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  • Writer's pictureAliza Beer MS, RD, CDN

Eating Your Way to Clearer Skin

The holidays are behind us, and it is now time to adjust to our new “normal” way of life: working and learning from home for an indefinite period of time. In the last five weeks I have cooked more and exercised more than I ever did before corona. Collectively, we now have more available time to indulge in self care, since we are no longer busy attending events, dinners, weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, etc. One area I have personally focused on is skin care. I’ve been spending more time addressing my skin issues and needs, using various cleansers, masks, exfoliants, serums, and devices. However, no cream can compensate for a poor diet. If your diet is high in sugar and empty calories, your waistline is not the only body part at risk. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and is a direct reflection on what is happening inside the body, especially the gut. As scientists continue to learn about diet and the body, it’s become increasingly clear that what you eat will effect the health and aging process of the skin. Studies have also shown certain foods are particularly good for your skin and certain foods are not, and can even promote break-outs or acne. Let’s discuss some of the foods that are the most beneficial for your skin and why it’s important to include them in your diet.

· Fatty Fish: This includes salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, trout and herring. They are excellent foods for healthy skin because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary to help keep skin thick, supple, and moisturized. In fact, an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency can cause dry skin. These fatty acids also reduce inflammation, which can cause redness and acne. Some studies show that fish oil supplementation may help fight inflammatory and autoimmune conditions such as psoriasis and lupus. Omega-3s also make the skin less sensitive to the sun’s harmful UV rays, and can help prevent or reduce brown spots. Fatty fish is also a source of vitamin E, one of the most important antioxidants for your skin. One study published in the Lipids in Health and Disease found that people who took a daily omega-3 and antioxidant supplement were able to reduce their acne. Always speak with your primary care physician first before taking any supplementation. Lastly, fatty fish are great sources of zinc, a mineral that’s vital for fighting inflammation, and the production of new skin cells. A zinc deficiency can lead to skin inflammation, lesions, and delayed wound healing.

· Avocados: Avocados are high in healthy fats. These fats are essential to help the skin stay flexible and moisturized. Some evidence suggests that avocados contain compounds that may help protect the skin from sun damage. The sun’s harmful UV rays can cause wrinkles and other signs of aging. Avocados are also good sources of vitamins E and C. As previously discussed, vitamin E is an an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from oxidative damage. Interestingly, studies have shown that vitamin E seems to be more effective when combined with vitamin C. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, and is essential for the body in production of collagen. Collagen is a protein required to help wounds heal.

· Nuts: In general, nuts and seeds are great sources of very healthy fats. Walnuts and sunflower seeds are particularly good for the skin, as they are good sources of omega-3s, vitamin E, and zinc. Nuts and seeds are easy foods to overindulge, and hard to stop eating once you start. These healthy high fat foods are not low in calories, so pay attention to your serving size; for example, 10 walnut halves will be about 130 calories.

· Sweet Potatoes: This orange rockstar is an amazing source of beta carotene, a nutrient only found in plants, some other good sources include carrots, oranges, and spinach. Beta carotene functions as a provitamin A, meaning that it can be converted into vitamin A in your body. Beta carotene helps keep your skin healthy by acting as a natural sunblock. When consumed, this antioxidant gets incorporated into the skin and helps protect the skin cells from sun exposure, thereby preventing sunburn, cell death and dry, wrinkled skin. A ½ cup serving of baked sweet potato contains enough beta carotene to provide more than six times the recommended Daily Value(DV). I love cutting my sweet potatoes up into chip or french fry shapes, spraying them with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasting them at 400 for an hour until crispy.

· Red or Yellow Bell Pepper: Like sweet potatoes, they are excellent source of beta carotene. They are also one of the best sources of vitamin C, which we already know helps keep skin firm and strong. One cup of bell pepper provides a whopping 211% of the DV. A large observational study involving women linked eating plenty of vitamin C to a reduced risk of wrinkled and dry skin with age.

· Broccoli: Broccoli is full of many vitamins and minerals important for skin health, including zinc, vitamin A, and vitamin C. it also contains lutein, a carotenoid that works like beta carotene, and helps protect the skin from oxidative damage. Broccoli contains another special compound called sulforaphane, which studies have shown may have anti-cancer effects, including some types of skin cancer. Sulforaphane is also a powerful protective agent against sun damage. It works by neutralizing harmful free radicals and switching on other protective systems in the body. In laboratory tests, sulforaphane reduced the number of skin cells killed by UV light by as much as 29%, with protection lasting up to 48 hours. Broccoli makes an excellent side dish to any protein be it fish, poultry or meat. I place my florets on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, spray olive oil, and sprinkle on garlic powder and minced onion, and roast for 45 minutes to an hour at 375 degrees.

· Dark Chocolate: As if I needed one more reason to eat my favorite food! The effects of cocoa, which contains antioxidants, on the skin are pretty significant. In one study, participants experienced thicker, more hydrated skin after consuming cocoa powder for 6-12 weeks. Their skin was also less rough and scaly, less sensitive to sunburn, and had better blood flow. Another study found that eating 20 grams of high antioxidant dark chocolate per day may allow the skin to withstand over twice as much UV radiation before burning, compared with eating a low-antioxidant chocolate. Make sure to buy dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao, this will contain a higher concentration of antioxidants and less sugar. I eat a square (or two) of dark chocolate every single day, and have incorporated it into many of my client’s diets without impacting their weight loss success.

· Water: If you’re not drinking at least 8 cups of water a day then you’re not drinking enough, and that can be a major problem. Water helps your skin maintain moisture, which increases elasticity. Drinking enough water can help combat skin issues like psoriasis, eczema, and acne. It does this by helping the digestive system flush out toxins from the body. In addition, one study by the University of Missouri-Columbia found that drinking 2 cups of water increased blood flow to the skin, which will help even out skin tone and complexion. Drinking enough water will help keep your skin plumper, which can slow the aging process. The more water you drink, the smaller your pores. Our pores get clogged and enlarged throughout the day. The more water you drink, the better balance of oil and water on the surface of your skin. This can help to reduce pore size, decrease acne breakouts, and reduce blemishes.

Now that we’ve discussed foods that are good for our skin, what foods will wreak havoc on our skin and should be avoided? Certain foods raise your blood sugar more quickly than others. When the blood sugar rises quickly, it causes the body to release a hormone called insulin. Having excess insulin in the blood can cause the oil glands to produce more oil, increasing the risk of acne. Some foods that trigger spikes in insulin include, pasta, white rice, white bread, and sugar. Because of their insulin-producing effects, these foods are considered “high glycemic.” High glycemic foods have also been shown to promote inflammation, which can cause breakouts as well. Try avoiding all sugar and white flour for two weeks and you should see a significant improvement in your skin texture.

Now is an excellent time to utilize being at home for self-care and improving our overall health. Making your diet healthier will help you not only for weight loss, but also will help your body feel and look much healthier. When you have more energy from the right foods, and your skin is glowing, you will also feel better emotionally and that will encourage you to keep incorporating these foods in your meals and snacks. Foods full of sugar and empty calories will not improve your skin, or the mental anguish we are all feeling right now. Home cooking is the best cooking, and these times can be used as a good opportunity to incorporate healthier foods into our whole family’s diet, which will hopefully last for the better days that we wish to come very soon.

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