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:
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!
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 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 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, 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.
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!
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!
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!
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! 🙂