What should you eat for a great complexion?
Creating great skin from the inside out is powerful. Skin is your body’s biggest organ, and it reflects your internal vitality—for better or worse. Skin problems such as acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and skin aging are all driven by your body’s physiology towards or away from inflammation. Degenerative changes are driven by oxidative free-radical-induced damage. The physiology of inflammation and the mechanism of oxidative damage are both dependent on diet choices that you make. Make choices that discourage inflammation and oxidative damage, and expect to see your complexion reflect the youthful vitality too.
It’s the New Year. You’re motivated to make good choices, but now what?
You see articles touting “superfoods” for radiant skin, miracle supplements, “eat this and not that” articles, etc. But, where’s the truth and how do you put it into practice in your life—affordably and easily?
Take the “big picture” view and don’t focus on the minutia of superfoods, supplements or gimmicks.
First, eat mostly fresh veggies and fruit.
Think of your diet as a pyramid with the broadest portion at the bottom supporting the smaller and smaller layers at the top. Produce is the bottom of the pyramid. Each day, fill your tummy with fresh produce. Eat it raw or cooked, and crowd out the junk with a tummy full of produce!
Produce is filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that your body must have for optimal health and to fight inflammation. For example, antioxidants like beta carotene (yellow/orange color in fruit and veggies) help your skin to resist sun damage and other, free-radical-mediated insults like stress, pollution etc. Beta carotene is also the most important dietary source of Vitamin A, which is also critical for healthy skin. Another example is the antioxidant, lycopene (red color in produce like tomatoes, papayas, etc.). It’s proven to protect your skin too.
Polyphenol antioxidants are another group of super heroes as antioxidants. You get them from plants. There are several thousand types of polyphenols (curcumin from turmeric, resveratrol from grapes, etc.), and you want as many as possible to have them all fighting the good fight against aging and disease, including with your skin.
How your food is prepared either preserves or destroys polyphenols—and fresh and raw is best. Simply snack on raw produce or eat salads each day. You also get polyphenols in green tea (don’t boil it), coffee, red wine, dried beans, and chocolate—thank goodness—and these all come from plants!
Fruits and veggies also are rich in vitamins, including Vitamin C which is important for wound healing and collagen formation. Performing “double duty,” Vitamin C is also an important antioxidant to help defend your skin from UV damage.
Rich sources include citrus, kiwi, parsley, etc. The list goes on and on and you’ve heard it all before. What’s important is that they come from fresh produce. It’s also important to know that these antioxidants and vitamins work best when you sustain high levels in your skin, meaning keeping your tummy full of the rainbow of produce daily.
Eat abundantly from the rainbow of veggies and fruits. Be naturally antioxidant and vitamin-infused. Your complexion will have the warm beta carotene glow, fend off skin problems and stand up well to stressors.
Second, favor good fats over bad.
Your body depends on your diet for the critically-important, essential fatty acids that it can’t make but needs in order to slow aging, fight inflammation and maintain healthy skin. These are the Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids.
Omega 3 fats are found in olive oil, fish (like salmon, albacore tuna and other fatty fish), nuts (especially walnuts), flax and chia seeds, and leafy greens. They are also a bonanza of anti-inflammatory goodness to fight many of today’s big diseases like heart disease, arthritis, cancer, and more. Fats have gotten a bad rap in the past.
Know that good fats are good for you! In fact, good fats help maintain healthy cholesterol and prevent heart disease.
Omega 6 fats are also important, but only in moderation. They are found in sunflower and safflower oil and some grains. They are also present in meat and animal-based foods. Again, a little is necessary but too much Omega 6 in your diet is pro-inflammatory.
Olive oil is a fat that deserves special mention. Studies have shown that people who regularly include olive oil in their diet have fewer wrinkles. We are not sure why, but olive oil is rich in polyphenols and squalene. Squalene is “squirreled-away” in your skin and aids in fighting free-radical damage and skin dryness.
Third, go low glycemic!
Foods raise your blood sugar. Studies have shown that high blood sugar, and repeated spikes of high blood sugar, promote disease and many of the degenerative changes we associate with aging.
It happens by a process called glycative stress. Some foods raise blood sugar higher and faster than others. They are called high glycemic index foods.
How fast a food raises your blood sugar depends on a combination of factors like whether the blood sugar causing component (called a carbohydrate) is “trapped” in other things like fiber, protein, fats, and other nutrients. This is called the glycemic index (GI).
High GI foods break down fast during digestion. Examples are foods containing lots of simple sugars (glucose, high fructose corn syrup, etc.), refined carbs (like white flour or rice, corn flakes, maltodextrins, etc.). These give you a sugar rush. You know what those foods are, cookies, candy, energy drinks, sugared “juices,” etc.
Medium GI foods break down more slowly and/or have less carbs. They include not-intact whole wheat, unpeeled boiled potatoes, dried fruits, bananas, corn, and sweet potatoes.
Low GI foods are the slowest to digest and provide a slow, steady and healthy blood-sugar-level. They include beans, seeds, nuts, most intact (coarse) whole grains, veggies, and fruits.
It helps to understand that the more fiber in a food, the slower the digestion and the lower the GI. Having a little oil (good oil only like olive oil) or vinegar will slow digestion and lower the GI of a meal. Cooked and processed foods have a higher glycemic index than course whole grains and raw produce.
You can see how important glycemic index is to health by knowing a little about diabetes and why it is such a devastating disease when uncontrolled.
The cycle of high blood sugar spikes leads to damage of important body proteins, blocked arteries, kidney disease, blindness, etc. High GI foods lead to biochemical changes in your body that break down tissues and fuel inflammation.
Knowing that many skin problems, like psoriasis, rosacea, dandruff, acne, and even skin aging are worsened when your physiology is pro-inflammatory allows you to understand why eating a lower glycemic diet will promote healthy skin.
How do you take the “big picture” view into practical choices for your next meal?
Focus on the simplicity of a healthy diet.
- Eat mostly fresh and raw or minimally-cooked veggies and fruits—peels included when possible.
- Include beans, course whole grains, nuts, seeds, healthy Omega 3 oils like olive oil, and lean proteins in your diet, the foundation of which is filled with fresh produce.
- Limit sugary high GI refined foods. Eat them as “treats” and on top of a tummy filled with the good stuff.
Yes, it takes intention and preparation to carry out the good choices and resist quick snack foods and mouthwatering aromas of buttery, rich foods. Complexion challenging foods are everywhere.
Main Photo by Rezel Apacionado
Silke K. Schagen, et. al., Discovering the Link Between Nutrition and Skin Aging, Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1; 4(3): 298–307.doi: 10.4161/derm.22876
Latreille J, Kesse-Guyot E, Malvy D, Andreeva V, Galan P, et al. (2012) Dietary Monounsaturated Fatty Acids Intake and Risk of Skin Photoaging. PLoS ONE 7(9): e44490. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044490