Most of us assume that a vegan diet is a healthy option that would help clear acne. However, in some cases a vegan diet can actually be causing acne breakouts.
What is a vegan diet?
Vegan diets have become more common in recent years with increased awareness of their potential health and environmental benefits.
Vegetarian diets exclude meat, poultry, and fish. While vegan diets also exclude dairy products and eggs. Some people also choose to avoid other animal products, such as honey and gelatin, depending on their beliefs and values.
It’s often assumed that a vegan diet is a healthier option because it’s typically higher in fruits and vegetables, and lower in saturated fats and cholesterol.
However, a vegan diet can be unhealthy and bad for our skin if it’s high in ultra-processed foods, refined carbohydrates and added sugars – just like any other diet.
Keep in mind that just because a food is “vegan” it does not mean that it’s healthy. Vegan or plant-based does not mean a whole, organic, or natural food. It’s a reference to a food that does not contain animal product, which means that a plant-based food can be ultra-processed, classified as a junk food, or high in artificial sugars. All of which are unhealthy for our body and our skin.
Refined carbohydrates and sugars are one of the most common causes of acne, so a vegan diet can actually be the root cause of acne, if the vegan food choices are unhealthy.
A healthy vegan diet vs an unhealthy vegan diet
A healthy vegan diet is well-planned and provides all of the essential nutrients that your body needs to function optimally. It includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods, such as whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. It also includes sources of protein, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are nutrients that can be difficult to obtain from a vegan diet if not planned carefully.
But most importantly, a vegan diet that is beneficial to skin health and for keeping skin clear will be very low in simple carbohydrates and sugars.
An unhealthy vegan diet can be lacking in essential nutrients and high in ultra-processed foods, simple carbohydrates and added sugars. For example a vegan diet that relies heavily on ultra-processed vegan meat substitutes, fried foods and snacks high in added sugars and fats.
A poorly planned vegan diet can also be low in important nutrients like vitamin B12, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can have negative effects on health and the skin.
Dairy products and acne
The benefit of the vegan diet is that it does not include dairy products, which is one of the most common causes of acne. Dairy products contain hormones that can stimulate sebum production in the skin, leading to the development of acne.
If you’re on a vegetarian diet that includes high levels of dairy and you’re struggling with your acne, it’s recommended to try cutting out dairy completely.
How to follow a vegan diet that is good for the skin
It’s first important to note that a vegan diet is not essential for clear skin. In fact, in many cases, a diet that includes animal products can be a good choice for a clear skin treatment plan. However, if you choose to follow a vegan diet for ethical reasons, it is possible to make good choices and eat vegan in a way that can improve your skin health and help clear your acne.
1. Include a variety of fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables, both raw and cooked, provide a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are essential for a healthy body and healthy skin.
Aim for at least one cup of vegetables with every meal.
2. Choose low-glycemic index foods
High-glycemic index foods, such as refined carbohydrates and sugars, cause a rapid increase in blood sugar and insulin levels, which can trigger inflammation and stimulate the production of androgen hormones. Androgens can increase sebum production in the skin, leading to clogged pores and the development of acne.
It’s common in a vegan diet to replace animal products with carbohydrates. However, when the carbohydrates are refined or in excess, they can lead to acne. Instead, opt for whole grains, as well as pseudo grains such as quinoa and amaranth.
3. Reduce or eliminate ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods often contain high levels of artificial sugars which can increase androgen production, and therefore acne. This includes most vegan and plant-based ultra-processed foods, so always check the ingredients on the label.
4. Eat protein in every meal
Protein is an essential nutrient that helps to build and repair tissues, including the skin. Avoid ultra-processed vegan meat substitutes that are often high in soy or sugars. Instead, opt for whole plant-based proteins such as legumes, quinoa, nuts, and seeds. Eggs are also a great option for vegetarians.
5. Reduce soy products
The relationship between soy and acne is not well established. Some studies suggest that soy may have anti-inflammatory effects that could potentially benefit acne-prone skin. However, other studies have suggested that soy may have hormonal effects that could exacerbate acne.
As there is a chance that soy products may contribute to toxic estrogens, it’s better to keep soy products in the diet to a minimum. Better soy options are tempeh and miso.
Can a vegan diet cause acne?
A well-planned vegan diet can be beneficial to skin health as well as helpful in the clearing of acne.
However, just like any other diet, a vegan diet that is high in simple carbohydrates and sugars can be the root cause of the acne.
If you have chronic acne and you’re following a vegan diet, it’s recommended to follow the healthy vegan diet guidelines above as a foundation of your clear skin treatment plan.
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