You Are What You Eat, Eating For A Natural Glow
Let’s be honest, I’m a skincare junkie & I do believe that investing in a good quality skincare routine can help change & improve certain skin concerns. BUT, as you all know, I also (& most importantly) firmly believe that YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.
Diet plays a HUGE role in skin health & I’ve seen this first-hand. Before I made the switch to living a healthier lifestyle & incorporating more fruits, veggies, healthy fats, plant-based proteins & skin-healing foods into my diet, used to break out a lot more often, especially when I was stressed. My skin was dull & grey & I most certainly did not have a natural glow. In the depths of my anorexia, my skin was so dry, it flaked! This was obviously a by-product of my malnourished body not getting the nutrients it needed to bring hydration to my skin. I was eating hardly any protein or healthy fats, so my skin wasn’t getting the nutrients it needed to fight off inflammation, maintain its firmness, elasticity, youth, radiance & to preserve & replenish itself. Today, I see a substantial change in my skin tone, texture, clarity & glow & that’s because I changed the way I eat!
I do also use high-quality skincare products & I’m consistent with my routine, but truth is, you can use the most expensive products in the world, but if you’re eating processed foods full of refined sugar, chemicals, additives & preservatives, odds are the money you invested in those skincare products is going straight down the drain!
In the same way that we commit to eating healthier to heal medical conditions, improve gut health or maintain a healthy weight, the same holds true for maintaining a healthy glow! An unhealthy diet affects hormonal balance, increases inflammation & causes premature skin aging. In fact, a common cause of acne is inflammation & infection of the sebaceous glands, which are stimulated by hormones (particularly androgens) & hormonal imbalances can lead to overproduction of oil, which clogs the pores, causes inflammation & leads to breakouts. This is why it’s important to make a conscious effort to cut back on certain foods that cause hormonal imbalances & inflammation, such as: hydrogenated & partially hydrogenated oils & fats (such as: margarine, canola oil, etc.), packaged junk food, chemicals, artificial sweeteners, preservatives & fillers & to load up on raw veggies, whole &/or sprouted grains, fruit, fish, selenium-rich foods, nuts & seeds.
Diet can also have an effect on more severe skin conditions, such as psoriasis & eczema. Psoriasis occurs with rapid growth & proliferation of cells in the outer skin layers. Some of the main causes are sunburn, alcohol, smoking, obesity, stress & trigger foods. Essential fatty acids from fish oil or cold-pressed nut & seed oils are crucial, as well as a diet LOW in saturated fat & HIGH in anti-inflammatory foods & herbs, such as turmeric, red peppers, ginger, cumin, fennel, rosemary & garlic. Eczema is another often triggered by food sensitivity, such as: dairy, eggs, fish, cheese, nuts & food additives. Omega-3 fats, zinc & vitamin E are helpful in reducing symptoms.
Now, without further ado, how do you eat for that natural glow!
Skin needs moisture to stay flexible & elastic. Even mild dehydration will show right away on your skin – dryness, dullness & dark spots tend to show a little more. The simplest way to keep skin hydrated is to drink more water!
How much water is enough? On average, 1/2 to 1 full oz. for every pound of body weight, i.e. if you weigh 130 pounds, you should drink about 65-130 ounces of water a day. 65 fluid ounces is equal to about 8 cups. But, if you are constantly on the go or you exercise strenuously, try aiming more towards the 130 ounce goal since exercise dehydrates the body due to sweat. Hydration needs vary from day to day based on activity level, but I ALWAYS aim to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day. Get into the habit of carrying around a bottle in your car, purse or at the office to remind you to drink. Caffeine-free teas are also good & don’t forget that some fruit & veggies, such as watermelon, zucchini, cucumber etc. also contribute to your daily hydration needs.
Antioxidants fight stress in the body, in the form of free radicals. To put it simply, free radicals are unstable particles floating around in the environment that make their way into our bodies by virtue of simply LIVING. They’re normal, natural & a part of our being, BUT if we don’t consume enough antioxidants to live out the amount of free radicals in our bodies, they end up causing OXIDATIVE STRESS & DAMAGE, a.k.a. inflammation.
High levels of stress in the body can lead to a breakdown of collagen & elastin, which are the proteins & amino acids that keep skin young, radiant, youthful, smooth, supple, firm & help keep wrinkles at bay. The more antioxidants we consume, the less free radical damage our body & our skin will incur.
The highest source of antioxidants is raw fruits & veggies & they all offer different types of antioxidants (beta-carotene, phytochemicals, polyphenols, lutein etc.) & some are richer in certain vitamins & minerals than others. As a general rule of thumb, the richer in colour the fruit of veggie, the higher the antioxidant content because the pigments in fruits & veggies are what contain antioxidant power. Go for deep leafy greens (kale & spinach), beets, carrots, red bell peppers, pomegranates, papaya, kiwi, any & all berries, cherries, oranges, sweet potato, pumpkin.
