From Nutritionist Mikaela Reuben.

One thing is for sure, we all want to have glowing radiant skin, an abundance of energy, and a positive emotional state of well-being. What if I told you the secret to feeling amazing has a lot to do with what’s on the end of your fork? If you want to have a positive impact on the way your skin and body look and feel, being mindful about what you choose to eat is one of the first steps.

Nutrition is one of the most important components of overall health, affecting the way we perform internally and externally in our every day lives. What happens when we want to have a slice of cake or a scoop of ice cream?

My advice is this – thriving is about living in moderation and balance, NOT restriction. If you’re consuming fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy proteins and fats 80% of the time along with maintaining daily hydration, then having a slice of cheesy pizza (if your body can tolerate it) does not mean the end of the world. Being social and sharing meals and desserts with loved ones is what makes life fun. If I indulge in some vino and delicious mystery appetizers, the next morning I make a point to start my day off with a cup of warm water and lemon to stimulate my digestion, then a healthy breakfast of sautéed leafy greens with eggs or a green smoothie packed with all the goodness.

But if cheesy pizza tastes so good, why moderate at all? There are certain foods/ingredients that are known to potentially stress the body, and we are going to look at some of those today. When it comes to health, knowledge is power. By understanding what you are putting in your body, you can make educated decisions that reflect balance and lead to greater health and happiness.

There are many things to consider if you are trying to determine why you may be having problems with your skin, body, or health. First, we want to look for nutritional imbalances, sensitivities and allergens that may be causing inflammation or stress on the body. Some of the more common triggers that have shown up as culprits are dairy, gluten, alcohol and sugar.

DAIRY

Cheese, yogurt, cream, butter, milk, and ice cream are all forms of dairy. Most of the dairy in North America is pasteurized. This is when a specific product is heated up to 150°F and then stored at temperatures below 55°F. This process can reduce the small risk of harmful milk contamination, however it kills off many of the beneficial probiotics, decreases the protein content, and may transform the calcium content in the dairy to a form that the human body cannot breakdown and absorb properly. This pasteurization process therefore decreases the nutrients available in the dairy to the body.

Humans require calcium for the maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. People assume this can be obtained through the consumption of dairy products, however, this is not always the case. Depending on the individual and how their bodies respond to the dairy, dairy may actually decrease calcium stores. If you want healthy bones, supplement with vitamin D3, or if you’re looking for healthy nutritious sources of calcium, choose dark leafy greens, sea vegetables, sesame, tahini, and wild salmon.

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Aging

Depending on the quality and source of the dairy, humans may end up consuming the hormones which are pumped into the female cows to keep them producing milk. These hormones increases levels of inflammation, skin breakdown, aging and acne in many people.

Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, are often better forms of nutrition as they contain extra vitamins and minerals, which help promote bright, smooth skin, and antioxidants, which help fight off signs of premature aging.

Acidity

Dairy is highly acidic. When the body is exposed to acidic foods, it has to work hard to restore the ph levels to a more alkaline state. The body does this by using its own mineral stores which can leave the body depleted and with compromised immunity, not to mention many diseases thrive in an acidic environment.

Chronic Digestive Problems

Approximately 75% of people cannot digest dairy properly. This is caused by an absence of the enzyme, lactase, which works to break down lactose, the sugar found in dairy products. Commonly called, “Lactose Intolerance,” those predisposed with this are recommended to stay away from all dairy products to reduce the amount of inflammation present in their bodies.

Dairy can cause gut damage or leaky gut syndrome in individuals that are unable to break it down. This can lead to autoimmune disease over time if notable signs are ignored. Not having the lactase can lead to uncomfortable digestive disturbances such as bloating, upset stomach, gas, constipation, diarrhea, mucus in the bowels, and furthermore IBS.

Chronic Inflammation

Dairy can cause calcium deposits to build up and trigger inflammation leading to greater risks for disorders such as osteoarthritis or osteoporosis. Dairy has been shown to irritate allergies, sinus infections, the digestive system and more specifically IBS in many people.

If you are not lactose intolerant or sensitive to dairy and still enjoy the occasional dairy treat, here are five things to keep in mind when purchasing or consuming…

1. Choose your dairy indulgence wisely. Opt for organic dairy that is free of antibiotics and hormones. You can usually read this on the label or ask a store clerk to help you.

2. Only eat dairy as a condiment, not as the main event.

3. We get it: nothing is ever going to replace the gooeyness of melted cheese, but try to use less cheese in your meals and instead rely more on plant based options such as avocado (this will replace that lush full fat taste), nutritional yeast added alongside cheese to a cheese sauce so that you need less cheese, or toast pine nuts with lemon zest and sea salt and add them to a salad (this subs in for the sharpness a parmesan would provide).

