Eat your way to fabulous skin

If you want glowing skin, the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ has never been truer. Our nutritionist’s tips will help you nourish your skin from the inside out.

What is skin?

Skin is the largest organ of the body. It regulates body temperature, provides a protective barrier and helps maintain fluid balance. A number of factors impact the health and appearance of our skin, including our genetics, age, hormone levels, conditions such as diabetes, and diet and lifestyle.

How can I achieve fabulous skin?

Everyone has a favourite face cream or treatment, but there’s no denying that beautiful skin starts with nourishing it from within. Older skin cells are constantly being shed and replaced, which means a steady supply of nutrients is essential to support skin turnover. Eat the correct balance and you’ll feed your skin and help keep it soft, supple and blemish-free.

Wrinkles and age spots are inevitable, but aging is also enhanced by overexposure to the sun, tanning beds, harsh soaps, chemicals and a poor diet. The answer is to fine-tune your skincare regime and modify lifestyle factors while optimising your nutrition by eating a varied, balanced diet that includes antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, healthy fats from oily fish and nuts, and adequate hydration.

Read on for our 10 top tips on eating your way to glowing skin:

1. Eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables every day

Fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help protect skin from cellular damage caused by free radicals. These free radicals may be triggered by smoking, pollution and sunlight.

Eat a rainbow of colourful fruits and vegetables, and aim for at least five portions a day. Beta-carotene, found in orange fruit and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins, and lutein, found in kale, papaya and spinach, are both important for normal skin cell development and healthy skin tone.

2. Get your vitamin C

We need vitamin C to support the immune system, promote radiant skin and help blemishes heal. The best sources are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruits, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes.

Vitamin C is also key for producing collagen, the protein that forms the scaffolding that keeps our skin plump and supported, and strengthens the blood capillaries that supply the blood that nourishes our skin.

3. Eat enough vitamin E

Vitamin E plays a key role in protecting the skin from oxidative (cell) damage and photo-aging. Foods high in vitamin E include almonds, avocados, hazelnuts, pine nuts and sunflower and pumpkin seed oil.

4. Stock up on selenium

Selenium is a powerful antioxidant that works alongside vitamins C and E. Studies suggest that a selenium-rich diet may help protect against skin cancer, sun damage and age spots. One way to boost your intake is to eat Brazil nuts. Just two or three nuts will provide your recommended daily amount. Mix Brazil nuts with other seeds rich in vitamin E as a snack or salad sprinkle. Other good sources of this mineral include fish, shellfish, eggs, wheatgerm, tomatoes and broccoli.

5. Eat plenty of zinc

The mineral zinc helps keep skin supple by supporting the normal functioning of oil-producing glands in the skin. It’s also involved in the healing process and helps repair skin damage. Zinc-rich foods include fish, lean red meat, wholegrains, poultry, nuts, seeds and shellfish.

6. Include healthy fats

Certain fats act as a natural moisturiser for your skin, keeping it supple from the inside and improving elasticity. These fats include the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties found in avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds. These fats come cleverly packaged with a healthy dose of valuable vitamin E.

Pay special attention to food sources of a polyunsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and may help alleviate skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. They also form the building blocks of healthy skin.

You can find omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish such as salmon, trout and sardines, as well as plant sources including flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil.

7. Eat more phyto-estrogens

Phyto-estrogens are natural compounds found in plants. They have a similar structure to the female sex hormone oestrogen, and are thought to help keep our natural hormones in balance. This is important because oestrogen plays an important role in skin health, especially in supporting skin structure and minimising skin damage.

There are different types of plant ‘oestrogen’ – some are found in soya (isoflavones) such as tofu and tempeh, while others are found in the fibre of wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and flaxseed (lignans).

8. Drink six to eight glasses of water a day

Skin needs moisture to stay flexible. Even mild dehydration may leave your skin looking dry, tired and slightly grey. Experts recommend we drink six to eight glasses of water a day. All fluids count towards your daily allowance, but water is best.

If you work in an office, keep a large bottle of water on your desk to remind you to drink. Caffeine-free herbal teas are good, too. Don’t forget that some fruit and vegetables, such as watermelon, courgette and cucumber, also contribute fluids – the added benefit is that the minerals they contain will increase the rate you hydrate your body and skin.

9. Choose low-GI carbs

The glycaemic index (GI) is a system that ranks carbohydrate-based foods on how slowly or quickly they are broken down in the body to glucose. Try to eat plenty of beans, pulses, porridge and other low-GI, slow-releasing carbohydrates. These carbs release their energy into the blood stream gradually, providing you with a steady supply of energy and leaving you feeling satisfied and less likely to snack.

Avoid high-GI carbohydrates such as biscuits and sugary drinks, as they lead to production of insulin, which may damage collagen and accelerate wrinkles.

10. Don’t crash diet

Repeatedly losing and regaining weight will take its toll on your skin, causing sagging, wrinkles and stretch marks. Crash diets are often deficient in essential vitamins and minerals, too. Over long periods of time, this type of dieting will reflect on your skin.

Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are two other lifestyle factors that will impact the look and appearance of your skin.

Eat to beat common skin problems

Does diet affect acne?

Acne is commonly linked to changes in hormone levels at puberty and peri-menopause. Fluctuating hormones can stimulate the oil-producing glands, which can trigger an inflammatory response and lead to signs of acne.

In order to help minimise acne, follow these tips:

  • Cut back on saturated and hydrogenated fats in margarines and processed foods
  • Eliminate junk food as well as foods high in sugar, such as cakes and biscuits
  • Eat more raw vegetables, wholegrains, fresh fruit and fish
  • Include foods rich in selenium, such as Brazil nuts, cashew nuts, fresh tuna, sunflower seeds, walnuts and wholemeal bread
  • Consider a Mediterranean diet, this style of eating has been linked with reduced acne severity.

Does diet affect psoriasis?

Psoriasis is characterised by red skin patches with silvery scales, most commonly on the elbows and knees. These patches are caused by rapid growth and turnover of cells in the outer layer of the skin. Patches can be itchy and sore, and, in severe cases, the skin may crack and bleed.

Sunburn, alcohol, smoking, obesity and stress are all implicated but there may also be trigger foods, these are best identified using an exclusion diet. You should be aware that this sort of diet should only be conducted under the supervision of a registered dietician. Discuss a referral with your GP.

Consider these dietary changes:

  • Minimise saturated fat from red and processed meats
  • Focus on healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, from oily varieties of fish as well as cold-pressed nut and seed oils
  • Consider including anti-inflammatory herbs and spices such as turmeric, ginger, cumin, fennel, rosemary and garlic.

Does diet affect eczema?

Eczema is a skin condition that usually begins as patchy redness – often on the hands, but can appear anywhere on the skin. Although there are many triggers, one of the most common is a food sensitivity. An exclusion diet may be helpful, but should only be implemented under the guidance of a health practitioner, such as a registered dietician.

Potential offending foods may be milk, eggs, fish, cheese, nuts and food additives.

To help alleviate symptoms, be sure to include foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and vitamin E.

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