With November marked as National Healthy Skin Month, now is a great time to learn more about the foods and nutrients that support healthy-looking skin at any age.
Over the years, we often get asked whether diet and nutritional supplements benefit the skin. The answer is a resounding yes! It makes sense that what you eat is reflected in your skin, the largest organ of the body.
While your skin can benefit from good nutrition certain foods can also worsen a number of chronic skin problems like eczema and acne.
The good news is that the dietary and lifestyle recommendations that support healthy skin also benefit other organ systems like the cardiovascular, circulatory and digestive.
Below you will find 18 tips on the nutritious foods to eat on a regular basis to ensure that your skin has a:
– radiant complexion & smooth texture
– supple feel & fewer wrinkles
– healthy glow & fewer blemishes
– youthful appearance & even tone
Radiant Complexion & Smooth Texture
Collagen and elastin are two of the principal proteins that give skin its integrity and elasticity. The turn-over and loss of these key dermal components is constant but with aging, our ability to keep up with this wear and tear is diminished. When these proteins breakdown, the result is wrinkles and sagging skin.
Tip 1: Obtain sufficient levels of high-quality protein in your diet. This will ensure that a ready supply of protein is available to build new collagen and elastin. You don’t need to eat like a bodybuilder. Just aim to eat a small amount of protein at every meal. Great options include:
Non-Fat, Plain Greek Yogurt. Unlike other yogurts, Greek yogurt is much higher in protein. A serving provides about 18 grams. If you buy plain, non-fat, you’ll save on calories and saturated fat.
Poultry and Fish. Grilled, baked or broiled chicken and fish are great choices whether you’re cooking at home or dining at a restaurant. Be sure to remove the skin from poultry. Adding low-sodium turkey breast to a salad is a great way to boost protein content. Select wild fish like Atlantic salmon, tuna, rainbow trout, and halibut instead of farm raised and warm water fish like tilapia.
Beans & Peas. Beans and peas are the mature forms of legumes. They include kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lima beans, black-eyed peas, split peas, and lentils. Beans and peas are not only excellent sources of protein; they also provide other nutrients, such as iron and zinc, similar to seafood, meat, and poultry. Boost the protein content of soups, stews and salads by adding beans and add sweet peas to rice, quinoa and salads.
Whey Protein. If you find it difficult to eat protein in the morning, a great way to augment your diet is by adding whey protein to a smoothie or yogurt. We like the BioChem brand because it doesn’t contain any preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors or artificial sweeteners. Just one scoop provides 20 grams of protein.
Tip 2: Get plenty of vitamin C in your diet. If you want smooth skin, make sure that you get plenty of vitamin C as this water-soluble vitamin is essential for building collagen. Foods that are high in vitamin C include:
– Red Bell Peppers
– Berries (black currant, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry)
– Citrus fruits (orange, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, lime)
– Green vegetables (parsley, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach)
– Other fruits (guava, kiwifruit, papaya, melon)
Tip 3: Get plenty of copper in your diet. Copper is required to cross link collagen and elastin. Liver, oysters and shellfish are excellent sources of copper. Believe it or not, dark chocolate is a good source along with:
– Whole grains (barley, quinoa, spelt)
– Nuts (walnuts, flax, almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans)
– Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin)
– Mushrooms (crimini, Shiitake)
– Legumes (green beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, navy beans, green peas, lima beans, peanuts, kidney beans, pinto beans)
– Green leafy vegetables (Swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, kale)
– Vegetables (summer squash, asparagus, eggplant, tomato, sweet potato, bell pepper, winter squash, fennel, Brussels sprouts, beets, avocado)
Tip 4: Get plenty of biotin in your diet. Biotin, a member of the B-complex, is also called vitamin H with the “H” representing “Haar und Haut” the German words for “hair and skin”. If you have dermatitis or dry skin, thinning hair (or loss of hair color) or brittle nails, you may be short in biotin. Biotin is found in foods that are good sources of B vitamins including eggs yolks, liver, pork, legumes (soybeans), nuts (almonds, walnuts), Swiss chard, whole wheat bread and oats.
Supple Feel & Fewer Wrinkles
A hallmark of aging is dry skin. While genetics influence the level of oiliness in your skin, diminishing hormone production, sun damage and other dietary and lifestyle factors contribute to the skin’s ability to stay hydrated.
Tip 5: Drink plenty of water. If you want dewy skin, then you’ll want to drink plenty of water. You also need to watch out for too much alcohol which can make your skin puffy and caffeine which dries out the skin. Using a humidifier during the cold, dry winter months adds moisture back into the air, which your skin will love.
