By Jodi Helmer
No matter how much you pamper your skin from the outside, a lovely complexion will remain elusive until you feed your appearance from within.
“Your skin is a reflection of what’s happening inside your body and your diet is an integral part of that,” says integrative nutritionist Mary Purdy, MS, RDN. “Changing your diet can have a huge impact on the appearance and health of your skin.”
A healthier diet also promotes healthier digestion, which in turn supports a clearer complexion. Makoto Trotter, ND, author of The Complete Acne Health & Diet Guide (Robert Rose), explains that both the skin and the digestive tract are barriers between the body and the outside world and adds, “Malfunctioning in the digestive tract can also commonly manifest on the skin.”
The first step in enhancing skin internally lies in eliminating sugar. Purdy says, “Sugar is the enemy of healthy skin. It increases blood glucose and insulin, and causes inflammation, which can cause duller skin, pallor, acne, blotches and rashes.”†
Trotter recommends basing your diet on low-starch vegetables, pulses (beans and peas), low-sugar fruits, nuts and seeds and protein from naturally raised meat, wild-caught fish and vegetarian sources. In addition, the following foods and beverages have a special affinity with glowing skin.
Without adequate hydration, skin tends to become dry and flaky. “Dry skin is highly irritable and itchy, [and] scratching can cause microscopic tears in the skin,” says dermatologist Valori Treloar, MD, co-author of The Clear Skin Diet (Cumberland House). One study found that drinking 9.5 cups of water per day improved skin density after four weeks.† You can follow conventional wisdom in drinking six to eight glasses.
According to results published in the journal PLOS One, people whose diets had the highest amount of calories from monounsaturated fatty acids, especially olive oil, were the least likely to show signs of skin aging.†
Researchers at the Medical College of Georgia found that green tea contains EGCG, which help rejuvenate complexion.† And a British Journal of Nutrition study found that drinking two cups of green tea per day helped minimize the damage from sunburn; scientists say the brew’s catechins appear to make skin more resistant to UV radiation.† Trade your morning java for a mug of green tea and brew an extra cup later on.
A red pepper contains 190 milligrams of vitamin C, almost three times more than an orange. Vitamin C is an important component of collagen, the skin’s main structural protein, and being C-deficient can cause wrinkles; aging, UV exposure and pollutants such as cigarette smoke and ozone can all deplete this crucial nutrient.† Purdy says that boosting vitamin C production “helps rebuild the outer layer of the skin and keep it from sagging.”† Eating red peppers and other foods rich in vitamin C, including blueberries, broccoli, chili peppers and sweet potatoes, can help; C is also available in supplement form.*
These small seeds are filled with omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked with numerous health benefits and will also help your skin.
“If you’re deficient in ALA (alpha-linolenic acid, one of the omega-3s), your skin will look dry and flaky,” says Treloar, who recommends taking at least one tablespoon of flax seed oil per day to improve skin appearance.†
Sprinkle flax seeds in a smoothie or on cereal. If you’re not a flax fan, foods like salmon, almonds, grass-fed beef and dark leafy greens are also good sources.
Flavonols are the substances that give dark chocolate its health-boosting reputation. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that consuming 326 milligrams of flavonols in a cup of cocoa improved skin hydration and texture; researchers attribute chocolate’s effects to improved blood flow.† A small amount of dark chocolate might have a positive impact on your skin but be careful not to overdo it because of the sugar content (stick with darker, less sweet types).
Foods that have undergone fermentation—everything from plain old sauerkraut to trendy kombucha—contain probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that promote good gut health. “Your gut is the key to beautiful skin,” says Purdy. “You need good gut flora to digest and absorb food.” (Other fermented foods include kimchi, tempeh and yogurt.)
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.