What to eat for healthy skin

by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND

Eating nuts and seeds promotes skin health.

Did you know a healthy diet can lead to healthier-looking skin?

Your complexion is one of the first things people notice about you, and the health of your skin says a lot about the way you eat. The condition of your skin really reflects what you put in your mouth, and a healthy diet is really an “inside-out” approach to healthy skin. The healthier you are in the inside, the more it shows on the outside, too.

Related Article: Antioxidant Vitamins for Healthy Looking Skin

How diet affects your skin

Pimples and breakouts

Pimples and acne are more common in adolescents, due largely to hormonal changes. But adults can suffer from breakouts, too. In the past, it was thought that certain foods caused pimples, especially those favored by adolescents, like chocolate, pizza or French fries.

But more recently the blame is being placed not so much on individual foods, but more on the makeup of the diet as a whole—particularly when it comes to the types and amounts of carbohydrates we eat.

Highly refined carbs (foods like sweets, white bread, mashed potatoes, plain pasta and white rice) have a high glycemic index. Simply put, the glycemic index is a measure of how rapidly and how much a food increases your blood sugar after you eat it.

The sugary, starchy ‘white’ carbs tend to cause larger (and more rapid) rises in blood sugar than the healthy carbs (like fruits, veggies and whole grains), which have a low glycemic index. If your diet is made up of a lot of foods with a high glycemic index, that translates into a heavy carbohydrate load to the body.

The reason this matters is this: a diet that consistently delivers a high load of refined carbohydrates into your system, day after day, can promote mild, chronic inflammation throughout your body. This chronic inflammation is a kind of slow, simmering fire that has been linked to various health issues, including skin problems like pimples and acne.

Sun damage, fine lines and wrinkles

The texture and elasticity of your skin is determined, in large part, to the proteins, collagen and elastin that lie just under the surface of your skin. Anything that causes damage to these proteins can promote fine lines and wrinkles, which can make you look older than you actually are.

One reason it’s so important to protect your skin from sun exposure is because ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun promote the formation of highly reactive molecules called free radicals that can do some serious damage to collagen and elastin.

This is where diet comes in. Antioxidants—compounds that are abundant in colorful fruits and vegetables—help to fight free radical formation. And there is a clear connection between the levels of antioxidants found in the skin and the texture of the skin itself. People who have low levels of antioxidants in the skin tend to have a rougher skin texture, while those with higher levels of antioxidants in the skin have skin with a smoother texture.1

Foods that promote healthy-looking skin

  • Fish. Fish is an excellent source of protein, which your body uses to build collagen and elastin. Fish also contains omega-3 fatty acids which promote skin health by working to reduce inflammation. These healthy fats are found in abundance in fatty fish, like salmon and trout, but all fish contain omega-3s, so aim for several fish meals per week.
  • “Good” carbohydrates. Try to clear out the refined ‘white’ carbohydrates and sugars from your diet as much as possible, and replace with the ‘good’ carbs—veggies, fruits, beans and whole grains. When you choose these healthy carbohydrates, you’ll be consuming foods with a lower glycemic index, which will reduce the overall carbohydrate load in your diet.
  • Colorful fruits and vegetables.  Many deeply colored fruits and vegetables get much of their color from compounds called carotenoids. Some of these can be converted into vitamin A, which is needed to help your skin cells reproduce. This ia a vitally important function, when you consider that your body sheds 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells every single day. Many fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin C, which your body needs in order to manufacture collagen. Carotenoids and vitamin C also acts as antioxidants and help fight the formation of damaging free radicals.
  • Nuts and seeds. Tree nuts like almonds and walnuts, and seeds like flax and chia, provide healthy omega-3 fats. And certain nuts (Brazil nuts in particular) are excellent sources of selenium, a mineral which also acts as an antioxidant.
  • Plenty of fluids. In order for nutrients to move in and waste to move out, your skin cells (and all cells in your body) rely on fluid. Water is great, and so is green tea since it provides not only fluid but antioxidants, too. Be sure to stay well hydrated when the weather is hot. When you sweat, your body relies on fluids to help remove waste products from your skin.

Try adding some flax or chia seeds (for omega-3s), mango chunks (vitamin C) and some baby spinach leaves (carotenoids) to your protein shake for a skin-healthy blend! What do you like to eat to keep your skin healthy and your complexion clear?

Lademann J, et al. Exp Dermatol. 2011 20(5):377-82.

Written by Susan Bowerman. Susan is Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife. Susan is a Registered Dietitian and a board-certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics.

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