skincare, sweets, and Oxford commas

Monday, March 20, 2017

Acne and sugar: Can you have your cake and eat it too? (+ ombre cake recipe)

Here's a low glycemic load ice cream cake recipe from The Jen Project, a skincare blog for busy people. This cake will be less acne-triggering than most other sugary cakes.

tl;dr - Eating sugar (or any processed carbs) can cause inflammation and acne. Bad news for acne-prone me: I love sweets, especially cake. So here's my go-to low-sugar (but still impressive-tasting and impressive-looking) ombre cake recipe for when I'm craving something sweet and want to keep my skin clear.

My husband has the biggest, baddest sweet tooth I've ever seen. Maybe that's why I fell in love with him: he always knew where to find the most delicious sweets. If you mapped out our dates, it looked like Candyland: chocolate cake from The Prolific Oven, key lime pie from Peninsula Creamery, jasmine ice cream from Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous. Heck - we love Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous so much, we had our engagement photos taken there (see below).

Engagement photos from The Jen Project, taken at Mr and Mrs Miscellaneous ice cream shop in San Francisco

While I loved our dessert dates, they did no favors for my acne. My skin wasn't great before we started dating, but our frequent galavanting around Candyland turned my face into a bumpy, pimply nightmare. I sought help from a dermatologist, who saved my skin by prescribing a thorough topical regimen, Accutane, and spironolactone, in addition to recommending some dietary changes. My face is clearer now, but I'm still almost guaranteed a breakout after I go on a sugar binge.

What is it about sugar that causes acne? It has to do with the amount of glucose (a building block of sugar) circulating in your blood. When glucose enters your body, a hormone called insulin helps glucose get absorbed into fat, liver, and skeletal muscle cells. Some insulin activity is normal and healthy, and it's probably happening in your body as you read this.

The problem is when too much glucose enters your body too rapidly, and your insulin levels spike to abnormal levels to keep up with the glucose. A burst of insulin (remember - it's a hormone) is bad news for skin: it produces excess skin oil, clogging pores and causing pimples to form. If your insulin spikes on a regular basis, your body can start becoming resistant to it, which leads to diabetes, excess hair growth, and dark spots on the neck and in body creases. NOT FUN. See more *scary* details about what sugar does to your health (from the perspective of board-certified dermatologists Dr. Nicholas Perricone and Maryann Mikhail) in this article.

So what's a sweets-loving gal like me to do? Fortunately, eating for better skin doesn't mean you have to eliminate all sweet foods from your diet. There's a handy system of figuring out how quickly certain foods release glucose into your body: the glycemic index (GI). The lower the GI, the slower the glucose gets released, and the better news it is for your skin. Unsurprisingly, sucrose has a high GI of 65 while other sweeteners like honey and maple syrup have lower GIs of 54 and 50, respectively. Check out the GI of common sweeteners here. Note that despite their low GI, artificial sweeteners are not a silver bullet because they're addictive and overstimulate sugar receptors, lowering your enjoyment of non-sweet foods (find out more in this Harvard Health Publication article).

The plot thickens: there are some foods like watermelon and carrots that have a high GI, but they contain so little glucose to begin with, they don't trigger as high of an insulin spike as you'd expect. A measure known as glycemic load (GL) accounts for both the amount of glucose in any given food and the time it takes for that glucose to be released into the body. Registered dietician and nutritionist Susan Weiner purports that glycemic load is a better predictor than glycemic index of how a given food will impact blood sugar and insulin activity. Check out this chart to see both the GL and GI of common foods.

In my experience, it's been manageable to make small, day-to-day adjustments to my snacking and meal planning habits to include less sugary treats and more fruits, which are still sweet but nutrient-dense, high in fiber, and low GL. What's hard for me is when I'm cakeless at an occasion that feels cake-worthy: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and - for old time's sake - date nights. So for those moments, here's a vegan ombre ice cream cake recipe that's easy, tasty, and lower GL than regular ice cream cake. Creamy and chocolatey, this cake requires no baking and freezes well so you can pull it out whenever that sweet tooth rears its head, and it looks impressive enough for any cake-worthy occasion. No fussy frosting required to get that beautiful ombre effect! Note it does take some advanced planning, but you can leave it frozen for up to a week (so you can set it and forget it till the big day).

