Diet and Acne: How a Low-Glycemic Load Diet May Lessen Breakouts

Since I’ve been following a low-glycemic diet for a few months, I asked my dietetic intern to write this post based on the information I’ve discovered. For those of you who suffer from acne, I hope you find it helpful. Stay tuned until next time when I will reveal the biggest contributor to my complexion woes. Hint: There is a happy ending.

– Michelle

Can diet cause acne?

By Courtney Krieger

I recently visited my dermatologist hoping for a miracle to fix the embarrassing skin breakouts I’ve experienced for years. After trying every type of skin regime, I was begging for an answer. I left each appointment with various creams, scrubs, ointments and prescriptions, with never a whisper about diet. But what if there is a solution right in your own pantry, a much cheaper, more natural route? Sound too good to be true? Research is showing it might be possible.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recently reviewed research concerning the relationship between acne and nutrition. What they’ve compiled is very promising, and has the possibility of saving you big bucks for the clear skin you have always desired. They discovered that following a low glycemic load diet may clear up your skin.

From Michelle: When I asked my dermatologist friend Dr. Jessica Wu about this, she agreed, explaining how high glycemic foods can cause increased oil production, and a low glycemic diet can decrease oil production after just one week. More oil can lead to more clogged pores, hence more acne.

You may be asking yourself what glycemic load is and how it differs from glycemic index? The glycemic index measures how quickly a particular food is broken down into glucose. This is based on grams of carbohydrates in the food being tested. The glycemic load ranks food according to its place on the glycemic index given the average serving size that you would typically consume. Factoring in serving size helps foods that may appear high on the glycemic index, such as watermelon, have a low glycemic load. A good thing.

Foods that have a low glycemic load include any with a rating of 10 or under, as classified by the Harvard School of Public Health. These foods include bran and bran cereals, legumes such as chickpeas, pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, and lentils, most high-fiber fruits and vegetables, most dairy products, and foods that contain very little or no carbs like animal proteins. Following a low glycemic load diet means limiting or avoiding foods that have a medium to high glycemic load including oatmeal, breads, many types of pasta, candy, rice, most baked goods, white or refined cereals, and certain starchy vegetables.

The researchers at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics believe that although the idea of eating foods that have a low glycemic load has the potential to affect acne, more research needs to be done to prove this theory correct. Potentially clearing up my skin by eating foods that help maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle sounds like a great idea to me – definitely worth a shot!


Burris, Jennifer, MS,RD, William Rietkerk, MD, MBA, and Kathleen Woolf, PhD,RD,FACSM. “Acne: A Potential Role for Medical Nutrition Therapy.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 113.3 (2013): 416-29. Print.

“Diabetes Care.” Online-Only Appendix. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2013.

Wu, Jessica. Feed Your Face: Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body in 28 Delicious Days. New York: St. Martin’s, 2011. Print.

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