PART II – DIET
It comes as no surprise to any of us remotely interested in beauty that our diet can have direct consequences for our skin. But what types of food help our skin to glow, and what should we look to avoid? Here’s a look at the good and the bad, as well as four surprising foods that fall somewhere in-between.
Six Foods to Help Our Skin Glow
H2O for the Glow: Let’s start with the no-brainer. For our skin to have a healthy plump and glow, it needs to be hydrated. Water is always our best bet for this (ideally, it should be filtered), but if you’re looking to mix things up, then green tea comes with some extra benefits, as it’s packed with polyphenols (which can help fight acne and other breakouts) and flavonoids (which can help with DNA repair and fight fine lines). In addition, there are a number of foods which help keep us hydrated, including watermelon, cucumber, and celery.
The Magic in Vitamin C: Our skin loves vitamin C. A powerful antioxidant, it can help keep pesky free radicals at bay, which is a very good thing, seeing how they can damage our skin and cause rapid aging. There’s also evidence to suggest vitamin C can help with the production of collagen, as well as protect the skin against UV damage. Given this, it makes sense to keep your kitchen full of vitamin C treasures like kiwi fruit, blackcurrants, blueberries, raspberries, capsicum, broccoli, and anything citrus. Oh, and added bonus? All these foods taste great too!
Green is Good: Make a habit of eating your dark, leafy greens and when your friends see your skin, they’re likely (ahem!) to go green with envy. That’s because greens are packed with a host of vitamins, including antioxidants, that help nourish, protect, and rejuvenate our skin.
Orange is Even Beta: We need to ‘eat the rainbow’ not only for our general wellbeing, but our skin health too. Orange foods like carrots, kumaras, and pumpkins are rich in beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in our body, helping promote skin cell growth, whilst also improving elasticity and skin tone. Other orange foods, like mangoes and (who would have picked it?) oranges, are also great sources of vitamin C.
Eat This, to Fine-Tuna Your Skin: Oily fish is great for our skin in a number of ways. First up, it’s full of Omega-3 fatty acids that help battle inflammation, preserve collagen, and keep our skin firmer (note - if you’re vegetarian or vegan, flax seeds are a good alternate source for Omega-3). Secondly, fish contains Coenzyme Q10, a vitamin-like substance that fights free radicals, encourages cell growth, and helps lessen fine lines and wrinkles. Cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, and herring are particularly rich in CoQ10.
Avocados – The Great All-Rounder: If you’re looking for one food that can benefit your skin in multiple ways, then avocados fit the bill. An excellent source of vitamins C and E, avocados are also rich in monosaturated fat (which helps our body absorb vitamins, thus getting full value from them), as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, two powerful antioxidants that can help to improve skin tone.
Six Foods Our Skin Can Do Without
Not So Sweet: If water is a source of replenishment for our skin, then sweetened drinks are the opposite. As we all know, they are high in sugars, which places stress on our bodies, and can lead to inflammation and damaged collagen. And – drinker beware – we’re not just talking about soft drinks here! Most fruit juices and energy drinks also contain large amounts of sugar, meaning they can also compromise the health of our skin.
These Foods Will Fry Your Skin: Most of us love the taste of fried foods, but – at best – we should really eat them in moderation. Amongst other things, they can have an adverse impact on our circulation, leading to sallow, puffy-looking skin. Also, most fried foods are cooked in refined oils that are high in Omega-6 fatty acids; a major contributor to skin inflammation and the kind of breakouts we all want to avoid.
‘A’ is for Alcohol… and Aridity: That glass of wine many of us enjoy at night might help us to relax, but we should understand what it’s doing to our skin. Alcohol has a diuretic effect, depleting our skin of antioxidants and causing it to appear dehydrated, sunken, and washed-out. Also, our body reacts to alcohol as a toxin, meaning it can trigger inflammation.
The Trouble with Salty Snacks: From potato chips through to processed meats, we tend to eat a lot of high-sodium foods. Unfortunately, over-consumption of salt can create problems for our skin, leading to water-retention and causing the skin on our face to look bloated and puffy, especially around our eyes. A recent German study also suggests that eczema – at least in part – can be triggered by excess salt in our diets.
