Sugar is the most demonised nutritional substance in the world right now. For good reason too, because at the levels we currently eat it, it’s ruining our health. The average American now consumes an astonishing 3 pounds of sugar per week. That’s 200 grams a day of totally empty calories. The recommended daily limit is 50 grams.
It’s not just tooth decay that’s the problem. Sugar messes you up in little heard of ways; for instance, sugar can inhibit the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor in your brain, a substance critical for the formation of new neurons and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Sugar directly activates a “fat switch” in your body that causes your metabolism to pack on pounds instead of burning them. It doesn’t end there.
If you’re a regular reader of this website then you’ll know that sugar is an acne causing nightmare too. It increases inflammation by over 100% and leads to insulin resistance and oily skin…
…but you’ll also know that you can’t eliminate sugar entirely. The most nutritious, antioxidant packed fruits and vegetables all contain natural sugars.
What’s more, sugar is totally safe at intakes below 50 grams per day. If you have a half a brain you can use small amounts in tea, coffee and homemade chocolate and still enjoy a sweet treat once in a while without getting acne.
Hence, in this article you will learn how to do exactly that. We will discuss the many types of alternative sweeteners springing on to the market these days.
If you’re looking for an alternative sweetener that pleases your taste buds but still doesn’t give you acne, you have three broad criteria to look for:
- It needs a healthy fructose to glucose ratio. Fructose and glucose are the main sugars in nature; all plant derived foods contain fructose and glucose in varying ratios. While both fructose and glucose cause inflammation when ingested in excess, fructose also has the power to overload your liver, turn to fat, and impair its functioning. The result of that is insulin resistance in the liver and higher insulin in your bloodstream. So for any sweetener, the less fructose the better. A fructose to glucose ratio higher than 60:40 and you’re fast approaching a minefield for acne.
- It should have a lower glycaemic index. The post-meal blood sugar spike is not as important for acne as you may have read – what really matter is long term blood sugar (and insulin) levels. But a sweetener that rapidly digests and increases blood glucose can still give you oilier skin for several hours, and increase blood formation of free radicals called AGEs. Rapid digestion also increases the inflammatory response. The lower the GI the better it is for acne.
- It should not have other contaminants. This is critical. You don’t want your sweetener to be laced with pesticides, herbicides, flow agents, moisture absorbers, chemicals solvents used in the extraction or whatever else. Then there’s new-fangled sweeteners with side effects: for example, erythritol stimulates your sweet receptors while having zero calories, but is this really safe for humans? The perfect acne sweetener will have bonus natural compounds that promote health, such as antioxidants and trace nutrients.
Let’s get started.
What is it? The refined white table sugar found in kitchens everywhere. Extracted from either the sugar beet widely grown in Europe or the sugar cane plant that is widely grown in Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean. The plant is crushed and the juice is extracted, then heated to create crystals. Starts off as raw sugar, but manufacturers spin that in a centrifuge to remove the dark molasses portion to yield pure sugar crystals. If they’re not white enough then a white dye is added.
Is it safe for acne? Definitely not. White sugar is a very poor sweetener. White sugar, also known as table sugar/sucrose, has a perfectly safe glucose to fructose ratio of 50:50.
The big problem is that all the fiber is stripped away during the refinement process. The digestion is almost instantaneous and the resulting blood sugar spike very sharp.
White sugar has a GI of 60. That’s why consuming a sugary chocolate bar makes your skin so oily immediately afterwards.
This blood sugar spike is doubly problematic because the refinement strips away any antioxidants, so nothing can stop the increased formation of AGE free radicals caused by higher blood sugar.
Sugar cane plants are nearly all genetically modified in the United States, and the purpose of this modification is to allow the crop to withstand high amounts of the herbicide glyphosate.
As we discussed in my eBook Annihilate Your Acne, glyphosate is a major indirect villain behind acne. Sugar crops are reported to take up even higher amounts of glyphosate than other plants.
The verdict: white sugar represents the acne-causing powers of sugar in their purest form.
