Clear Skin Baking Tips

Hey there!

Love baking but hate acne?

This post is for you.

I got a great question from CSF reader Julia yesterday about sugar, baked goods, and acne:

Hi Devin,

I was wondering if you have any advice for me: I really struggle with the “no sugar” part of your previous advice.

I love eating sugar, and I haven’t found something that is healthier to eat instead. I like to eat chocolate and more processed foods like cake, cookies, and brownies. I know that a lot of people struggle with these food items, and I especially can see a difference in my own skin after I eat them.

Any suggestions or advice? I’m open to trying pretty much anything you can think of.

Thanks again for your help!
Julia

Phew. Great question!

I hear Julia on these delicious baked goods and treats. I love them too!

But they do tend to cause acne, at least the way most people bake them.

That’s why I pretty much avoided them 100% when I was Paleo, for about 5 years. But Paleo, while it helped my skin a tremendous amount, ultimately gave me some serious health problems due to iron overload, which you can read about in this post). So I’ve since come off Paleo, and in the last couple years I’ve figured out how to cook baked goods and chocolate treats on my own using non-acne-triggering ingredients.

Turns out that a lot of the problem isn’t the sugar, but the other ingredients in these things. Let’s break down the problematic ingredients and give some good skin-friendly alternatives!

Fortified wheat

Fortified wheat flour is refined white flour that’s fortified with reduced iron, a potential acne trigger (read blog post here). (Refining is standard in the US, UK, and a number of other countries.)

Fortified flour also has imbalanced amounts of synthetic B vitamins, which boost your appetite to unhealthy levels, and don’t provide a few key B vitamins that you find in whole-grain flour.

In addition, most modern wheat used for baking is high-gluten dwarf wheat, a hybrid developed in the 1950s which is very high in Glia-a9 inflammatory proteins. These specific gluten fractions irritate the gut, lead to systemic inflammation, and may worsen acne through a host of negative health effects in the body.

I’m starting to think that the other gluten fractions are actually not so much of a problem.

Finally, most modern wheat (at least in the US) is sprayed with Roundup (glyphosate) and pesticides, and is often treated with small amounts of toxic flour conditioners.

The alternative? Einkorn! This ancient variety of wheat has much simpler genes than modern dwarf wheat, and produces way less of the inflammatory Glia-a9 gluten epitope.

As Eli Rogosa writes in Restoring Heritage Grains, he and many other “gluten-sensitive” people are able to eat einkorn with zero problems. Same here! My body doesn’t like modern wheat – nor does my skin – but einkorn wheat works great for me.

Many CSF book readers have reported the same thing.

At home, Sonia and I make whole-grain sourdough einkorn bread, einkorn scones, banana bread, pancakes, and more with no issues.

YMMV, of course – you have to test everything on yourself, since everyone’s body is different!

For any recipe that calls for wheat flour (white or whole), try substituting with organic einkorn flour instead. You can find Jovial brand einkorn flour in many grocery stores now. There’s an “all-purpose” flour that’s a good substitute for white flour, and a whole-grain flour that you can use instead of whole wheat flour.

I’d recommend googling around for recipes that feature einkorn, because the hydration capacity and behavior of einkorn flour are a bit different than modern wheat!

White sugar (i.e. refined sugar)

White sugar can indeed be a problem for acne, because it’s been stripped of all beneficial minerals, and the amounts of sugar in most baking recipes are usually way too high.

Not only do you get a blood sugar spike from white sugar, but you miss out on important minerals like magnesium and chromium, which help regulate blood sugar and reduce inflammation.

But there’s a good alternative!

If you use a whole sugar instead, like unrefined coconut sugar or raw honey, you’re going to get some of those beneficial minerals in there, which will help your body process the sugar properly!

Also, we generally use 1/3 – 1/2 the amount of sweetener that most recipes call for. Your palate will adjust to the lower sweetness and come to relish it – I’m now a big fan of desserts that taste like real food. Substantial desserts. Yumm.

