What you eat today, you wear tomorrow – or so the adage goes. As a nutritionist, I am fully aware that your diet should keep your body (and mind) healthy, but the foods you eat influence your skin just as much as they influence your waistline. I often get asked if dairy, sugar or alcohol affect the skin – almost certainly is the answer. Read on! And does chocolate really cause acne? (I’ll answer that later!).


Skin is the largest organ of the body with an estimated total area of 21 square feet. It is affected by external factors (sun, pollution, hygiene) and internal factors (food, sleep and water). Everybody knows that what we put into our bodies can have an impact on our skin, but what are the worst skin offenders and how do they show up in our skin?


Too much gluten in our diet can lead to swollen, blemished skin with spots on the forehead and chin; and puffy, red cheeks being the main indicator. Wheat, barley and rye contain a protein that is shown to increase the inflammatory response which causes the face to look inflamed or swollen. Sufferers of rosacea will already know that gluten makes their symptoms worse. The only option is to remove gluten completely, drink more water and eat more fibre. If you miss your morning piece of toast, then you can substitute with gluten free bread, however gluten free porridge oats with blueberries and walnuts are a much better option.


A diet high in dairy can show up in the face as puffy eyelids, under-eye bags, dark circles and spots. As we age we lose the enzymes that digest lactose effectively resulting in the release of inflammatory chemicals causing swelling. Milk also contains chemicals that disrupt the balance of hormones which can mean blocked pores and spots, almost always isolated around the chin. The best option would be to avoid dairy for a couple of weeks to see if symptoms improve. If you wish to continue having dairy in your diet, then you can switch to organic milk (much higher in vitamin E than normal milk and fewer chemicals) or choose a plant based milk. All your calcium needs can be met by eating dark, green leafy vegetables. To reduce inflammation eat plenty of blueberries, salmon, ginger and beetroot.


Have you heard of the expression “Drinker’s nose?” This is one of the areas of the face that is affected by excess alcohol. Alcohol is a dehydrator, and this shows up as dry, parched skin with feather lines across the cheeks and a red nose. The area between the eyes is associated with the liver, so drinkers tend to have redness and deep lines between the brows. Alcohol disrupts the enzyme the body needs to fight inflammation and so sufferers often will have flushed cheeks. To combat this I would choose gluten free drink options such as rum or tequila and have a glass of water between each round. I would choose lower sugar options such as red wine and the lower sugar white wine options such as Sauvignon blanc.


Excess sugar shows up in our face as premature ageing due to glycation which is where the glucose molecules attach themselves to collagen and become rigid causing lines and wrinkles. Sugar causes a spike in insulin that can make us appear washed-out and sallow skinned. Sugar has a negative effect on our bacteria in our gut and can promote spots on the face, shoulders and chest. My rule is Everything in Moderation, so we should allow ourselves the occasional sweet treat. The good news is that if we cut out the extra sugar that we eat (in tea/coffee, processed foods, fruit juice) then we will already notice the difference in our skin. If we need a sugar fix, perhaps try having some de-stoned dates stuffed with peanut butter?


The answer isn’t to avoid all of the above but to moderate it. If we have a big event coming up, then by eliminating gluten, dairy, alcohol and sugar for a few days before will certainly help our appearance.

By the way, if you were still wondering if chocolate caused acne, well sort of! It causes the sebum in pores to become thick and forms a plug that clogs the skin and may cause spots. Your best bet in any case is to eat chocolate with a high cocoa content, full of magnesium and rich in antioxidants.


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