BTW, beta-carotene is CRUCIAL for skin health as the body converts it into vitamin A, which is responsible for the re-growth of skin cells, keeping skin soft, smooth & wrinkle free. Just to give you an idea of how essential vitamin A is for the skin, it’s naturally found in retinol!
ESSENTIAL FATTY ACIDS:
Essential fatty acids are crucial for maintaining healthy skin & they cannot be produced by our bodies, so we need to eat them! Fat is essential for so many structures & processes in the bod, one of the most important being the health of our cell membranes. Cell membranes are made up of a phospholipid bi-layer (two lipids of phospholipids that repel water on each side), which allow us to keep the liquid, moisture & contents of the cell inside & repel anything on the outside. When we don’t have an adequate intake of fat, our cell membranes are directly affected as the phospholipid bi-layer is weakened & thinned out & it can have all sorts of negative effects on skin cell rejuvenation. Naturally, skin cells have a very fast turnover rate, so to maintain healthy skin, we need to consume these EFAs to ensure that we never run out of the fats needed to allow our skin cells to replenish themselves, build new cells & kill off dead ones.
EFAs are also anti-inflammatory so they’re helpful in killing acne-causing bacteria. Fats also help create an oil barrier on the skin, which locks water & moisture in. Y’all know that water & oil don’t mesh well right? If we have that oily fat layer on our skin, the water cannot just evaporate out of it, which means that we maintain the oily layer & lock in the moisture, thereby keeping skin looking supple, smooth, youthful & radiant & promoting & improving skin elasticity.
Foods rich in essential fatty acids include nuts, seeds, avocado.
Omega-3 rich sources include salmon, sardines, mackerel & plant sources, such as: chia seeds, flax, hemp, walnuts, avocados, grapeseed or avocado oil, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts etc. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods such as chicken, pecans, peanut butter, cashews eggs & certain types of wheat. It’s important to maintain a healthy ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. The typical American diet is very high in omega-6 & not so high in omega-3, while omega-6 fatty acids are still essential, too much of them can actually have a reverse effect & cause inflammation. This is why it’s crucial that the omega-3s ALWAYS outweigh the omega-6s.
Some omega-9 fats are also good for skin health, but they are not considered essential fatty acids (like omega-3 & 6). One of the best sources of omega- 9 is olive oil! Next time you reach for vegetable oil when you’re making a salad or marinade, STOP. Reach for olive oil instead. It’s rich in monounsaturated fats, which helps boost radiance & promotes youthful skin & also contains antioxidants in the form of polyphenols, which fight oxidative stress & free radical damage.
STAY AWAY FROM SKIN ANTAGONISTS:
Skin antagonists are two-fold. Some are known to be skin antagonists for basically everyone on the planet because they’re filled with so many refined, processed & added ingredients that they’re almost not even considered food.
But, there are also some foods that can be triggers to certain people & cause absolutely no damage or reaction to others, such as: gluten, dairy, soy, etc. This is why it’s important to be very aware of what you’re putting into your body & monitor how you feel &/or how your skin reacts after eating certain foods versus others to see if you notice certain trends. (BTW: This is also why I don’t believe in full-blown elimination diets that encourage the elimination of all things gluten, dairy, soy, etc. all at once because they don’t allow you to determine what exactly is causing the trigger or sensitivity. It’s best test the waters by slowly cutting out certain foods that you may have notice cause reactions every time you eat them – basically, if you notice a trend, try cutting that food out & see if it makes a difference).
Some research indicates that dairy contains certain compounds related to testosterone, which may stimulate oil glands in the skin, setting the stage for acne or breakouts. As for gluten, research has shown that it may be one of the driving forces or triggers for those who suffer from conditions, such as eczema. Wheat is also one of the top 8 most allergenic foods & allergic reactions are prone to show up on the skin. But again, different strokes for different folks!
What are some of the more general skin antagonists, you ask?
Any kind of refined grain or sugar. Refined grains are anything made from white flour, bread, pancakes & pasta, etc. Refined sugars are any type of sugar &/or artificial sweetener/sugar that has been refined, processed & MADE IN A PLANT (& I’m not talking about a green plant. I’m talking about a factory). These foods do not offer much nutritionally & they increase & trigger inflammation in the body. They also prompt the body to produce insulin & increase the production of hormones, specifically androgens, which causes sebaceous glands in skin to secrete more oil, that gets trapped in pores, causing breakouts.