Soy lecithin

Soy lecithin, often used to make chocolate, can be an acne trigger.

One reader on the CSF forum just reported that she finally discovered it was the soy lecithin in dark chocolate, not the sugar or the cocoa, that was giving her breakouts!

Try finding organic, soy-free dark chocolate instead. Alter Eco 85% is a favorite here.

If you’re baking with chocolate, use whole cocoa powder or find some good organic chocolate that doesn’t have soy lecithin.

A1 dairy

Most dairy used in processed foods in the US – and the dairy you can buy at the grocery store – is from modern Holstein cows, which produce the A1 beta-casein protein variant.

This A1 beta-casein acts like an opioid in your body, slowing down your digestion (causing lactose intolerance, constipation, leaky gut, etc.). It also depresses your immune system. It’s complex, but essentially, A1 beta-casein breaks down in your gut to a 7-amino-acid chain called beta-casomorphin-7. Morphin, like morphine. Not good! I’m starting to believe that many of the “acne” effects from dairy are at least partially due to this A1 protein variant.

In contrast, cows of African descent, and some heritage-breed cows of European lineage, produce the A2 beta-casein variant, which does not act like an opioid in your gut, and has zero of the negative effects of A1 beta-casein like digestive problems and immune system issues. It’s totally safe for most people!

This genetic mutation in cows happened around 8,000 years ago, experts think. Bummer! Apparently, lots of dairy farms are catching on, and are breeding exclusively for A2 genetics.

So when a recipe calls for milk, what to use instead?

Simple! Try using non-dairy milks, like coconut milk, or use A2 dairy. That includes all goat and sheep dairy (which only ever produce A2), or genetically verified A2 cows. Some dairy farmers are starting to offer A2-only cow milk, and the A2 Milk Company is starting to sell milk in some grocery stores.

I have a local dairy farm that has me on the list of “A2 milk customers” – they test all their cows and only send me verified A2 milk. Ask your local dairy if they have A2 milk!

Vegetable oil

This includes canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, and peanut oil. These oils are all super-high in polyunsaturated fat, which is one of the main dietary acne triggers (due to lipid peroxidation).

Best to avoid most foods with vegetable oil in them!

If a recipe calls for vegetable oil, use one of the following instead:

  • Coconut oil (virgin or naturally refined)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Red palm oil (orangutan-safe)
  • Lard from pasture-raised pigs
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Grass-fed ghee

There are lots of options here, and they all taste way better than vegetable oil!

Most food manufacturers use vegetable oil because it’s cheap, but it might give you acne, so believe me, it ain’t worth it.

Use one of the above skin-healthy fats instead!

What about store-bought processed foods?

Unfortunately, most store-bought processed foods use refined fortified white flour, white sugar, vegetable oil, and A1 dairy.

While I don’t advise being 100% strict about anything, it’s probably best for your skin to limit eating such treats to once in a while!

Instead, bake your own breads and treats following these tips, and you’ll start to realize home-baked tastes WAY better than store-bought. You won’t feel like you’re missing out anymore!

Devin and Sonia’s favorite baked goods and treats!

Here’s a list of some favorites that Sonia and I like to make:

  • Whole-grain sourdough einkorn and rye bread
  • Whole-grain einkorn snickerdoodle scones with homemade unsweetened plum jam
  • Einkorn banana bread
  • Blueberry-lemon whole-grain einkorn pancakes
  • Honey Mama’s style chocolate (with cocoa powder, coconut oil, coconut butter, raw honey, and peppermint oil)
  • Blackberry crisp with whole-grain einkorn flour and whole coconut sugar
  • Rhubarb and raspberry pie with whole coconut sugar and einkorn crust

In short, we’ve started to make a lot of baked goods using whole einkorn flour, A2 dairy, coconut sugar or raw honey, pasture-raised eggs, etc. and it works great for us.

I think most of the acne problems from baked goods are not about the specific ingredient types per se, but rather with the quality of ingredients used!

