Next time you reach for a cookie or pop another handful of gummy bears in your mouth, consider the following: Simple sugars are those that increase your sugar level in your blood. This comes from what we call stripped carbs – carbs whose "protective fiber" is missing – as well as added sugars and syrups. That increase in blood sugar wreaks havoc on your arteries and thus your inner and outer beauty.
What you're putting inside manifests itself in the arteries of your heart and on your face – in the form of heart disease and high blood pressure as well as wrinkles, acne and rosacea (just to name a few of the confidence-killing skin conditions it can trigger!).
• How a high blood-sugar level causes atherosclerosis:
Too high a blood-sugar level damages the "grout" (really, a protein) that holds the tiles (really, cells) that line the inside of your arteries. Such weakened grout then allows rents in this inner arterial cellular level by high blood pressure. You repair such rent with LDL cholesterol. Thus starts and constitutes the fatty streak that is the forerunner of atherosclerosis and plaques that rupture to result in heart attacks, strokes, memory loss, kidney failure, impotence, decay in orgasm quality and, yes, wrinkles.
High blood sugar also causes dangerous inflammation, which is a known contributor to a slew of health problems, from intestinal upset to arthritis.
• How simple sugars age your skin:
Collagen and elastin (the "scaffolding" that holds up your skin) are the most important proteins to sustain a smooth, supple complexion. Too high a blood-sugar level damages these protein components, which leads to signs of aging such as wrinkles, dullness and sagging. This dysfunction of skin-cell proteins makes skin even more vulnerable to outside aggressors such as damage from ultra-violet rays. Kind of makes that doughnut or serving of wings sound a little less appealing, right?
High blood sugar is also responsible for exacerbating other inflammation-resulting conditions such as chronic skin problems like rosacea and acne – the redness that comes along with both should hint that skin is indeed inflamed.
Two of the biggest contributors to inflammation and the skin issues that come along with it? Stress and diet, aka eating things laden with simple sugar or syrups and refined or stripped carbohydrates.
• Sneaky sources of sugar:
Some culprits are obvious: sugar in your morning coffee, a big sugary soft drink and a box of wings or doughnuts. But simple or stripped sugars are also lurking in foods that you might think are good for you. And although they might be more nutritionally sound than a fried sugar bomb like a doughnut, these simple sugars still have the same effect on your complexion.
[Read: Top 5 Foods to Fight Inflammation.]
As a general rule of thumb, to stay healthy and avoid unnecessary weight gain, whatever you eat should have no more than 4 grams of added sugars per hour. But even "healthy" foods often exceed that by a lot.
The following are 15 sneaky sources of sugars to keep an eye on. (The first several feature simple sugar readings from typical choices; the last few are so variable that you need to read the label.):
1. Chocolate milk: 30 grams of sugar per cup
2. Energy bars: 30 to 50 grams of sugar
3. Sports drinks: 55 grams of sugar
4. Nonfat fruit-flavored yogurt: 47 grams of sugar
5. Granola: 14 grams of added sugar in half a cup
6. Bottled fat-free salad dressings: 2 to 6 grams of sugar per 2-tablespoon serving
7. Ketchup and BBQ sauce: 6 grams of sugar per ounce (about four squeeze-packets' worth)
8. Fruit juice: 22 to 36 grams of sugar in one cup
9. Frozen entrées
11. Soy milk
13. Fat-free "diet" products
14. Instant, flavored oatmeal
15. Specialty coffee drinks
[Read: The 3 Most Misleading Label Claims.]
So, what do you do if these undercover sugar agents are common ingredients in your diet?
First, look for easy swaps. Add fresh fruit and berries to nonfat, no-sugar-added Greek yogurt. Make your own salad dressing at home, with extra-virgin olive oil (full of healthy and beautifying omega-9s!), balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, herbs and spices. Opt for a whole-fruit smoothie over juice. The dietary fiber from the meat of the fruit, which isn't present in juice, helps you digest the sugars more slowly.
Remember that just because something sounds like it's a performance enhancer, doesn't mean it's all good. A bottle of Gatorade with an energy bar is more sugary than two king-size Snickers!
By focusing on fresh, whole foods, you can make great-tasting choices that keep you more beautiful for the long run, too – both inside and out. So look beautiful, and have a great heart and brain because you chose no-stripped carbs.
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An esteemed authority on health and wellness, Michael F. Roizen, MD, chairs the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic, the first such position at any major healthcare institution, where he actively coaches patients. He is a former editor of six medical journals and has published more than 175 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Board-certified in internal medicine and anesthesiology, Roizen co-founded with Mehmet Oz YouBeauty, a media company focused on helping women lead healthier, more beautiful lives, and RealAge. His RealAge series of books as well as his "YOU" series, written with Oz, are worldwide bestsellers, with four No. 1 bestsellers in the U.S. and No. 1 bestsellers in at least five other countries. Roizen and Oz write a daily syndicated column tha appears in over 130 newspapers. Roizen has appeared regularly on Oprah, Today, 20/20 and Good Morning America and has a two-hour, 33-station radio show. He is 67 calendar years of age but his RealAge is 48.7 He routinely tweets the week's top medical stories @DrMike Roizen.