What is it? The cheap brown version of table sugar available at all grocery stores. Brown sugar is obstinately less refined than white sugar. Decades ago brown sugar used to be sugar crystals before the centrifuge removed all the molasses, but now most brown sugar is white sugar with the molasses added back in. Can be purchased in variety of colours, from light brown to near chocolate intensity. The darker the brown sugar, the more molasses it contains. Light brown sugar contains roughly 3.5% while dark brown contains 6.5%. This also makes brown sugar moister and affects the taste somewhat.
Is it safe for acne? No, but brown sugar is healthier than white sugar due to the simple addition of molasses. The fructose/glucose ratio is exactly the same, but the molasses reintroduce some much needed antioxidants which can combat the harm from increased AGE formation during the blood sugar spike.
This study found that despite containing few antioxidant compounds brown sugar still had “interesting free radical scavenging properties”. This study compared several sweeteners such as molasses, honey and brown sugar. Brown sugar had intermediate antioxidant capacity that was equal to even honey, which is far more complex. Brown sugar spikes blood sugar less as well due to having small amounts of fiber. What increase it does cause will be made safer by these antioxidants.
Brown sugar is also touted as having trace minerals, but it’s a nutritional wasteland just like white sugar. The molasses contain trace amounts of vitamin B3, B6, B9, potassium, and magnesium, but the amounts are miniscule. Brown sugar also has the problem of glyphosate contamination since they’re from the exact same plant.
That said, brown sugar is slightly healthier for acne than white sugar. They’re both equally as dirt cheap so if you’re too poor to get fancy sweeteners, buy brown sugar.
What is it? A sugar-based sweetener that is claimed to be natural and is surging in popularity as a health product. Claimed to spike blood sugar levels less and be healthier for diabetics. Other claims include “bursting with vitamins and minerals”, “rich in antioxidants”, and “100% natural sugar alternative”. Sourced from the agave plant growing in Mexico, which has been used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years, like for cleaning wounds.
Is it safe for acne? Definitely not! Agave nectar is the biggest fraud of a health food on the market. Almost every health claim you’ll read is a lie.
Agave nectar does have a lower glycaemic index, but for all the wrong reasons. The agave nectar available on grocery store shelves is 85% fructose and 15% glucose. That’s an abominable ratio for acne.
It’s far worse than high fructose corn syrup at roughly 60:40. The scientific name for agave nectar is “hydrolysed high fructose inulin syrup”.
Agave nectar isn’t sap squeezed straight from the plant as the adverts suggest; it undergoes extensive factory processing. High heat breaks down high levels of a healthy fiber called inulin into massive amounts of fructose molecules.
If you want a healthy agave sweetener than buy miel de agave. It’s the original sweet sap that the Mexicans enjoyed for hundreds of years, not the processed rubbish commonly available. Miel de agave is rare and expensive, but certain Whole Foods shops stock it.
Is it safe for acne? Raw honey is the best sweetener for acne patients ever. It’s still a sugary sweetener, but it’s accompanied by tons of healthy compounds like bee-defensin 1, antioxidants, and Methylgyloxal. Honey can actually improve insulin sensitivity and reduce inflammation, in spite of being over 80% sugar. Raw honey has been linked to improved immune system function; stories speak of a common cold melting away rapidly after a blob of honey was eaten.
Honey is not especially high in fructose, with fructose being just over 50% of total sugars. Raw honey has a neutral effect on blood sugar, according to this study. My own experiences back this up; compared to consuming a globule of raw honey, I always find that the classic energy crash resulting from an earlier blood sugar spike was much larger with a sugary chocolate bar. Honey also contains many antioxidants; this study and this study found that consuming buckwheat honey raised antioxidant levels in the blood.
Raw honey will only give you acne if you have an allergy to products derived from the bee kingdom. Getting raw honey is absolutely critical, because the health giving antioxidants and enzymes are very delicate in the face of heat. Raw honey was the predominant sweetener used in the European Middle ages, before the sugar cane industry began to boom in Jamaica.