Have you had any success with these ingredient changes? Share in the comments below! 🙂

Sources (click to expand)

{ 16 Comments }

  1. Kris says

    Hi Devin,
    Great research, thank you for linking the sources. I’ve suffered with back acne for years. I eat a mostly plant based diet, so I’d call myself a flexitarian (95% plants, 5% grass fed-organic animal). Before that I did mostly Paleo, therefore lots of fresh plants, but still a lot of organic meat/poultry.
    From recent testing, I have low iron stores (ferritin), normal iron (since I suppliment), and low iodine (I now supplement—-boyfriend has shellfish allergy…). I take vitamine A and Magnesium as well.
    I’m game to try anything thats humane and organic even if its not a plant based suppliment, but I would be interested in the Frankin-rice you mentioned since I try to avoid dairy due to an intolerance (causes me inflammation and IgG testing shows markers). If the colostrum is derived from cows or colostrum is from humans, wouldn’t in theory the human one be closer to what we need? Albeit odd to consider!!
    I’ve also looked for a non-bovine ferritin supplement, but it seems I may need to take the bovine one as the plant ones are just more iron (leading to excess). I just want to be humane in my choices, with no added hormones from the cows, etc. With all that said—I’m open to anything—as my skin and other health issues are the number one priority! Any product tips would be greatly appreciated. I use Pure Encapsulations too. 😊 Thank you!

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Kris! Sorry for the epic delay on this, I haven’t checked blog comments in a long time. My fault!

      How low is your ferritin? Did you get liver enzymes checked? It’s quite possible to have low ferritin, but also have an overload of unusable iron stored up in your liver. Taking additional iron supplements on top of that, if that’s the case, isn’t a very good idea. Liver enzymes (and/or GGT) can help point to iron overload in the liver. (See my iron article for more info on tests.)

      What kind of iron are you supplementing with?

      Doubt you’ll find human-sourced colostrum, though it’s an interesting idea! 🙂

      Are you interested in lactoferrin for reducing your iron levels, or for boosting your ferritin? There are definitely other, more effective ways of modulating ferritin, I think (see the iron article linked above for way more info on all the iron stuff, including why I think many people may have an iron overload problem even if ferritin levels don’t show it). I’d target the iron-utilization-boosting nutrients listed in the iron article, personally.

      Also, how much iodine are you taking? What form?

      Finally, have you thought about A2 milk as a skin-safe dairy option, that would give you some lactoferrin in a whole food form?

  2. Donna says

    I actually test low for iron. My Tibc, Total Iron, Iron Saturation, and Ferritin are all low.
    It was recommended for me to take Lactoferrin with an iron supplement to properly increase my iron.
    I’m confused about your article because it makes me second guess my situation. You don’t believe ANYONE is actually low in iron?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Donna! How low are we talking on these numbers?

      I definitely think there are a small number of people who are actually low in iron, but I think it’s probably a lot fewer people than most doctors think. Often, if you have iron dysregulation, excess iron gets stored up in your liver, which doesn’t show up one these blood tests. If you’re lacking in one of the co-factors necessary to use iron properly (vitamin A, molybdenum, vitamin C, copper, ceruloplasmin, vitamin B12, etc.), you can get excess iron deposits in the liver combined with low circulating iron. When you add a plain iron supplement on top of that, without addressing the deficient co-factors, you can worsen the problem. Did you happen to get your liver enzymes and/or GGT tested? That can sometimes indicate excess iron storage in the liver. But keep in mind I have zero clinical experience in all this and just going based on the all the research I’ve read (and my own iron overload problem).

  3. jay,s says

    hi, suffering from acne for 20 years and a rediculolus amount of money spent on “solutions”i tried a newer supplement that’s called acne block that contains lactoferrin,found it on amazon.. it actually was/is one of the only supplements I have tried that actually helped..

    • Devin Mooers says

      Great to hear you got good results from lactoferrin! The science is sound behind why it works, helping to reduce iron overload. Good stuff.