Low glycemic load chocolate banana ombre cake, from The Jen Project - a skincare blog for busy people

Ombre chocolate banana-nut ice cream cake
(low glycemic load, inspired by So Beautifully Real)

Serves 4-6
Preparation: 45 minutes
Ombre construction: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Freezer time: 3 hours, up to 1 week

- 12 chocolate wafers (I use these or scrape the filling out of Oreo Thins)
- 4 tablespoons roasted macadamia nuts
- 3 pitted dates

Chocolate ganache:
- 16 ounces dark chocolate (I like 74% Guittard dark chocolate couverture wafers)
- 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk

Ice cream filling:
- 3 cups raw cashews, soaked in cold water for 6 hours and drained
- 2 ripe bananas
- 3/4 cup maple syrup
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 4 tablespoons peanut butter
- 3/4 cup melted virgin coconut oil
- 3/4 of the chocolate ganache

Chocolate chip cookie dough balls:
- Handful of dark chocolate chips
- 3 tablespoons coconut flour
- 3 tablespoons almond flour
- 3/4 cups pitted dates, soaked in (initially) boiling water for 1 hour and drained
- 1 tablespoon almond butter
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- Dash of vanilla extract
- Handful of powdered sugar
- Pinch of sea salt

Other toppings:
- Blueberries
- Bananas
- Mint leaves
- Leftover crumbs from the crust

- 8" cake round

1) Make the crust: Combine all crust ingredients in a food processor. Grind until mixture resembles damp-to-wet sand. After you set some of the crumbs aside for decorating, press the rest of the mixture into the bottom of the springform pan lined with a parchment round on the bottom and acetate strips on the sides. Stick it in the freezer.
2) Make the ganache: Place chocolate wafers in a glass or metal mixing bowl. Heat coconut milk over medium heat until bubbles just begin to form on the surface. Pour hot coconut milk over the chocolate and let the mixture stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk until the mixture becomes a smooth sauce - takes about 2 minutes.
3) Make the filling: Combine all filling ingredients except coconut oil in a blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. Add melted coconut oil and blend thoroughly. Set aside.
4) Set up the ombre: Set aside 1/5 of the filling in a small bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of the chocolate ganache to the remaining filling and stir with spatula until even in color. Set aside a quarter of that mixture in another small bowl, and add 2 more tablespoons of the chocolate ganache to the rest of the mixture and stir with spatula until even in color. Continue this process until you have 5 bowls of filling, all of progressively dark shades of chocolate brown (it will look like you are concocting different shades of foundation). Leave these bowls at room temperature - do not refrigerate.
5) Pour in the filling: Pour the lightest shade of filling into the acetate-lined springform pan. Let this layer set up in the freezer for 15 minutes. Pour in the next lightest shade of filling, and stick it back in the freezer for 15 minutes. Continue until you've poured all five bowls of filling into the pan.
6) Set the ice cream cake: Freeze cake for at least three hours.
7) Meanwhile, make the cookie dough balls: Combine all cookie dough ball ingredients except powdered sugar and mix in food processor. Adjust the amount of almond butter and almond flour until you're able to roll the mixture into a sphere. Dust powdered sugar over the cookie balls.
8) Decorate the cake: When the cake is set, un-engage the springform pan and pop the acetate-covered cake onto a cake round. Peel off the acetate layer (this is the fun part) and behold the clean edge and gorgeous ombre sides! Decorate with cookie dough balls, blueberries, bananas, mint leaves, and crumbs leftover from the crust.
9) Defrost and eat! Allow cake to defrost at room temperature for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Keep in mind this is what it will look like when you're mixing up the different shades of the ombre ice cream filling...

And here's the satisfying clean edge you can expect when your cake comes out of the freezer!
How do you satisfy your sweet tooth? Let me know in the comments! I plan to feature more low-glycemic load versions of other desserts in the future.
12 comments on "Acne and sugar: Can you have your cake and eat it too? (+ ombre cake recipe)"
  1. That looks so ridiculously good! Love your helpful reminders about the connection between sugar and acne. So sad... haha but good to know! Can't wait to try this recipe! :)


  2. I had horrible skin in my teen years and was shocked to find that it was my diet that was the problem. After spending years on harsh medications, I learned that I couldn't eat gluten. That cleared up 75% of the problem. Then I gave up refined sugar (except for once a week) That cleared up the other 25%. I wish more dermatologists were aware of the relationship between diet and skin. That cake recipe looks amazing!

  3. Great tips and advice. I find that dairy and too much sugar and coffee kills my skin. Its all about trial and error and keeping a watch on what negatively impacts your skin.

  4. Holy delicious! I'm adding this to my list, thanks for sharing!

  5. What an informative post! I've always had a sweet tooth and lucky me I never had a problem with acne, but now as I get older I need to cut the sugar for other reasons. This recipe looks like a delicious alternative! Thanks!

  6. Just tried to leave a comment and I think it got sent too soon lol...was just going to say I SO wish I had known about the connection between acne and sugar when I was a teenager! I was so clueless about how heavily related our diet is to the condition of our skin! Thankful to be more educated now. Thanks for sharing this info!

  7. It's like I was reading my own story - minus the good at baking part! Whenever I eat too much sugar my skin freaks out. I still eat desserts, just try to increase my skin-clearing fruit and veggie intake when I do.

  8. What a gorgeous cake! Love the ombre effect!

  9. Wow, I always suspected there was a link between sugar and my acne. Informative and yummy post!

  10. Wow, that cake looks seriousely amazing! And sounds pretty nutritious too- great alternative for those who want to cut a bit of sugar out of their daily diets (myself included :) )


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