- Both caffeine & alcohol dehydrate the skin. I still drink coffee but I try to be mindful about having just 1-2 per day (& most of the time, just one!). Caffeine is a diuretic, which means that it promotes urination. When the body eliminates fluids, it gets dehydrated & if you’re not replenishing those fluids, it will show on your skin! Alcohol also dehydrates the body & messes with its ability to regulate how much water it actually needs (certain proteins in our bladder are deactivated by alcohol & the body loses its ability to hold onto water for hydration & instead, it flushes it out). If there is a day in the week where you know you’ll be drinking a lot of coffee or alcohol or both, make sure that you stay EXTRA hydrated!
- Anything processed, packaged, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, refined that contains preservatives, added sugars, chemicals, fillers, ingredients you can’t pronounce, etc. STAY AWAY. Read your labels. The ingredients in a product are the best indication of whether your body will love you for eating it or not. Calories, fat content, carbs, sugar, etc. mean nothing if the ingredients in the product are so devoid of nutrients that they’re not even food.
- Also, keep in mind that high-glycemic foods that cause spikes in insulin cause spikes in blood sugar & when blood sugar levels are high, sugars can attach to proteins in collagen & produce compounds that make skin wrinkle and sag.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND:
Anti-inflammatory foods fight acne, reduce bacteria build-up & also help heal your gut & strengthen your intestinal lining so that food particles, toxins or bad bacteria are unable to permeate & cause the leaky gut syndrome. Some inflammatory foods include tomatoes, olive oil, green leafy veggies, almonds, walnuts, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, berries, cherries, oranges.
DARK CHOCOLATE & CACAO NIBS
Eliminating added & refined sugars don’t mean you have to give up on chocolate. It just means you have to go for the right kind! Dark chocolate & cacao nibs are rich in flavonols, plant compounds with antioxidant properties that boost circulation, help cure skin roughness & scaliness & hydrate skin of the inside out.
Oatmeal helps soften & moisturize the skin by locking in moisture, removing dead skin cells & protecting the skin from exterior irritants (due to its antioxidant content & anti-inflammatory benefits). It’s also cleansing as it contains chemicals known as saponins, characterized by intense cleansing properties, so it helps remove dirt & oil from the pores. Oatmeal also contains zinc, which reduces inflammation & kills acne-causing bacteria.
GREEN TEA & EVEN BETTER, MATCHA:
Both green tea & matcha contain catechins, antioxidants that trap & deactivate free radicals in the skin, fight aging, boost circulation, blood flow & oxygen to the skin, fight inflammation, stimulate healthy maturing of collagen fibres & proper collagen fibre orientation & lastly, help the body naturally build collagen, all of which help promote healthy complexion.
CHLORELLA & SPIRULINA:
Like matcha, chlorella & spirulina also contain tons of antioxidants. They are also very potent greens that contain chlorophyll, one of the most powerful compounds when it comes to liver detoxification.
In Chinese medicine, the belief is that if the liver is in harmony, the rest of the body will be in harmony. A distressed liver can lead to dryness, itchy redness, acne & dull or sagging skin. Everything we consume is processed through the liver, which is why liver health is so important. A buildup of toxins in the liver can manifest itself as skin imperfections as the liver is one of our main pathways for eliminations of toxins – it’s basically like a filter. Your skin is a direct reflection of what’s going on inside your body, therefore, if environmental pollutants, inflammatory foods or alcohol are overloaded in your body, it may show up on your face. When the liver is congested, its ability to break down toxins is reduced. The body then makes every effort to purge the toxins through other pathways, one of which is your pores!
Lastly, the liver is also responsible for breaking down fat. When the liver isn’t functioning optimally, oil-producing glands in the skin pick up the slack. If the process by which fat stored as tissue for storage by the liver isn’t functioning adequately, fat just circulates in the blood stream & ends up being used by sebaceous glands instead, which therefore disrupts oil on your skin. If the raw material that the body uses to produce sebum from the bloodstream has fat-soluble material that’s inflammatory or full of toxins, it can end up in your sebum. And this scenario is worsened if you’re eating the wrong types of fats, a.k.a. the ones that cause inflammation, such as trans fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils or an excessive amount of omega-6 fatty acids that isn't complemented by a higher & healthy ratio of omega-3s. The thicker the fats in your bloodstream, the thicker your sebum & the thicker it is, the more likely it is to clog the pores.
On the topic of the liver, milk thistle activates the liver’s metabolic processes & helps clear insoluble fat material through bile, a.k.a. it boosts liver function & ensures that the detoxification system of the liver is functioning adequately, thereby reducing the risk that fat circulates in the bloodstream & causes inflammation in the skin & ensuring that the liver does not find itself in a state of distress.
PROBIOTICS & FERMENTED FOODS:
Believe it or not, the health of your gut has a HUGE impact on the health (or lack thereo) of your skin. If your gut is unhealthy & if your intestinal lining is full of harmful & bad bacteria, what happens is that food particles, environmental toxins & free radicals are able to permeate through cracks & enter your blood stream, wreaking all kinds of havoc, not only on your digestion but also on your immunity & skin health.