  4. Sara says

    Would eating liver or taking a dessicated liver supplement cause iron overload? I would like to get more vitamin A, but am concerned about the extra iron I would be getting.

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sara! Wise to be cautious about this. Do you have reason to suspect you have existing iron overload? Curious about that, I’ve suspected that in myself for a while now, and have been avoiding liver for that reason. I’m taking Pure Encapsulations vitamin A instead.

    • Sarah says

      Suggesting vegans/Vegetarians have a greater risk of iron deficiency is incorrect. There are at least as many meat-eaters as vege people deficient in Iron. Meat is not an efficient source of iron for human beings. Cutting out animal products goes along way in clearing up acne.

      • Devin Mooers says

        Hey Sarah! I actually agree with your first point now, but differ in the second. I think many people, vegeterians and meat-eaters, have an iron overload problem. This is pretty new to me, but the research seems sound. Turns out you can have anemia AND iron overload, due to iron getting deposited in your liver, but a lack of nutrients that are required to put iron into hemoglobin, like vitamin C, vitamin A, molybdenum, and copper. I also think the research strongly points to heme iron from meat being an excellent source of iron – much more absorbable than plant iron – but I now think eating too much meat leads to iron overload, because your body can’t shut off absorption from heme iron like it can from plant iron. If you’re curious to learn more, I just posted a huge article on iron and acne two days ago:

        Iron and Acne

        I think this is really an unusual perspective, and the opposite of what most people will tell you! Curious to hear your thoughts! 🙂 (I’m actually eating mostly vegetarian these days, due to trying to reverse my iron overload problem, and, yes, the environmental impact.)

  5. Taylor says

    So if I maintain a Paleo/Whole 30 diet that includes high quality meats and seafoods and I do not eat any of the iron-fortified foods or foods that inhibit lactoferrin – my body should be creating lactoferrin on it’s own in a healthy manner and I likely do not need to supplement it, correct?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Yep, exactly! Historical iron overload can be an issue, less so for menstruating women due to the continual iron dumping outlet. Bloodletting was effective back in the day for many diseases due to iron removal! Men don’t have such a built-in iron removal system (perhaps explaining why men tend to live shorter lives than women – iron buildup!). I’m not 100% sure how effective lactoferrin supplementation is for addressing built-up iron overload. Morley Robbins (gotmag.org) is the guy to read about on all the iron issues.

  6. Christina says

    I’m confused. I was just about to purchase some FCLO for my teen daughter to help her with her acne and now I stumbled across your reply where you state you no longer recommend FCLO! Why the change?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Christina! Sorry about the confusion here – I wish we could keep the same recommendations forever, but our knowledge (and the science, and reader experience, etc.) forces us to change our recommendations now and then, and it’s hard to change everywhere all at once! We changed this recommendation because FCLO is basically pure PUFA (polyunsaturated fat), which is more susceptible to lipid peroxidation than other fats, and this is a major contributor to acne, we now believe (lipid peroxidation). The vitamin A in FCLO tends to be very beneficial, but you can get that vitamin A from eating liver, taking desiccated liver capsules, or taking a vitamin A supplement such as this one by Pure Encapsulations. We now think it’s best to reduce the total body load of PUFA as much as possible, rather than trying to boost omega-3s, for instance. Does this make sense?

    • Devin Mooers says

      Hey Sam! That’s actually a really good idea. We currently do not recommend taking FCLO or cod liver oil – we’ve updated our book but haven’t found the time yet to update our cod liver oil blog post – we’ll do that soon! We recommend taking desiccated liver capsules or eating grass-fed liver regularly, or taking a vitamin A supplement like this one:

      Pure Encapsulations Vitamin A 10,000 IU

      Taking vitamin E is a great PUFA defense strategy when you’re eating out at restaurants or for some reason consume a large amount of PUFA. We’re working on a “PUFA Shield” supplement that incorporates full-spectrum E along with some other lipid peroxidation blockers to make it easier for travelers, folks who eat out a lot, etc. to avoid the worst PUFA effects on acne.

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