Anyhow, this is fascinating to me, but you all are probably like, “Okay, let’s get to the point: what are you going to eat or not eat??”
I have begun to do more reading on this subject, and have found this helpful website: The Paleo Diet Lifestyle. Some of it varies from the strict Paleo Diet and also draws from the research of Dr. Weston A. Price (my mom has a couple of his books). I like that, because if you stick to one method it seems that it might restrict you from pursuing other healthy habits.
For 30 days, I am going to be strict about eating not certain foods, and then after 30 days add foods in one at a time (they say one food or food type a month) to see if it causes an acne flare-up. Some foods might not affect me, while they might affect someone else. So it’s all about experimentation! Here are the foods I will be avoiding:
Dairy (which is good anyway, since I’m lactose intolerant…the one exception for me will be whey protein: it doesn’t have an adverse effect on me gastrointestinally and I need it for my workouts)
All grains – includes wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, and rice (I will miss bread and cookies!!)
Legumes – includes beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, and soy products (I don’t eat much of these anyway…beans, beans the magical fruit)
Alcoholic beverages (again, don’t drink this often anyway)
All sweets – including honey and dried fruit (b/c of the high glycemic load)
What food am I allowed to eat? Here it is:
Any meat, poultry, eggs, and fish (shellfish is also allowed, but I don’t ever eat it)
Good fats – including avocado, olive, and coconut oils, butter, coconut and almond milks
All veggies – including potatoes and sweet potatoes. Dr. Cordain’s anti-acne diet says to NOT eat starchy tubers for the first 30 days, because especially white potatoes have a high glycemic load, which makes insulin levels go high. However, since I am on a rigorous workout regimen, my brother pointed out that I need to have carbs to burn. I can’t just have meat and fresh vegetables (like broccoli and carrots) because there’s barely any carbs there. So this is my personal modification. One thing to note: red potatoes (as opposed to russet potatoes) are better because the glycemic load is not as high, yet they are still a good source of carbs and starch.
All fresh fruits
Nuts and seeds (but no peanuts, they are a legume)
So there you have it! My biggest goal is avoiding grains and dairy…I have a hunch those are the main culprits for me. Yesterday was my first grain-free day, and every time I got hungry I began craving grains….”oh if only I could have some crackers, or a cookie…or that pizza that someone at work just put on the file cabinet!!” I consciously thought about and wanted grains every time I had a hunger pang. Sounds like withdrawal to me, haha! There has been a lot of research done about how wheat and grains are bad for our digestive systems also, although this is not the politically-correct nutritional opinion. See this article for example.
It will be tough avoiding grains, since they pervade our American diet. After not eating grains for one day, I realized just how much I normally eat them…I barely have a meal where I don’t have wheat or other grains! It will sometimes take some extra cooking on my end, apart from my mom’s cooking, but I can just substitute potatoes or sweet potatoes for when there is rice or pasta, for example. (Hey, marinara sauce and meatballs would be just as tasty over a bed of smooth mashed potatoes as it is over linguine!)
The other thing is: will I have to be this strict FOREVER? The answer is no…if it’s a birthday, then there’s no big harm in having a small piece of cake. If DF wants to take me on a date to a special restaurant and I REALLY want a dish that has wheat in it, then I’ll go for it. But a typical American diet will not be the norm. It will take some extra effort and planning, but according to the science and evidence, this should make one’s acne go away permanently (as long as you normally avoid foods that cause flare-ups). And I believe I will also feel and be more healthy overall.
A few supplements are also recommended: 2-4 grams/day of EPA and DHA (omega-3 fats in fish oil capsules), 50 mg of zinc gluconate, and 1,000 I.U. of Vitamin D. The fish oil and zinc can be reduced after the first 30 days: the higher levels at first are to get your body balanced and reduce inflammation.
Perhaps that is more than you wanted to know, but I wanted to give the background of what I will be doing. Today, my meals consisted of:
Breakfast: whey protein smoothie with strawberries, coconut milk, and stevia
Lunch: 2 chicken drumsticks, sweet potato
Late afternoon: Protein powder shake pre- and post-workout
Dinner: ground beef with tomato sauce and spices, steamed cauliflower and broccoli, carrot sticks, mashed red potatoes, and handful of fresh blackberries for dessert :)
I’m excited to see what this will do for my health!! If it does nothing, then I guess it will be back to the old American diet…mmmm bread!! LOL But if I do see a remarkable difference, I know it will be something I’ll want to stick to. There are long-term benefits to eating healthy, including having healthier babies. Dr. Price has done lots of research in that area (is it possible that if a child’s parents eat properly pre-conception, and the mother during pregnancy, that the child will have straight teeth even though both parents needed braces?? Yes!)…but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post!