Food for Your Skin
We all know by now that what we put on our skin is absolutely vital to achieving that clear, glowing radiance we all covet. But what about the things we put in our bodies? As a Clinical Nutritionist, I often counsel clients about the importance of food in relation to the health of their skin, and not just when it comes to acne. What we eat affects so much more than whether or not we get pimples. Our intake of healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, adequate hydration, and either pro- or anti-inflammatory foods will dictate whether our skin is plump, glowing, and full of luster, or if it becomes dry, flaky, and dull. So, let's dive into the essentials, shall we?
Making sure you eat enough healthy fats is incredibly essential to healthy skin. Fats have been made out to be the villain of nutrition for a long while, but this is actually one of the biggest nutrition lies to have been told to the public. Fats are necessary for a multitude of processes in your body that impact insulin regulation, brain health, immune system function, inflammatory response, and skin health! My top picks include avocado, butter or ghee (from grass fed, pastured animals), coconut oil or coconut cream, and fatty fish like salmon or tuna.
Avocados contain high amounts of fiber that will improve digestion, alongside monounsaturated fats that are high in Vitamin E, which is an antioxidant- this is what makes it such a great preservative in natural skincare, rather than using harmful chemicals. Vitamin E not only helps boost your immune system, but prevents free radical damage from the sun's UVB rays. High levels of vitamin E are found in the dermis, or outer layer of the skin. Not a fan of avocado? Try using avocado oil for cooking (it's smoke point is around 500 degrees, making it suitable for sautéing or grilling) or drizzle it over your favorite salad alongside some vinegar and herbs for a tasty dressing.
Butter and ghee contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary for improving skin health. These omega-3's are essential, meaning something the body can't produce- this means we must take them in through our diet. Butter and ghee from the milk of pastured and grass fed animals has been shown to have a much higher content of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and a much lower content of pro-inflammatory omega-6's. In addition to these essential omegas, butter contains fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E- 3 things that are imperative for glowing skin. Butter isn't the best for cooking as it has a fairly low smoke point (the temperature at which the oils oxidize) but ghee is perfect for sautéing veggies or meats. Ghee is also suitable for anyone who can't consume casein or lactose, as it's been clarified as to eliminate these proteins and sugars.
Coconut oil and coconut cream both contain medium chain triglycerides, or MCT's. MCT's have been shown to reduce hunger, boost energy levels, and reduce the craving for sugar, all things that lead to a healthier overall lifestyle. Coconut oil is great used topically, as in our Body Butter, but it also offers anti-inflammatory properties along with healthy fat intake. Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which helps to tame free radicals and bacteria. When purchasing coconut oil, it's important to grab an unrefined, virgin variety, as heat processing can destroy the MCT's and hexane filtering always leaves toxic residues in the oil- read more about that here!
Fish like salmon and tuna are also high in the omega-3 fatty acids our body utilizes, EPA and DHA. The third omega-3, ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is found in some plant foods, and in nuts and seeds like flax. While the body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA to some extent, it's not the most efficient way to get EPA and DHA into the body. This is why I prefer eating fish, or supplementing with fish oil or cod liver oil, to make sure I'm receiving enough EPA and DHA. There is a lot of information and controversy circulating about mercury levels in both fish and fish oils, so it's important that you're purchasing sustainably wild caught Alaskan salmon or sustainably caught tuna for your dietary intake. Eating one of these 2 times a week will provide a sufficient amount of omega-3's. If you aren't a fan of fish or simply prefer a supplement, a high quality fish oil like Nordic Naturals is a great way to get your omega-3's. I also like alternating in cod liver oil, because while it may be slightly lower in it's omega 3 content, it has substantial levels of vitamins A and D, which as we discussed earlier are vital for skin health. I add a few teaspoons of the lemon or orange flavored cod liver oil from Nordic Naturals to my morning smoothie a few times a week.
Antioxidants and free-radical scavengers will help to fight the signs of aging, as well as prevent more dangerous skin issues like cancer. There are a whole host of antioxidants that are great for keeping your skin healthy, but we'll focus on my three faves.
Vitamin E is used as a natural preservatives in most natural skin care, because it is a super antioxidant. Aside from keeping your skin care products from going bad, you can absorb this Vitamin E topically as well, which is good news considering Vitamin E has been shown to prevent brown spots due to the sun and aging. Vitamin E is actually found in substantial quantities in the upper layers of the dermis, which allows it to use it's free-radical fighting abilities to counter the oxidization of skin that occurs when we spend too much time in the sun. Vitamin E also supports new skin cell growth and assists in speeding along skin cell regeneration. While Vitamin E may be the superhero, all superheroes have a sidekick, and Selenium should always be by Vitamin E's side. The two actually work together and have stronger antioxidant effects when both are at sufficient levels in the body. Selenium also leads to the production of glutathione peroxidase, an enzyme that lends itself to preventing acne. Some good sources of Vitamin E include sunflower seeds, raw almonds, spinach, sweet potatoes, and avocados. Selenium is found in abundance in Brazil nuts (3-4 a day is plenty) and in substantial amounts in halibut, yellowfin tuna, and sardines.
