Are you unknowingly eating the wrong foods for your skin? Danielle Fox investigates the ones that really make a difference – and those that definitely don’t.
You are what you eat. In theory, it’s brilliantly simple: we up our intake of nutrient-dense foods, mindfully cut down on the bad, pop a probiotic and, a couple of weeks down the line, reap the benefits with glowing skin. But in practice, and the truly see long-lasting results, it goes for beyond adding a green juice or side of kimchi to our daily diets.
“I tell my patients that what they put in their mouths is as important as the products they apply to their skin”, says Dr. Jassica Wu, and LA-based dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. It’s a simple case of put good in, get good out. But then the opposite is also true: eat processed foods and drink sugary sodas and it’s not surprising that skin starts to break out. But it’s not always the stereotypical “unhealthy” foods that are the precursor to pimples. In fact, the good work you put in can all too easily be undone by a group of hidden skin saboteurs. Foods masked as “healthy” can “affect the balance of certain hormones and the amount of inflammation in your body”, says Wu. But on the flip side, there are some surprising foods that can be extremely beneficial for the skin. Here’s what you need to known…
Ask a group of dieticians what the worst offender for the skin is and, unanimously, the answer will be sugar. “We now known its link to skin inflammation, which can cause or worsen skin issues such as rosacea, eczema and psoriasis”, explains Wu. “It also reacts with your skin proteins, triggering enzymes that destroy healthy collagen and elastic tissue”.
But what frustrates Wu are the hidden sugars that we might not be aware of. Your new-found habit of drinking Kombucha? It can contain many grams of sugar, with much of it left over from the fermentation process. Your post-workout protein bar? “It’s no more nutritious than a cookie”, she says. Just try to be be more aware, advises Wu. “It’s not just the sweet treats: sugar is hiding in crackers, chips, cereal, salad dressings and sauces – even ketchup”, she says. If you’re looking for a sugar kick, go for fruits, which contain natural sugars and have the added bonus of antioxidants that help fight signs of aging. But try to limit dried fruit, particularly dates, which are 70% more concentrated in fruit sugars than non-dried fruit.
Dairy also gets a bad rap, but it’s not as clear cut as you may think. While there is a definite link between acne and dairy, more research is needed. “When we see an association, we don’t always know the causation”, explains Wu. “Dairy is relatively low on the glycemic index, so it may not be the lactose sugar that is bad for the skin, but the effect of dairy on hormones or insulin levels”.
However, a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found those with a higher intake of butter and other dairy products experienced more skin wrinkling than those who ate healthier food options such as vegetables and olive oil. But for those who want to start slowly, try switching out your milk, the worst offender (the hormones in milk can react with your testosterone to increase the production of sebum), for a plant-based alternative such as almond, oat or coconut. “But always ask the ask the barista if the milk has been sweetened – Starbucks’ almond milk contains added sugar”, says Wu, “and a diet with too much can inflame your skin, clog your pores and cause the appearance of red, blotchy skin”. While there is no need to cut out shellfish completely, experts advise eating it no more than a couple of times a month.
This technically doesn’t exist as a vitamin, but is in fact a blend of essential fatty acids (EFA), or linoleic acid, which is particularly rich in Omega 6. While the focus has always been on Omega 3, it seems we have underestimated 6 – until now. Emerging evidence shows that those with acne have lower levels of linoleic acid, and it’s this acid, which our bodies are unable to make naturally, that plays a key role in maintaining the skin barrier, so it boosts hydrated and supple skin. You will find linoleic acid in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, but be wary of the ratio: too much Omega 6 and you increase inflammation in the body. Ideally, one portion to every five of Omega 6s and Omega 3s is what we should be striving for.
This is found in citrus fruits, kiwi, guava and red and yellow peppers. “These foods are high in vitamin C, which is essential for building strong collagen”, explains Wu. And those foods richer in color trend to be higher in antioxidants. So, choose a red grapefruit over a while one, a red pepper over a yellow, and for a real vitamin C hit go for a kiwi over an orange, which is known to contain more concentrated levels of vitamin C and is lower in sugar, therefore better for your skin.
This is a naturally occurring mineral found in green beans (not to be confused with the silicone found in implants), and studies have shown that those taking silicon supliments have stronger skin, hair, nail and bones”. Always choose organic green, which retain more silicon from the soil”, advises Wu.