Memo to Parents: Clean up the diet – clear up their skin

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So many changes take place as kids move from childhood to adolescence that it’s hard to keep up. For one thing, their diets – which you might have had a little more control over when they were young – now leave a little something to be desired. At the same time, pimples and breakouts start to literally rear their ugly heads. So it’s no wonder that the food-pimple connection seems to be a no-brainer.

Pimples and acne are largely due to hormonal changes, but that’s not to say that diet doesn’t play a role. The latest research tells us that there likely is a connection, but one that’s a bit more complicated than most people think.

Common wisdom has pointed the finger at greasy, fried foods – stuff that isn’t usually lacking in a typical teenager’s diet, like chocolate, pizza and French fries. But when it comes to connecting any of these individual foods to breakouts, studies have come up short.

The focus has shifted instead towards the overall quality of the diet – in particular, the relationship between skin eruptions and a diet heavy in refined carbs and sugars. And it looks like a diet that’s heavy in these ‘bad carbs’ – ‘white’ foods like white bread, pasta, potatoes, white rice and sweets – may be partly at fault.

When the diet is overloaded with refined carbs, it can lead to a condition of persistent, but mild, system-wide inflammation – a kind of slow simmering fire in the body that has been linked to all kinds of problems, including pimples and acne.

So it’s not simply the French fries that are the problem – it’s the fries coupled with the white bread burger bun and the sugary soda that lead to a heavy carb burden on the system.

Turning down the heat is pretty easy – it just requires a good nutritional offense. The focus should be on two things – healthier carbohydrates, and more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats.

Clear out the refined ‘white’ carbs and sugars as much as possible. Occasional desserts are fine, but encourage your kids to cut down on sweets, especially sodas that dump tablespoons of sugar into the body in one gulp. Keep more of the ‘good’ carbs around – like fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grain bread, pasta, crackers and cereals instead of the usual white ones.

Kids can get their omega 3s from tuna – the one fish that many of them will actually eat.

Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD.