Our skin is continually bombarded with the stressors of age, pollution, and harsh environments (wind, snow, sun, cold, heat). In particular, the skin undergoes a natural, continual process of cell breakdown and replacement. However, after about the age of 27, the rate of skin cell damage begins to exceed the rate of repair.
With poor nutrition and unhealthy eating habits, this breakdown process can begin at an earlier age, and can accelerate as you age. So what can we do to save our skin and stay looking youthful? The right nutrients can help. Follow the five guidelines below and then pick your favorite foods from the chart to create glowing skin and a healthful body.
1. Get more omega-3 fatty acids and other unsaturated fats. Dietary fats are very important to include into a healthy eating plan. Fat maintains skin and hair. A fat layer under the skin is essential for insulation, but also for skin health and appearance. Fats are also needed by the body to use the vitamins A, E, D and K, as well as carotenoids (discussed below). Omega-3 fats are also anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is the natural way the body responds to illness. However, chronic inflammation can break down the body, and lead to premature ageing. One way to help decrease this condition is by choosing omega-3 rich foods.
2. Eat your Vitamins E and C. These vitamins have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants “quench” excess free radicals. Free radicals are harmful particles that collect in our bloodstreams and cells and can cause damage to cells. Free radicals are formed in normal metabolism, but also in response to cigarette smoke exposure, excess sun exposure, and yes, inadequate nutrition. Consuming antioxidant-rich foods can help combat skin damage from free radicals.
3. Pump up the Carotenoids and Vitamin A. We get Vitamin A in two ways: from animal sources and from plant sources. Vitamin A from animal sources (retinol) is “preformed”, or complete. Vitamin A from plant sources (carotenoids, such as beta carotene, lycopene, and lutein) needs to be converted in the body to form Vitamin A. Getting enough vitamin A promotes growth and health of skin cells, and can prevent dry, scaly skin. Carotenoids have additional benefits of their own beyond their role in Vitamin A production- they are also antioxidants! Look for the brightest, deepest red, yellow, orange, and dark-green-colored fruits and vegetables and you’ll find the carotenoids.
4. Drink extra water. Calorie free, thirst quenching and pure, water is the nutrient your body needs the most of. In one of its many roles, water transports nutrients and oxygen to your cells, including skin cells. Dehydration can therefore wreak havoc on your skin. We recommend you drink half your weight in ounces per day, more when you exercise (this translates to eight to 12 cups daily for most people).
5. Limit refined sugars (i.e candy, donuts, danishes, cookies, cakes, pies) and refined carbohydrates (white bread, white rice, white flour). These foods are nutrient poor and calorie dense. Excess sugar in the diet can elevate blood sugars, increase inflammation, and increase the risk for disease. Disease, like stress, takes its toll on every organ in the body, including skin. Choose whole grains instead of refined grains, and choose fresh fruits or small amounts of dark chocolate for satisfying that sweet tooth.
Here are some of the best food sources for skin-friendly nutrients:
*Omega-3s – Fatty fish such as salmon (farmed and wild), sardines, trout, herring, flounder, halibut, tuna. Also canola oil, soy oil, walnuts and flaxseeds/flaxseed oil.
*Unsaturated fats – Avocado, unsalted almonds, walnuts, cashews, pecans, olive oil, olives, canola oil, peanut butter.
*Vitamin E – Wheat germ, wheat germ oils, canola and olive oils, sunflower seeds, almonds and peanut butter.
*Vitamin C – Most fruits and vegetables. Guava, red bell peppers, papaya, broccoli, citrus fruits, green bell peppers, and strawberries are some of the highest.
*Beta-carotene – Sweet potatoes, winter squash (acorn, butternut), carrots, kale, turnip greens, spinach, red bell pepper, apricots, mango, papaya.
*Vitamin A – Eggs, fortified milk, fish oil, and other vitamin A-fortified foods.
*Water – Of course from water itself, but also from drinks such as herbal tea, juices, milk, and solid foods such as lettuce, watermelon, broccoli, grapefruit, oranges and apples.
*Whole grains – Whole wheat breads (look for “100 percent whole wheat”), quinoa, millet, whole wheat couscous, popcorn, whole wheat tortillas, amaranth, oats, barley, buckwheat, rye, bulgar.