Raw honey is my number one sweetener for health and it’s the healthiest one for your acne too. My recommended product is this 22oz Y.S. Eco Bee Farms Raw Honey.
What is it? Stevia is a zero calorie sweetener derived from the stevia rebaudiana plant. It’s beloved by paleo and primal communities and increasingly the general public for providing the sweet taste of sugar without actually containing sugar.
Stevia contains glycosides like rebaudiosides and steviosides, some rare plant compounds which bind to your sweet receptors just like sugar. Rebaudiosides and steviosides are 350 and 250 times sweeter than sugar respectively. In 2015 stevia sales increased by 14%. The main stevia product on the market is Truvia, sold by Cargill and the Coca Cola Company.
Is it safe for acne? Stevia is safe for occasional usage, but over the long term it’s not. When the sweet receptors on our tongues get stimulated, this means one message to our bodies: sugar is incoming. To prepare for the expected increase in blood sugar, any sweet taste triggers an increase in insulin to convert the glucose to glycogen and store it as energy…
…but the flood of glucose never comes with stevia. So insulin just lowers your blood glucose to much lower than average levels, and to resolve the now hypoglycaemic state you find yourself in, your body increases its cortisol production to pull glucose from your muscle stores.
That’s bad news for acne, since cortisol is the main stress hormone. Stevia causes a large spike in cortisol and all the acne-causing problems associated with it.
The good news is that over the long term, your body adapts to the glycosides in stevia and no longer pumps out insulin when sugar isn’t coming. The much worse news is that it decouples the sweet taste from actual sugar too.
So when you then eat a healthy apple, or a bowl of yoghurt, your ability to secrete insulin to deal with the glucose increase is impaired. Your blood sugar remains higher for longer with more opportunity to cause acne. That applies to every single sugary food you eat!
For that reason, I absolutely do not recommend eating stevia on a regular basis. Occasional usage is safe, unless you suffer from chronic stress and cannot withstand an extra cortisol spike.
What is it? A sugar alcohol which is another zero calorie sweetener. Sugar alcohols are hybrids of carbohydrates and alcohols. Erythritol is related to sorbitol, xylitol and malitol. Erythritol is popular because it has only 0.24 calories per gram. It has 6% of the calories of sugar but 70% of the sweetness. Truvia, the main stevia sweetener on the market and the number 2 branded sweetener in the United States, actually contains erythritol as its main sweetener.
Is it safe for acne? The exact same rule applies with stevia. Erythritol is occasionally safe, but the decoupling effect can kick in if you use it regularly.
Apart from that, erythritol is safe. Most sugar alcohols cause digestive issues because humans cannot digest them. However, this study found that erythritol passed through the digestive system with very few side effects. Only massive doses cause harm, according to this study where 50 grams of erythritol was able to cause nausea and stomach rumbling in some patients. This study found that “the results of the present study demonstrate that the repeated ingestion of erythritol at daily doses of 1 g/kg body weight was well tolerated by humans”.
There are few other problems to speak of. Erythritol has no additional nutritional compounds, unlike natural stevia and honey, but it’s safe for acne when used occasionally.
What is it? Coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar, is a natural sugar made from the circulating sap of the coconut plant. This juice is evaporated to leave behind brown coloured sugar crystals.
Is it safe for acne? Coconut sugar is a really clever marketing gimmick launched to take advantage of the wild popularity of coconut products (like coconut oil and coconut flour). Nevertheless, it is healthier for acne than regular sugar.
Coconut sugar contains small amounts of fiber and minerals which slow down its digestion; hence coconut sugar has a lower glycaemic index than white cane sugar (study). In fact, coconut sugar’s fiber is a particularly healthy type called inulin.
One study found that white table sugar has a GI of 60 while coconut sugar has a GI of 35. Coconut sugar has a superior fructose to glucose ratio as only 40% of total sugars are estimated to be fructose (study).
Despite all things coconut being advertised as superfoods, there’s no evidence of any remarkable health benefits from coconut sugar. It lacks the more fascinating nutritious compounds found in honey.
