You are what you eat.
It’s an oft repeated phrase that you may think refers to modern nutritional science, a discipline that aims to integrate scientific research with real-world advice in order to help people make healthy food choices to promote health and manage disease. And you’d be right.
But the phrase interestingly, according to at least one article, has roots that stretch as far back as the 19th century, and prior to that may have religious reference rather than relation to diet.
Regardless of the phrase’s origin, it’s one that’s gaining traction today among scientists (especially those with an expertise in nutrition), registered dietitians, nutritionists, and holistic health practitioners, including doctors who engage in an integrated approach with their patients.
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And because March is National Nutrition Month, what better time of year to blog about food—but we’re doing it with a twist. This week, we’re focusing on how your food choices impact the largest organ of your body—your skin.
We’re certainly not suggesting you throw away your sunscreens, moisturizers, and anti-aging creams. We’re simply suggesting that you consider how adding nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D may help fight blotchy, wrinkly, aging skin, as well as address some skin conditions.
If there’s one more phrase we want you to consider it’s this: good health from the inside-out will make a difference in many things, including how your skin feels and looks and grows old gracefully as you age.
So, here are five of our top food picks for your skin. (It just so happens these foods have other benefits too. And number 3 is especially delicious!)
Here’s the ‘skin’ny: When it comes to getting the nutrients you need for good skin health, salmon is the real deal. If you’ve ever fried a piece of bread in bacon grease to make your hair shine or help your skin glow, first of all, you’re sort of on the right track, but second of all, we’d suggest you get on a better train. Salmon is a healthier way to get you to good health—even when we’re talking about healthy skin.
The nutrients: Salmon is packed with omega-3 EPA and DHA polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Not all fatty acids are considered equal. PUFAs are the essential fats, required for normal body functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are also known to reduce inflammation, which can help keep your skin supple and moist, and may also help reduce acne. Salmon is also a good source of other nutrients, including vitamin D (see #2!), B12, iron, potassium and vitamin E.
Insider tip: Beyond the potential benefits for your skin, salmon helps reduce the risk of heart disease, and may also play a role in supporting brain health, mood, and cognitive function. Experts, such as the American Heart Association, recommend all adults eat at least two portions (a total of 8 ounces) of seafood a week, especially fish that are high in omega-3s like salmon.
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How else can I get the benefits of fatty acids: Beyond salmon, other sources of omega-3 fatty acids are tuna, herring, and sardines (to name a few fatty fish) as well as omega-3 supplements like fish oil.
How else can I get the benefits of vitamin D: One thing we know for sure: most Americans fall short of this essential nutrient. Yes, you can get your vitamin D by spending time in the sun but concerns about skin cancer (and skin damage) from too much sun exposure make this option less viable for many. Other dietary sources include fatty fish, fortified products including cereals, dairy products and orange juice, and mushrooms. However, most people simply don’t get the vitamin D they need from food alone, and in this case, dietary supplements represent an important option.
Here’s the ‘skin’ny: Eating eggs has garnered its share of controversy over the years, with some non-fans (and some science) suggesting that the protein-packed breakfast favorite can increase cholesterol levels. That is true, but in recent years, eggs have flipped back into favor, and even the concerns about the egg yolk have lessened—with moderation being seen as the key.
The nutrients: Eggs are rich in protein and a number of vitamins to help promote healthy skin. Let’s start with protein. Collagen and keratin are two of the skin’s most important proteins and getting enough protein in your diet helps boost production of collagen and keratin. Moving on, the egg yolk is rich in vitamin D. Known as “the sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is thought to help prevent skin aging and may even help with dry skin and conditions such as like eczema or psoriasis.
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Insider tip: Don’t discard the yolk. That’s the greatest source of protein and vitamin D. If you have high cholesterol or other heart issues, or have a family history of the same, check with your doctor about the place that eggs (and egg yolks) should (or shouldn’t) have in your diet.