Tip 6: Reduce consumption of saturated and partially-hydrogenated fats. Most packaged and processed foods contain partially-hydrogenated fats. These fats are not ideal for building cell membranes. In cells that turnover rapidly, like skin cells, this makes a difference in how your skin looks and feels. Limit your consumption of these foods. For salad dressing, make your own using balsamic vinegar and olive oil – a healthy monounsaturated fat. When sautéing, use olive oil instead of butter. Snack on peanut butter, almond butter and other nut butters.
Tip 7: Increase consumption of Omega-3 fats. Our diets include way too many Omega-6 fats (oils made from soybean, corn and other seeds oils) and not enough Omega-3 fats. This imbalance leads to inflammation which can aggravate all sorts of skin conditions. Good fats help fight inflammatory conditions like eczema and acne. Increase your intake of the following Omega-3 foods:
– Salmon, rainbow trout, tuna, halibut, herrings, sardines
– DHA Enhanced Eggs
Although the government has not yet established a RDA for Omega-3s, you should aim for 1,000-1,500 mg of Omega-3s daily. If you can’t meet this target through food, then take a supplement like Organic Flax Seed Oil or Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil.
Tip 8: Get plenty of vitamin E in your diet. If you want supple skin, be sure to eat foods high in vitamin E as this fat-soluble vitamin helps skin hold in moisture and relieves dryness. Foods high in vitamin E include:
– Seeds (sunflower) and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts)
– Whole grains, wheat germ, brown rice
– Dark green leafy vegetables (mustard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, beet, kale, dandelion greens, broccoli)
– Legumes (Peanuts, peanut butter)
– Fruits (tomato & tomato products, avocado, mangoes, papayas, kiwi)
Healthy Glow & Fewer Blemishes
Whether you’re a teen or an adult, the vast majority of us suffer from acne at some point. While many dermatologists discount the role of diet, a significant body of evidence demonstrates that diet influences a number of hormones that regulate abnormal skin cell function in the follicle. In particular, diets high in refined grains, refined vegetable oils (e.g., soybean, corn or safflower oils), trans-fats, saturated fats and dairy products directly influence the formation of acne.
Tip 9: Switch from simple carbs to slow carbs. A diet high in simple carbs such as bagels, pizza, pasta, French fries, cookies, cakes, candy and soft drinks not only promotes skin aging but acne development. Replace these unhealthy foods with fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Tip 10: Stay away from dairy especially milk and cheese. A 2005 study involving almost 50,000 women offered conclusive evidence of an association between milk intake and acne. The relationship is likely due to the hormones and other bioactives in milk which affect the pilosebaceous follicle. Perhaps more importantly, milk promotes an elevated insulin response plus as a concentrated source of calcium it impairs zinc absorption, two factors that directly influence acne development.
Tip 11: Facilitate detoxification in your body. Like the kidneys, liver, lungs and colon, the skin is an organ of elimination. In fact, the skin is often referred to as the “third kidney”. The elimination of toxins through the skin can promote the development of acne.
To reduce the toxic load on your body, shift away from packaged, processed foods toward more fruits and vegetables. The increased fiber will keep your digestive system moving. If you’re not getting the 25-38 grams of fiber daily, supplement your diet with ground flax seeds. You can also remove toxins by eating detoxifying herbs like burdock root (served in Japanese restaurants) and bitter herbs such as dandelion leaves which can be added to salads.
Tip 12: Use probiotics to favorably alter the digestive tract. A 2010 study suggests that probiotic supplementation relieves acne symptoms by inhibiting the production of inflammatory compounds and reducing sebum production. A standard treatment protocol for acne is oral antibiotics. This medication kills the bad bacteria but also annihilates the good bacteria. Supplementing with a probiotic helps bring the digestive tract back into balance.
While foods like yogurt provide beneficial bacteria, their colony forming units (CFUs) are relatively small (about 1 billion). Probiotic supplements, like Probiotic-8 make it easy to obtain a wide range of beneficial flora in sufficient quantities to promote healthy digestion and support immune system function.
Tip 13: Get more zinc in your diet. Zinc regulates testosterone production which plays a role in sebum production. Sufficient intake can help fight against acne. An excellent source of zinc is oysters. Red meat especially beef, lamb and liver have some of the highest concentrations of zinc in food. However, we recommend eating red meat no more than once a week. When purchasing, select grass-fed beef which is leaner and free of antibiotics and growth hormones. Zinc in plant foods is less bioavailable because zinc binds to phytic acid (a type of fiber), inhibiting its absorption. Plants that contain the most zinc include:
– Whole grains
– Legumes (beans, lima beans)
– Nuts (almonds)
– Various seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
Youthful Appearance & Even Tone
Exposure to sunlight or UV light is a major cause of aging. You can protect your skin by staying out of the sun when it is strongest, using sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, wearing protective clothing and avoiding tanning beds.
