By Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN
Skin is the largest organ in your body, making up 10 percent of your body weight and spanning a total area of about 20 square feet. Taking good care of it is essential to your health. You may not realize it, but your skin helps regulate your body temperature, allows you to sense hot and cold and cloaks your body for protection. It makes sense to be good to the skin you live in.
“Your skin is one of the first places to show signs of a healthy or unhealthy lifestyle,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of The Superfood Swap.
Food plays a big role in keeping your skin hydrated, blemish-free and youthful-looking, so eat right for optimal skin health. If you’re eating greasy, salty and refined foods, you may notice changes in your skin such as acne, dryness, dark circles under your eyes and uneven skin tone.
Foods for glowing skin
“Hydrate from within,” Blatner recommends. “Omega-3 fatty acids and water keep skin hydrated from the inside out, so choose foods like fish, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds, and drink plenty of water.”
Essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids, which you get through the foods you eat, have been linked to the skin’s functional health. A lack of these in your diet can lead to visible skin abnormalities such as dry and scaly skin, as well as dermal water loss. Aim to eat either at least 2 tablespoons of high omega-3 seeds, like flaxseeds, daily, ¼ cup of walnuts a day or 12 ounces of fatty fish per week.
Skin cell damage can result in premature aging and wrinkles, therefore upping antioxidants to fend off destructive free radicals is important. To get an antioxidant punch, Blatner recommends berries, oranges, artichokes, broccoli, green tea and herbs and spices like oregano and cinnamon.
Collagen, a long-chain amino acid, gives skin its elasticity. But the body’s production of collagen can decline with age, stress or poor diet.
Collagen is found in animal tissue, especially bones, so bone broth is a good source. Vitamin C can help your body make collagen, Blatner says. Upping collagen in your diet with vitamin C-rich foods, such as red bell peppers, oranges, kiwi, strawberries and kale can keep your skin elastic and youthful.
Zinc, a trace mineral found in foods, helps in wound healing and keeps your skin healthy. In cases of severe zinc deficiency or malabsorption, patchy skin color changes can occur and skin lesions or sores may develop. Eating foods with zinc, such as oysters, crab, cashews, chickpeas and poultry, Blatner says, can help keep your skin clear.
Sour news about sweets
Also helpful for keeping your skin clear? Cutting back on sugar.
Limiting sugary beverages, cookies, candy and cake can help reduce acne outbreaks. “There is evidence to support the notion that a low-glycemic-index diet may help patients struggling with acne,” says Emily Arch, MD, a dermatologist with Dermatology + Aesthetics in Chicago.
“High sugar intake, as well as certain cooking methods like frying, can lead to a process called glycation, which accelerates the signs of aging in the skin,” Arch says. We can fight wrinkles and protect our skin by pushing sugary, fried, greasy foods aside and substituting baked or roasted whole foods that are lower in sugar.
Dairy products have also been implicated in playing a role in acne, along with saturated fats and trans fats.
A recent Norwegian study concluded that dairy consumption may be a contributing factor to acne. Researchers followed teenagers for three years, and those who drank more than two glasses of full-fat dairy products a day showed a correlation with moderate to severe acne. However, before individuals make drastic dietary changes, Arch cautions, “More research is needed in this arena.”
For healthy, glowing skin, think about cutting down on sugar and making sure you get appropriate amounts of vitamins and minerals. After all, beauty is only skin deep.
Victoria Shanta Retelny, RDN, is a lifestyle nutrition expert and author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. Follow her @vsrnutrition.