4. Organic grass-fed fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir are the best choice. They contain gut supporting probiotics which provide immense health benefits for people who can tolerate dairy.

5. Choose dairy products that are free from GMOs.

SUGAR

For many, the sugar addiction is real. This sweet substance is not so sweet at all in terms of what it does to your body and your skin. Sugar creates severe inflammation, causing damage both inside and out.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the main culprits. Commercially made pastries, cookies, cakes, sodas and other processed “foods” are made with this chemical concoction and can be highly addictive. One of the largest concerns is that when consumed, the body doesn’t recognize the substance, and is unable to digest or break it down properly. Along with that, there is absolutely no nutritional value or health promoting gain. The body overworks and ends up nutritionally depleted in the end.

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Weight Gain

Diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar hinder weight loss goals and disrupt appetite control. Processed foods, refined sugars, soda, pastries, white bread, pasta and rice, all cause insulin levels to spike, producing unnecessary swings of blood sugar levels and hormones. This chaotic hormonal dance inside the body causes fat to be stored and major sugar and carb cravings.

Depletes Energy & Immune System

Sugar or high glycemic foods raise insulin levels, creating one to feel a sudden energetic high that may persist for an hour or so until a crash takes place. Sugar intake is linked to low emotional/mental instability, depression, anxiety, fatigue, poor memory, fogginess, and so on.

Studies also show that sugar can also weaken the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight off bacteria and heal itself from disease. Studies have shown a reduction in the risk of many diseases just with the elimination of refined sugars from ones diet.

Aging and Skin Issues

The ever wavering dip and flow of the blood sugar levels can lead to extra stress at the cellular level and, in turn, premature aging. Sugar increases testosterone in the body which increases pore size, and makes the skin appear dull, produces acne, dark circles under eyes and is known for its hard effects involving premature aging and wrinkles.  

Highly Addictive

It is very easy to become addicted to sugar. There are so many negative influences that sugar can have on the body, but at the end of the day, what we remember are the sweet highs. Breaking this takes time and focus, especially because it is hidden in everything. A sugar addiction can be felt physically in the body when trying to detox causing headaches, body aches and mood swings. Replace sugar filled foods with an abundance of dark leafy greens, clean proteins, healthy fats and drink plenty of water. Starting the morning with a green smoothie and a healthy protein is a good way to manage the insulin spike and sugar cravings that may often appear throughout the day.

Increases Acidity

Sugar, when consumed frequently, causes internal pH levels to be negatively affected, generating an acidic environment throughout the digestive system and promoting various disturbances to other parts of the body. When a body is fueled by whole foods, it works to create an alkaline environment, promoting a beneficial state of health and an optimal place for foods consumed to be broken down, absorbed and utilized. 

How To Avoid Sugar:

Many companies use refined sugars in their processed foods to make the “taste more appealing” and to ensure their customers keep coming back for more. I would always recommend reading the ingredient list thoroughly when you are purchasing a packaged good, even if you are buying from the healthiest food store around, many products are “health washed” and marketed healthier than they actually are. Branding, marketing and packaging may rave about health-boosting ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, however this hardly means that all of the ingredients inside are beneficial.

If you see any of the following on an ingredient list know that it’s a cover name for refined sugar and choose to AVOID!

1. Beet Sugar

2. Cane Juice

3. Rice Syrup

4. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

5. Fruit Juice Concentrate

6. Corn Syrup

7. Sucrose

8. Maltodextrin

9. Cane Syrup

10. Dextrose

Some sweeter news…

Something to keep in mind is that not all sugar has the same effect on the body, like berries for example. The natural sugar content contained in fruit, combined with fibre, allows the sugar to release more slowly into the blood. This manages the intense insulin spike that takes place when refined sugars are consumed without fiber present. When choosing fruit, go for fruits that are lower on the glycemic index or try and exercise right away to use the fuel. If you need a sweetener, consume natural, organic and whole food sources and try stevia, raw organic honey or organic maple syrup but use sparingly, as all sweets are still a treat.

GLUTEN

First thing’s first: What is gluten?

“Gluten” which derives from the Latin word glūten means “glue.” This sticky two-part protein (made up of the peptides gliadin and glutenin) can be found in grains, most notably wheat, rye, and barley. Broken down, it’s sticky texture is what holds together the nutrient stores of the plant. Companies that manufacture processed foods love this “sticky” substance and commonly use gluten containing ingredients as a filler or binder in their products. 

Unfortunately, our wheat today is not the same quality as the wheat that our grandparents or even parents grew up on. Herbicides, pesticides and the overproduction of popular grains have caused immense negative affects on the quality of these foods.

