White Out

A Flour That’s Not So Pretty

By Shelley Burns

Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, September/October 2008.

Have you ever wondered if that piece of fluffy white bread, slice of moist cake, or sample of flaky piecrust affects your skin? Why would you? After all, these are just baked goods. The concern with many of these foods is they are prepared with white flour. White flour can cause many skin conditions, including premature aging and acne.

White flour is the most processed form of wheat. It has no nutritional value and no fiber, but in baking acts as a great binding agent. Mix it with water and you get glue. White flour does not taste sweet; however, when eaten, it breaks down into glucose (sugar). As difficult to believe as this may be, there is not much difference between eating a piece of white bread or having a chocolate bar. In fact, there really isn’t much difference between eating a teaspoon of sugar and a bagel.

Not surprisingly, eating this food-turned-to-sugar is bad for your skin. Glycation is the result of glucose breaking down and bonding to proteins. This bonding causes loss of elasticity of collagen, which means wrinkles and saggy skin. Acne is a form of inflammation and sugar causes inflammation.

Try this—place a slice of white bread in a glass of water and place a slice of pumpernickel in a separate glass of water. The white bread will break down more quickly than the pumpernickel. This is exactly what happens in your blood. The more quickly the bread breaks down, the more glucose enters your blood. Your body reacts to this increase in glucose by making insulin, taking glucose out of your blood and storing it as fat. White bread will convert into fat more quickly than pumpernickel. We know good fats can have a positive effect on skin. Unfortunately, sugar that’s converted to bad fats is detrimental to skin.

This does not mean you can’t have white foods; however, it does mean you should consume them in moderation. Begin by limiting products with white flour to three to four times weekly. Completing a weekly diet log can help you track your eating habits.

Avoid products made with enriched flour. Enriched is just a fancy term for white. This is why it is important to read labels when you are grocery shopping. You will be surprised at how many products include enriched flour.

Replace white bread with better choices such as pumpernickel, rye, and whole grain. The denser and heavier the bread, the better. This rule can also be applied to pasta. Choose rice pasta, spelt, and whole wheat pasta instead of white flour pasta. Cook it until it’s chewy, not soft.

Consuming a diet rich in white foods can cause skin problems but can have other health impacts like constipation, diabetes, heart disease, and weight gain. A simple shift in diet can dramatically reduce your risk.