You can also protect your skin from the sun’s powerful UV rays by eating certain foods. These include brightly colored fruits, vegetables, spices and tea which are concentrated in phytonutrients. These plant chemicals not only give produce its vibrant colors, but help protect the plant from the sun’s harmful rays, insects & pests and harmful bacteria. By ingesting these foods, the health benefits are conferred to us. Like other organs in the body, our skin benefits from the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties that these phytonutrients confer.
Eating a wide variety of colored fruits and vegetables not only gives your skin a healthy glow but according to a recent study, increases microcirculation of the skin and positively affects skin structure (skin hydration, density and thickness). Since many fruits and vegetables are also an excellent source of other vitamins & minerals, these healthy foods work overtime to enhance your skin’s health.
Tip 14: Eat more orange-red colored produce. These foods are an excellent source of the carotenoids beta-carotene and lycopene. Carotenoids like beta-carotene convert into vitamin A as your body requires. Vitamin A is necessary for normal cell growth and development. Vitamin A is needed for maintenance and repair of epithelial tissue (the outer layer of skin is comprised of epithelial tissue) and works as an antioxidant to protect cells from free-radical damage. A British study showed that subjects who consumed tomato paste (tomatoes are the most concentrated source of lycopene) had 33% more protection from sunburn.
Fruits and vegetables that are concentrated in beta-carotene include:
– Sweet Potato
– Red Bell Peppers
Fruits and vegetables that are concentrated in lycopene include:
– Pink grapefruit
Tip 15: Eat more dark green & yellow colored produce. Over 600 carotenoids have been classified. Some members such as beta-carotene readily convert to vitamin A. Others such as lutein and zeaxanthin do not have pro-vitamin A activity, however, these carotenoids are beneficial because they have potent antioxidant activity. Studies on lutein demonstrate that this carotenoid is deposited in the skin and helps to prevent UV rays from damaging the dermis. Lutein and zeaxanthin usually appear together and are commonly found in dark green and yellow produce such as the following:
– Swiss Chard
– Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, Dandelion Greens
– Squash (summer or winter)
– Brussels Sprouts
– Lettuce (Radicchio, Arugula, Romaine, Green leaf, Red leaf)
Tip 16: Eat more deep-purple & dark red produce. These foods are an excellent source of antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. These phytochemicals which include phenolic acids, flavonoids, stilbenoids, isoflavones and anthocyanidins are typically found in fruits and vegetables but other good sources include beverages like green tea, coffee and red wine. Excellent sources of these potent antioxidant compounds include:
– Berries (black currant, strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cranberry)
– Dark Cherries
– Dark Plums
– Purple Grapes
– Red Cabbage
– Dark Chocolate
Tip 17: Eat foods that are high in vitamin E. This fat-soluble vitamin works as an antioxidant and protects your skin from the sun. Fish oil supplements like our Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil are a good source of vitamin E (mixed natural tocopherols), providing 2 mg per capsule (about the same amount as a cup of cooked broccoli). Foods that are a good source of vitamin E include:
– Sunflower Seeds
– Nuts and nut butters (almonds, hazelnuts)
– Peanuts and peanut butter
– Dark green leafy vegetables (spinach, turnip greens, beet greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collard greens, kale, broccoli)
– Fruits (tomato & tomato products, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, avocado)
– Wheat Germ
Tip 18: Eat foods that are high in selenium. This mineral is an antioxidant that works with vitamin E to protect cells. Brazil nuts contain the highest levels of selenium per serving. Beef, poultry, fish, shellfish and pork contain appreciable amounts of selenium.
You Are What You Eat
At this point, it is pretty obvious that a diet which features fruits and vegetables, lean protein and unsaturated fats provides all of the key nutrients and vitamins for healthy skin from the inside out.
The good news is that research supports this dietary approach. For example, a 2001 study suggests that subjects with a higher intake of vegetables, olive oil and monounsaturated fat and legumes, but a lower intake of milk/dairy products, butter, margarine and sugar products had less skin wrinkling in a sun-exposed site.
If you can’t fit all these healthy foods into your busy lifestyle, then supplements can help fill in the gap. While foods are the ideal way to obtain nutrients, sometimes it’s difficult to make this happen. Again, research shows that supplementing can benefit the skin too. In a 2006 study, women who took antioxidant supplements (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, selenium, alpha-tocopherol) for 12 weeks had a significant increase in skin density and thickness compared with non-supplement users. Additionally, the skin of the antioxidant supplement users was less rough and had less scaling than non-users.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.