Time to Move on From Milk? If you’re after skin as smooth as silk, it might be time to move on from milk. Studies have demonstrated a link between cow’s milk (and especially skim milk) and breakouts. Whilst the reasons behind this are not yet fully understood, milk can trigger the release of a hormone – IGF-1 – that’s often associated with acne, whilst the high levels of sugar in skim milk are also a cause for concern. Increasingly too, people are reporting allergies associated with milk intake, which can worsen skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
That Can’t Be White: Most white foods (think rice, pasta, bread) are ultra-processed, with a high glycemic index that can cause blood sugars to climb sharply and deplete healthy gut bacteria. This is no good for us generally (all these foods are linked to an increased risk of Type-2 diabetes), but for our skin it can lead to acne breakouts and also contribute to the glycation of collagen, a process that causes collagen fibres to harden and crack, with a consequent loss of elasticity and premature aging.
Sinner or Saint? Four Surprising Foods Which Can Be Either Good or Bad for Our Skin, Depending On How We Consume Them.
What’s Your Choice of Chocolate? Recently, chocolate has found favour as a food that delivers a number of positive health benefits. Most of these benefits though are associated with high-quality dark chocolate (containing at least 70% cacao) and this also seems to hold true for our skin. Dark chocolate is rich in the kind of antioxidants, vitamins, and flavanols that can help protect against inflammations and support smooth, supple skin. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, is more likely to have a detrimental effect. It not only contains less nutrients and antioxidants than dark chocolate, it also has higher concentrations of sugar and milk, which – as we’ve seen – can lead to inflammation, acne, and other breakouts.
Is Coffee Good for Our Skin? It’s Complex: Let’s start with the good. Coffee contains essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and is very high in antioxidants. All of these can be beneficial for our skin, but the jury is out as to whether these benefits outweigh the bad. Problematically, coffee contains caffeine, which has a diuretic effect, leaving our skin dehydrated and saggy. It can also reduce skin circulation by constricting blood vessels (coffee is a known vasoconstrictor), and it can raise cortisol levels, a stress hormone that accelerates the aging process. Equally as troublesome are the extras we often add to our coffee (milk and sugar, anyone?), as this can spike insulin, change hormone levels, and trigger inflammations, including acne. Best advice? Limit your coffee intake to no more than two cups a day, and drink it black, if you can.
Yo! It’s Yoghurt: When it comes to nourishing our skin, yoghurt falls in the same camp as chocolate - it depends on how we take it. If we consume it plain (think Greek or natural), then yoghurt is packed with the kind of probiotics that are not only good for our gut, but our skin too. As studies have shown, the bacteria in yoghurt can help us fight skin inflammations (our digestive system and skin health are closely connected), whilst also assisting the anti-aging process, as well as the management of chronic skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema. However, the same can’t be said for the flavoured and whole milk yoghurts that dominate our supermarket aisles. Unfortunately, they’re like junk food in disguise, high in saturated fats and sugars, both of which can cause breakouts and other inflammations.
This is Nuts! Many of you will doubtless be surprised that we’ve included nuts in this list, rather than in the list of foods which are incontrovertibly good for our skin. And we understand why, especially since most nuts are rich in nutrients, and most especially vitamin E, which is not only a potent antioxidant but also helps support healthy collagen levels. However, we do have one small rider when it comes to nuts and skin health. Many nuts contain high ratios of omega-6 fatty acids, which can trigger acne flare-ups and other skin conditions. For this reason, it might be wise to eat some nuts in moderation, limiting our intake of nuts with a high omega-6:3 ratio (like brazil nuts and peanuts), and giving more focus instead to nuts with a more even omega-6:3 ratio (such as walnuts, macadamia nuts, and cashews).
In the end, the old truism that we are what we eat not only holds true for our general health, but our skin too. If we eat the rainbow, focusing on a variety of natural and organic foods, and avoid those that are ultra-processed and high in sugars, we can look forward to achieving the healthy glow we all aspire to.