Eating for Skin Health

Certain foods and beverages should be on the
menu if you want to look your best.

by Jodi Helmer

April 2016

No matter how much you pamper your skin from the outside, a lovely complexion will remain elusive until you feed your appearance from within.

“Your skin is a reflection of what’s happening inside your body and your diet is an integral part of that,” says integrative nutritionist Mary Purdy, MS, RDN, an adjunct professor at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, the teaching clinic for Bastyr University in Seattle. “Changing your diet can have a huge impact on the appearance and health of your skin.”

A healthier diet also promotes healthier digestion, which in turn supports a clearer complexion. Makoto Trotter, ND, of Zentai Wellness Centre in Toronto and author of The Complete Acne Health & Diet Guide (Robert Rose), explains that both the skin and the digestive tract are barriers between the body and the outside world and adds, “Malfunctioning in the digestive tract can also commonly manifest on the skin.”

The first step in enhancing skin internally lies in eliminating sugar. Purdy says, “Sugar is the enemy of healthy skin. It increases blood glucose and insulin, and causes inflammation, which can cause duller skin, pallor, acne, blotches and rashes.”

Trotter recommends basing your diet on low-starch vegetables, pulses (beans and peas), low-sugar fruits, nuts and seeds and protein from naturally raised meat, wild-caught fish and vegetarian sources. In addition, the following foods and beverages have a special affinity with glowing skin.

Water. Without adequate hydration, skin tends to become dry and flaky. “Dry skin is highly irritable and itchy, [and] scratching can cause microscopic tears in the skin,” says dermatologist Valori Treloar, MD, co-author of The Clear Skin Diet (Cumberland House). One study found that drinking 9.5 cups of water per day improved skin density after four weeks. You can follow conventional wisdom in drinking six to eight glasses.

Olive Oil. According to results published in the journal PLOS One, study participants whose diets had the highest amount of calories from monounsaturated fatty acids, especially olive oil, were the least likely to show signs of skin aging. Applying olive oil following UVB exposure has also been found to help protect against skin cancer formation.

Green Tea. This popular beverage is rich in antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation and protect cell membranes. Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia found that EGCG, powerful polyphenols in green tea, reactivate dying skin cells to help rejuvenate complexion. And a British Journal of Nutrition study found that drinking two cups of green tea per day helped minimize the damage from sunburn; scientists say the brew’s catechins appear to make skin more resistant to UV radiation. Trade your morning java for a mug of green tea and brew an extra cup later on.

Red Peppers. A red pepper contains 190 milligrams of vitamin C, almost three times more than an orange. Vitamin C is an important component of collagen, the skin’s main structural protein, and being C-deficient can cause wrinkles; aging, UV exposure and pollutants such as cigarette smoke and ozone can all deplete this crucial nutrient. Purdy says that boosting vitamin C production “helps rebuild the outer layer of the skin and keep it from sagging.” Eating red peppers and other foods rich in vitamin C, including blueberries, broccoli, chili peppers and sweet potatoes, can help, as can taking supplements.

Flax Seeds. These small seeds are filled with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked with health benefits ranging from lighter mood and less joint pain to protection against Alzheimer’s. The fats also help lubricate your skin, making it softer and more supple. “If you’re deficient in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid, one of the omega-3s), your skin will look dry and flaky,” says Treloar. What’s more, omega-3s aid in the production of compounds that can help ease inflammatory skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Sprinkle flax seeds in a smoothie or on cereal; Treloar recommends taking at least one tablespoon of flax seed oil per day to improve skin appearance. Not a fan of flax seeds? Foods like salmon, almonds, grass-fed beef and dark leafy greens are also good sources.

Dark Chocolate. Flavonols, the antioxidants found in dark chocolate, appear to protect against sun damage and to help make skin more supple. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming 326 milligrams of flavonols in a cup of cocoa improved skin hydration and texture; researchers attribute chocolate’s effects to improved blood flow. A small amount of dark chocolate might have a positive impact on your skin but be careful not to overdo it because of the sugar content (stick with darker, less sweet types).

Fermented Foods. Foods that have undergone fermentation—everything from plain old sauerkraut to trendy kombucha—contain probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that promote good gut health. “Your gut is the key to beautiful skin,” says Purdy. “You need good gut flora to digest and absorb food.” (Other femented foods include kimchi, tempeh and yogurt.) Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, a San Francisco-based dietician and nutrition consultant, recommends probiotic supplements, saying, “Probiotics may be able to help decrease the inflammation.” Easing inflammation has been associated with decreased swelling and reductions in skin blotches and redness.

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