Here’s the ‘skin’ny: On toast, in salads or as the main ingredient in guacamole, avocados are simply delicious. What’s more, they’re good for the skin. And not only in creams, oils and face masks. Eating avocados can promote skin elasticity, protect your cells from free radical damage, and help reduce redness and inflammation.
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The nutrients: Vitamins C and E are just some of the vitamins that grace avocados, with the latter antioxidant known to help protect your skin from oxidative damage that contributes to aging skin. Your body produces collagen, and vitamin C is believed to aid in building collagen and protecting collagen breakdown. In turn, this helps keep your skin elastic and plump, one solution to avoiding wrinkles. Like salmon, avocados are a good source of the healthy fats, in this case, mainly monounsaturated.
Insider tip: Did you know that avocados are also a source of potassium. In fact, avocados contain more potassium than bananas. Why is this important? Well, one of the benefits of potassium is that this mineral helps regulate fluid balance, keeping you hydrated. And surely it won’t surprise you to know that hydration is a must for healthy skin.
- Sweet potatoes
Here’s the ‘skin’ny: The nutrients in sweet potatoes may help prevent sun damage by promoting cell production and boosting your collagen. In addition, sweet potatoes may help keep your skin supple and give you that natural glow. When it comes to potatoes, because sweet potatoes are high in fiber and lower on the glycemic index, it makes them less likely than regular potatoes to make your blood sugar spike.
The nutrients: Sweet potatoes are rich in beta carotene and lycopene, powerful skin protectors, as well as loaded with vitamins A, C, and E, which are antioxidants that help reduce inflammation—a must for good skin health.
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Insider tip: Just don’t overdo it. High levels of beta-carotene over time may give your skin an orange tint. And too much vitamin A can make skin more sensitive to sunlight. So, enjoy your sweet potatoes, but don’t consider them as a replacement for your sunblock or sunscreen.
Here’s the ‘skin’ny: One of our former presidents was not a fan of this leafy green vegetable, but your skin may well be. The nutrients found in broccoli are thought to protect against dryness and wrinkles, reduce UV ray damage to the skin, fight oxidative damage, and more.
The nutrients: Aside from some of the antioxidant vitamins like A and C, broccoli contains the carotenoid lutein and the mineral zinc, with the latter thought to help with acne and promote clear skin. As an added bonus, a compound known as sulforaphane is found in broccoli and this phytochemical is believed to neutralize free radicals and may possibly serve as a chemopreventive agent in helping prevent some cancers, such as skin cancer.
Insider tip: Roast it, sauté it, or steam it (the latter is probably the healthiest way to cook it). And if you’re game, add the florets to salad, or eat them raw—the florets are where the bulk of the sulforaphane phytochemical resides. But if raw broccoli is not your jam, try adding some mustard seeds or mustard powder to heat processed broccoli as this may actually increase the sulforaphane.
For suggestions on other healthy foods for skin health, check out this article from Healthline.
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We talked earlier about the importance of good hydration for your skin. We all know you need water to live. Water is also thought, by some but not all experts, to be one of the keys to healthy skin, particularly if you are otherwise not getting enough fluids in your body. Water helps flush out toxins and rehydrates you. Water plumps up the skin, making wrinkles and pores less visible, while also helping your skin look healthier, less dull.
Insider tip: Not sure if you’re dehydrated? Pinch the skin on your arm gently, release it. If within a few seconds it doesn’t “bounce back,” you may be dehydrated.
4 ‘Foods’ to Avoid
Perhaps avoid is too strong a word. Especially when they’re foods we really enjoy, but here goes…
Oh, we hate to make sugar the villain here, especially when there is some research that points to dark chocolate (the darker the chocolate, the smaller the amount of sugar) as possibly demonstrating skin health benefits.
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For example, one article noted that participants consuming daily cocoa powder high in antioxidants showed thicker, more hydrated skin that was also less rough and scaly and less sensitive to sunburn after 6-12 weeks. Other studies point to improvements from dark chocolate in the appearance of wrinkles—although there was conflicting evidence to those findings in at least one study.
