6 Tips to Keep Your Blood Sugar Steady and Protect Your Collagen In the Process
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
That bedtime bowl of ice cream every single night may feel really good, but that hefty dose of sugar may be doing some serious damage to your skin.
Foods that cause rapid increases in your blood sugar levels are what I call sugar spikers. And sugar spikers, consumed on a regular basis, can lead to skin problems.
Higher blood sugar levels (also known as blood glucose levels) have been linked to BOTH acne and aging skin.
In terms of acne, research has found that higher blood sugar levels translate to higher levels of certain hormones. These hormones, such as IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) have been shown to predispose some people to acne.
Those higher blood sugar levels can also cause collagen damage. This is due to a process known as glycation.
In this process, elevated levels of sugar can attach to proteins in the skin to form harmful molecules. These molecules are called advanced glycation end products, which researchers call (very fittingly) AGEs.
The proteins in the skin that are most impacted are the collagen and elastin fibers. The process of glycation results in cross-linking of these fibers, which means they become more brittle and less resilient. Our bodies also lose the ability to repair collagen that's been glycated. This ultimately results in a loss of elasticity (the ability of skin to bounce back). This in turn accelerates sagging and wrinkling of the skin.
That's why diet is such an important part of maintaining youthful skin.
To protect collagen, it's very important to stop sugar spikes. In fact, studies have shown that strictly controlling blood sugar levels over a four-month period can result in a reduction of glycated collagen formation by 25%.
How can you stop sugar spikes?
The dietary recommendations that we've all heard as good for our health? Those same recommendations are great for the skin.
Focus on whole foods. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat more foods that are naturally high in fiber.
That's because a diet based on whole and less processed foods naturally acts to stabilize blood sugar levels.
When you eat a chocolate frosted cupcake, you're consuming a hefty dose of refined carbohydrates and a hefty dose of added sugars. Your body digests that type of food quickly, and that sugar is quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. That's what we call a sugar spike.
To avoid those rapid spikes in your blood sugar levels, you need to watch out for added sugar. You also need to watch out for refined carbohydrates.
Is there anything that you can eat to slow down the release of blood sugar into your bloodstream? Yes. Fiber is one of the main nutrients that helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
The high fiber content of many fruits is the reason why the sugar in whole fruits is absorbed at a more stable rate into the bloodstream. Meals with a dose of protein and/or fat also help to slow down the release of glucose.
Here's more information, in the form of 6 tips to stop sugar spikes:
1. EAT THE RIGHT CARBS
Many of the conversations I hear about diet ask this question: "Should I go low carb?" I think it's far more important to go "right carb".
What are the right carbs? I call them power carbs: foods that combine carbohydrates with a hefty dose of antioxidants, fiber, and protein. This includes whole (preferably intact) grains, beans, and lentils
2. EAT THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF CARBS
I talk about going "right carb" more than I talk about going "low carb", because there's a big difference between a piece of white bread and a bowl of lentil soup.
However, many of us should be lowering our overall carb intake. Many Americans are eating too many refined, processed carbs, and eating less of these foods is an easy health strategy.
But even with power carbs, you need to watch your portion sizes. The fiber and protein in power carbs help slow down the digestion of carbohydrates and the release of glucose (sugar) into the bloodstream. But fiber and protein can only do so much; eat enough brown rice, and you CAN send your blood sugar soaring.
For people who eat rice (as an example), it's very easy to consume 2 serving sizes without realizing it. That's why we often recommend one easy tip: measure out 1/2 cup of rice on your plate. Do this for a few weeks to get used to this portion size. People are often surprised to see how many serving sizes they've been consuming without even realizing it.
3. FILL UP ON FIBER
This acts to slow down harmful sugar spikes, since the fiber in vegetables and whole grains acts to slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream. The perfect dinner plate is one in which half of the plate is covered with vegetables and fruits. This ensures a hefty dose of fiber to slow down sugar release.
4. EAT BALANCED MEALS
Eating carbohydrates in the presence of protein and fiber and fat slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream. That's why power carbs such as whole grains, beans, and lentils are so helpful-they naturally contain fiber and protein that acts to slow down sugar release.
But eating your carbs along with other foods that provide protein, fats, and fiber is also important. Although you might have done this in college, a bowl of cereal for dinner is a definite sugar spiker. Without any protein or fat to slow it down, those carbs are quickly released into the bloodstream.
Think back to the healthy plate. Half your plate should be vegetables and fruits, 1/4 should be carbs, and 1/4 should be a protein source.
Copyright © 2011, Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, www.thenutritionsource.org, and Harvard Health Publications, www.health.harvard.edu.
5. LIMIT SUGAR BOMBS
Avoiding foods with high added sugars is an obvious way to combat sugar spikes. While most of us know that cakes and cookies are obvious sources of added sugars, it's sometimes surprising to see the sugar content of so-called "healthy" iced teas or "green" juices.
This fruit and vegetable juice smoothie contains the equivalent of approximately 9 teaspoons of sugar. (For an estimate of sugar content, take grams of sugar and divide by 4). The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends that adults consume no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar in an entire day.
While some of this may be the natural sugars found in the fruits and vegetables, the labels here don't give us any indication of how much added sugar is used. Also, research has found that the "natural" sugars in fruit and vegetable juices may be just as harmful, because of the lack of fiber.
6. LIMIT REFINED CARBS
It's not just added sugar. Refined carbs are also major sugar spikers. Refined carbohydrates are digested quickly, which promotes the rapid release of blood sugar into the bloodstream. That means limiting our consumption of foods like white bread, white pasta, and white rice. To produce these foods, manufacturers start with whole foods and then process them to strip away some very powerful nutrients, including fiber and antioxidants and protein. (Why would they REMOVE these nutrients? Doing so makes the food last longer on a shelf. Also, since so many Americans have become used to processed foods like these, manufacturers continue to sell them this way.)
The Bottom Line: The right strategies can help protect and preserve your skin's collagen by keeping your blood sugar levels stable and steady.
Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.