Vitamin C may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of skin health, but this vitamin and antioxidant plays several roles in keeping you glowing. Not only does it help prevent oxidation at the cellular level, reducing and preventing fine lines, but it is also necessary for the production of collagen. Collagen is produced by the body and works in keeping skin plump and smooth, as well as allowing our joint and connective tissue to be flexible but stable. The current RDA for Vitamin C is 400 mg, but the Vitamin C Council actually recommends 3,000 mg daily! Our current RDAs were made simply to prevent a nutrient deficient induced disease. One example of this would be anemia due to lack of B12, or in the case of Vitamin C, scurvy. However, scurvy is the last "symptom" your body shows when you aren't getting enough Vitamin C. Early signs of insufficiency include lackluster skin, weak joints, and fatigue. While citrus fruits are touted as great places to acquire Vitamin C, greens like kale and spinach actually give you more bang for your buck. Broccoli, strawberries, bell peppers, and guava fruit are great sources as well. As an Albuquerque native, my favorite way to get in a ton of Vitamin C is with green chile!
Lycopene is a little-known antioxidant that is essential in keeping your skin healthy. It provides antioxidant action and thus prevents the formation of wrinkles, but lycopene has a multitude of other jobs as well. In addition to assisting in the production of collagen, it also inhibits the activity of enzymes that breakdown collagen, so it works double-time to keep your skin healthy! Like Vitamin E, lycopene can be absorbed topically, as well as ingested. Applying lycopene to the skin has been shown to stabilize the DNA structure found inside the nucleus of your skin cells. Lycopene is a carotenoid, a group of 600 fat soluble plant compounds. These are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their orange and red colors. Since lycopene is fat soluble, it's important to eat your red fruits and veggies alongside some healthy fats like the ones mentioned above. The lycopene found in tomatoes, for instance, is also tightly bound to fiber, so cooked lycopene-containing foods are a better option. Tomatoes, papaya, and goji berries are all rich sources of lycopene as well.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS
It's easy for your levels of vitamins and minerals to become deficient or insufficient if you aren't consuming an adequate amount of vegetables and fruit. Even if you are taking in quite a bit of produce in your diet, the quality of soil used to grow the produce will impact nutrient density, as can the time of harvest and time spent in transit. All of these are great reasons to start your own vegetable garden and make the trip to your local farmer's market! There's nothing quite as satisfying as picking a tomato right off the vine in the warm summer sunshine, and popping it into your mouth. Delicious and nutritious!
Zinc is a mineral that lends itself to many skin-health issues. Like Vitamin E, it assists in protecting the skin from the sun's UVB rays. Zinc also helps regulate the amount of sebum, or oil, your skin produces, so a deficiency can lead to acne. Also important in wound healing, zinc helps to repair damaged skin tissue and prevent scarring. Oysters, pasture raised poultry, pumpkin seeds, seafood, and mushrooms are all tasty ways to add more zinc to your diet. Copper works in tandem with zinc to help support elastin. Elastin is the fibrous structure that supports your skin. It's also important that your zinc and copper intakes are in a 2:1 ratio! Copper can be found in foods like beef liver, sunflower seeds, and dark chocolate (always make sure it's 70% cacao or higher, otherwise the sugar and milk included will override the health benefits).
B vitamins are well known for being a source of energy for the body- they power your mitochondria in every single cell of your body! And of course, this includes skin cells. Biotin is a B vitamin that is super important to skin health- it forms the basis for skin, nail, and hair cells as they grow. Even mild deficiencies in B vitamins, specifically biotin, can lead to dermatitis and hair loss. Eating bananas and eggs a few times a week should keep your biotin levels sufficient, but make sure you include animal products like those eggs to get sufficient B12.
Vitamin K is most well known for it's role in blood clotting. A healthy blood clotting response will help the body to properly heal wounds, bruises, and areas affected by surgery. Healthy Vitamin K levels will also help minimize stretch marks, spider veins, scars, dark spots, and under-eye circles. Dark leafy greens like kale and spinach are your best bets for adequate Vitamin K intake. Keep in mind that Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, which means sautéing your kale or spinach in ghee or coconut oil is a great idea!
Vitamin A and Vitamin D are two other vitally important fat soluble vitamins you should be including for stellar skin. Vitamin D is produced by the body when exposure to UVB rays causes a process in the body that converts cholesterol into Vitamin D. In addition to forming healthy skin cells, Vitamin D also supports a healthy immune system and and healthy inflammatory response. Even though the body produces Vitamin D, spending enough time in the sun in order to make enough on your own can prove quite difficult. Supplementing with D3, and eating foods like salmon, tuna, and cod should help you achieve optimal levels. As a clinical nutritionist, I always advise my clients to have their Serum D levels tested at least once a year in order to supplement accordingly.
Vitamin A also encourages healthy skin cell production, as well as stimulating the production of fibroblasts. Fibroblasts are responsible for producing tissue in the deep layers of your skin that keeps it firm. Good food sources of Vitamin A are beef liver, carrots, sweet potatoes, and kale. Like Vitamins K and E, Vitamins A and D are also fat soluble and only absorbed well with a healthy fat source!
In addition to creating Prairie Bloom, Jade is a Clinical Nutritionist at Wellness Speaks, where she guides clients with inflammatory disease to optimal health using holistic options including nutrition, botanicals, and supplementation, as well as mind-body therapy.