Individuals who have no sensitivities or intolerances to gluten, are able to digest the wheat products properly and absorb the nutrients accordingly. However, people with gluten sensitivities should not consume gluten as it can lead to serious health issues. Repetitive consumption of gluten for someone with a sensitivity or intolerance, can lead to the formation of antibodies and can cause breakdown of the lining of the intestine in the gut. Nutrients are unable to effectively be absorbed due to the damage and this can lead to “leaky gut” where digestive symptoms may include bloating, constipation, diarrhea, weight loss, malnutrition, low vitamin D or even osteoporosis. If the individual ignores these symptoms and continues to eat gluten, this can lead to various autoimmune diseases.

When your gut is “leaky” toxins, microbes and undigested food particles escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream – where they should not be! The body then recognizes a problem and forms antibodies to attack the substance, causing an inflammatory response. 

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Major Digestive Upset

Diarrhea and/or constipation, heartburn, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.

Weight Loss or Weight Gain

It is possible for someone to be either overweight or underweight with a gluten sensitivity but regardless both will be nutritionally depleted and not absorbing adequate nutrition.

Mood and Depression

Brain fog, fatigue, depression, anxiety, low emotional/mental states can be recognized as symptoms of gluten sensitivity or intolerance. 

Rashes and Itches

On the skin it is possible to experience an itchy, red rash with raised blisters. There can also be dull sunken skin and very dry patches that peel. When the skin is showing rashes, bloating or dryness, it means that the gluten sensitivity or intolerance is aggravating the body quite a lot. The skin represents the internal health of the body. Dark circles are also possible if the person is lacking nutrients due to a lack of absorption.

Physical Swelling

Inflammation, swelling or pain in your joints such as fingers, knees or hips. Movement can be achy and bloating can be prominent.

How To Deal With Gluten

  1. When going “gluten-free,” don’t overindulge in gluten-free bread and gluten-free pastries as these are often packed with unnecessary sugars and chemicals. Instead, opt for nutrient dense sprouted gluten-free bread that has limited ingredients.
  2. When choosing to have gluten (if you do not have a sensitivity or intolerance) choose an organic fermented or sprouted bread as these hold additional nutritional benefits and are often easier to digest.
  3. Choosing to eat a gluten-free lifestyle and nourishing your body with whole foods will not only reduce potential inflammation, it will assist ones digestive system, and improve overall gut health to help with weight management and increased energy levels.

alcohol

Alcohol is deep set in our culture as a normal social activity or perfect dinner partner. Whether you’re drinking beer, wine or hard liquor, the active ingredient, ethyl alcohol or ethanol, is the component that brings you intoxication. Hard liquor contains more ethanol per ounce than beer or wine, and it’s the amount of ethanol consumed that affects the body and the mind.

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Dehydration

Dehydration is the most common and harmful effect alcohol takes on the skin. It works as a diuretic and when consumed it damages the mucous membranes of the skin, leading to dullness, wrinkles, dryness, flakiness and a lack of brightness.

Inflammation

Alcohol can cause a large amount of inflammation when consumed. Inside the body it produces a “histamine reaction,” a neurotransmitter that works to create an inflammatory response to unknown or harmful substances. Often times resulting in redness, hives, swelling and/or puffiness of the face and body.

Skin Disorders

When alcohol is consumed too often and for a long period of time, the continuous inflammation and dehydration can lead to a skin disorder called Rosacea. This is where the skin can appear red, scaly, bumpy, dry and feel itchy or possibly a slight burning sensation. Added sugars that are in drinks need to be watched carefully when prioritizing skin health. These refined-sugar filled drinks often cause systemic inflammation leading to an inflamed digestive system, resulting in acne, dryness and dullness of the skin.

Another little added ingredient to watch out for that is found in many common alcoholic beverages is salt. Salt dehydrates the skin and the internal organs, leading to puffiness and an almost swollen appearance.

Weight Gain

Drinking is another activity that should be practiced in moderation, especially because it provides excess calories to the body that aren’t needed.

Depression

Alcohol is a natural depressant and can contribute to anxiety and mood swings.

What about red wine? 

Organic Red Wine is a rich source of antioxidants that include flavonoids and polyphenols, especially reseveratrol, which is an active element in cancer prevention. Numerous studies have shown that red wine has been proven to be a rich source of antioxidants, supporting the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Keep an eye on sulphates and opt for biodynamic wines whenever you can!

Tequila?

If you are on a healthy eating plan and trying to watch your consumption, I would recommend tequila. A little goes a long way. Ask for a shot in a glass, with a few ice cubes and sip slowly throughout the evening with fresh limes and a splash of soda or water if you need!

Follow Mikaela’s advice – check out these low sugar alcohols and these organic skincare products.