We wouldn’t be the first to steer you away from sugar—or at least excessive sugar intake. When it comes to skin, here a couple of reasons to watch your added sugar intake:
- Sugar may actually help increase the risk of acne. We know inflammation is a key factor in acne and we know that the body makes more insulin when we consume excess sugar—and that leads to increased inflammation.
- Too much sugar over time can lead to dull and wrinkled skin—because excessive sugar can damage collagen and elastin. As discussed earlier, these are the protein fibers that keep your skin firm and elastic. A process known as glycation occurs where the sugar in your bloodstream attaches to collagen and elastin, forming new molecules known as AGEs (advanced glycation end products). As AGEs develop, they ravage collagen and elastin, which may result in loss of elasticity, stiffness, wrinkling and more. Not a pretty picture.
- White bread, white rice, white flour
These are three foods in the refined grains category, as opposed to whole grains. Refined grains are also often found in processed foods. The problem with these foods can be summed up as follows:
- they’re rapidly absorbed into your bloodstream, causing spikes in blood sugar;
- they’re linked to higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood—inflammation is not good for your skin;
- and high inflammation can also lead to conditions such as diabetes and heart disease (and in those cases, skin problems are just one of your concerns).
If you grew up believing that milk led to clear skin, this one may surprise you. While milk—and other dairy products (like cheese and butter)—have some clear health benefits, it appears that skin health may not be one of them. In particular, dairy products can lead to oil gland overproduction. This results in blocked pores, and blackheads and acne breakouts aren’t far behind.
Sorry! But alcohol can play games with your skin that you won’t enjoy—resulting in an aged or bloated facial appearance. And because alcohol can interfere with the process of your body repairing DNA damage caused by sun exposure, there may be a possible association with skin cancer.
Once again, inflammation is the culprit. And that brings us back to one of the causes of inflammation—sugar. The good news is beer doesn’t have any; neither do liquors like gin, rum, tequila, vodka and whiskey. The bad news is wines (the longer the fermentation process, the lower the sugar) do and liqueurs generally have sugar added after the distillation process.
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But even non-sugary alcohol can lead to some skin issues, like dehydration, wrinkles, blotchiness and puffiness. Alcohol dilutes the pores of the skin which can also eventually lead to cystic acne, which may result in permanent scarring.
While drinking may or may not (depending on the study) cause rosacea, alcohol can trigger that condition.
While heavy drinking would appear to be more of a problem for skin health, than drinking in moderation, for some—not everyone—even one drink may cause a skin issue.
Government guidelines suggest that for those adults who choose to drink, moderation is key. That’s two drinks or less per day for men, and one drink or less for women.
Let’s end on a good note…
At OmegaQuant, it makes sense for us to specifically remind you about the benefits of vitamin D and omega-3 for younger looking skin and overall skin health. So, now we have one more tip for you: Know Your Levels.
Whether it’s for skin health or any or all of the other benefits of these two nutrients, in order to know how much you need in your body, you need to start by knowing how much you already have.
Figuring out your Omega-3 and vitamin D blood levels is simple. Now, healthcare providers and patients can access an easy-to-use dried blood spot test that requires a quick finger stick and just a few drops of blood. From those drops of blood, analysis of your Omega-3 or vitamin D blood level can be easily, safely, and accurately measured. And with OmegaQuant’s tried and true Omega-3 Index test and our newly available vitamin D test, you can do this yourself at-home or ask your doctor to contact OmegaQuant Analytics to use the test in his or her office.
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It’s recommended that following the test you discuss your results with your healthcare provider to determine what if any modifications need to be made to your diet, including the possibility of adding (or subtracting) an Omega-3 or vitamin D supplement. Then, monitor your blood levels by re-testing every six months to be sure those modifications have produced the right impact and your target levels are maintained.