However, it does contain traces of zinc, calcium and potassium, along with short chain fatty acids, polyphenols and antioxidants. Coconut sugar easily beats white sugar and brown sugar for acne. It contains less contaminants such as glyphosate too.
High fructose corn syrup
What is it? A sugar based sweetener that burst into life thanks to the problem of excess resources in the corn industry. Farmers who received massive subsidies to produce corn had so much lying around that they invented a factory process to extract sugar from the plants. High fructose corn syrup consumption skyrocketed during the 1970s and rose more gradually until the year 2000.
Because it’s so cheap HFCS is found everywhere, from hot dogs to protein shakes, to cookies and milk chocolate. 55% of sweeteners are now made from corn starch.
Is it safe for acne? No! HFCS is second only to agave nectar in the ranks of acne-causing nightmares. The name reveals the truth – it contains a poor fructose to glucose ratio of about 55:45. The corn starch used to make high fructose corn syrup contains mostly glucose originally, but factory processes convert some to fructose to make the syrup sweeter. One high fructose corn syrup available, called HFCS 90, contains 90% fructose.
Possible the worst aspect of high fructose corn syrup is its heavy glyphosate contamination. Corn is another crop that is genetically modified specifically to withstand higher amounts of pesticides, but humans have not been afforded the same benefit. Again, we discussed in my eBook specifically why glyphosate is pure evil for acne patients. High fructose corn syrup contains no nutrition either, with any remaining fiber obliterated in the factory. So there’s nothing to slow the digestion and resulting blood sugar spike.
The good news with HFCS, however, is that avoiding it is simple. You just need to stop eating processed foods, and that’s what I recommend all acne patients do anyway.
What is it? A highly controversial sweetener. Aspartame is a zero calorie sweetener often denoted as E951. While stevia is naturally derived, aspartame is an unnatural sweetener. Aspartame was approved for use in food in the 1980s. It was originally sold under the brand name NutraSweet. Like stevia, aspartame stimulates sweet receptors on the taste buds without containing any sugar. Most commonly found in soft drinks, such as Coca Cola, energy drinks, and fruit squash.
Is it safe for acne? The same rule applies as with stevia and erythritol – long term consumption will decouple your normal digestive responses and make the digestion of any food containing natural sugars more difficult. That’s why diets high in zero calorie sweeteners have been consistently linked to obesity and diabetes.
Furthermore, aspartame is an excitotoxin. Excitotoxins, which also include the infamous MSG, overstimulate your nerve cells to the point where they break down and die. Studies have found that excitotoxins like MSG can cause digestive problems such as nausea and abdominal pain, the kind of digestive problems widely linked to acne outbreaks.
Then there’s aspartame’s ability to successfully cripple the rest of your health. Conditions linked to aspartame in scientific studies include: vertigo, seizures, vision problems, cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s, mental retardation, hearing loss, numbness, muscle spasms, heart palpitations, and anxiety.
So the answer is: I recommend you to avoid aspartame and rely on natural sweeteners like honey. Like HFCS, aspartame is mostly found in processed foods, especially soft drinks and sports energy drinks.
The final word on the matter of sweeteners is: raw honey is the best one for acne patients with ease. Coconut sugar comes in at second. Agave nectar is simply diabolical and is the most overrated superfood ever.
No matter how acne-friendly a sweetener is, it can still cause acne when ingested in excess. Honey and coconut sugar are still nearly 100% sugar and will still massively increase inflammation if you go nuts and stuff your face with them, under the impression that they’re totally safe…
…but if you’re looking for a slightly healthier alternative to regular sugar for making acne friendly homemade treats, use the guide above. For example: I occasionally make very dark homemade chocolate using a special acne-friendly recipe. I always use moderate quantities of raw honey as the sweetener, to push the acne-clearing nutrition to the max.
Cocoa is packed with antioxidants and by using raw honey you can make a tasty bombshell of antioxidants.
Thanks for reading!