If your digestive system isn’t functioning adequately, your body loses its ability to absorb & digest the nutrients, vitamins & minerals from the foods you are consuming. You could be consuming the healthiest foods in the world that boost skin health & collagen production BUT, if your body doesn’t produce enough enzymes to be able to digest them fully & to absorb their full nutrient content, you’re not actually getting what you paid for if you know what I mean. As such, an unhealthy gut means your body isn’t able to heal itself through food!
Probiotic-rich foods include Greek yogurt, kefir, certain types of dairy cheese (read your labels), kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, certain types of fermented soy products, etc.
ANY & ALL FOODS OR SUPPLEMENTS THAT BOOST COLLAGEN PRODUCTION, LYSINE, VITAMIN C & HYALURONIC ACID:
Vitamin C-rich foods help boosts levels of hyaluronic acid & collagen in the body, both of which are crucial for healthy skin, hair & nails, as well as strong muscles & joints.
Our bodies are continually manufacturing collagen naturally to repair & maintain the connective tissues lost to daily wear & tear & free radical damage. If you don’t get enough vitamin C, you cannot build new collagen as vitamin C is used (in combination with lysine & proline) in nearly every step of the collagen formation process. This is why I always stress the importance of taking vitamin C in conjunction with collagen!
Vitamin C also supports immunity & helps heal blemishes, dark spots, redness & hyper-pigmentation.
Hyaluronic acid is also found in connective tissues & is used to bind collagen with elastin. If you’re lacking hyaluronic acid, you have less lubrication in your joints & less elasticity in your skin, leading to cartilage destruction & wrinkles. Your body also produces less hyaluronic acid as you age (in the same way that collagen production declines with age). Some foods that help stimulate hyaluronic acid production include magnesium-rich foods & seaweeds.
Some vitamin-C & amino-acid rich foods include: oranges, guava, red peppers, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, watermelon, papaya, cantaloupe, potatoes, kiwi, cabbage, turnip greens, cherries, cilantro, other dark leafy greens, lemon, tomatoes, sweet potato, salmon, lean turkey, eggs, sunflower seeds, blueberries, garlic, mango & carrots.
Foods rich in lysine include lean meat, dairy & nuts.
Research has shown that when taken orally, aloe vera nearly doubled hyaluronic acid & collagen production in study participants. It contains tons of vitamin A, C & E, as well as amino acids (the building blocks of protein & collagen), enzymes & minerals, which stimulate cell renewal. Aloe vera helps promote cellular growth, which, helps promote collagen production in the skin.
I take 1-1.5 tbsp. of aloe vera juice every morning in my lemon water with Himalayan pink salt & chlorophyll.
MAKE SURE YOU’RE GETTING ENOUGH PROTEIN:
Protein is the building block of collagen & elastin, the 2 compounds in our bodies that are basically the GLUE that holds the body together. Collagen production declines with age so it’s important to provide our bodies with the fuel they need in order to boost collagen production when the body isn’t making as much of it as easily.
Go for a healthy & balanced mix of animal & plant protein to make sure your body is getting an adequate supply of not only protein but healthy fats, fiber, good carbs & vitamins, minerals & nutrients.
FOODS RICH IN ZINC:
Zinc plays a huge role in the growth, function & renewal of skin cells. It is involved in the normal functioning of sebaceous glands in the skin (which produce oil) & helps to repair skin damage & keep skin soft & supple. It also serves as a co-factor for collagen production by activating proteins essential for collagen synthesis & activates a protein called collagenase, allowing cells to remodel collagen during wound healing.
Zinc-rich foods include fish, lean red meat, oysters whole grains, poultry, nuts, seeds & shellfish.
FOODS RICH IN B12:
One of the main symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency is HYPER-PIGMENTATION (dark spots) or vitiligo (white spots). Research has shown that adequate consumption of B12 can help even out the skin tone. B12 is especially important if you’re vegan, vegetarian (because most plant foods do not contain B12) or don’t eat a lot of red meat &/or fatty fish.
Foods rich in B12 include Cheese, poultry, eggs, nutritional yeast, salmon, crab, elafy greens, liver, sardines, etc.
The glycemic index ranks carb-based foods on how slowly or quickly the body breaks sugar into the blood stream gradually, providing a steady sustained source of energy & leaving you satisfied for longer & therefore, less likely to snack on GARBAGE. High glycemic foods increase blood sugar rapidly, which causes high insulin levels that can lead to hormonal changes that cause acne. Beans are low on the glycemic index & rich in protein and fiber, which slow down digestion & lower blood sugar response.
AVOID high glycemic foods & carbs, such as cookies made with refined white flours, sugary beverages, foods that contain added sugar, cakes, pies, packaged cake mixes, etc. as they lead to the production of insulin, which has also been shown to affect or damage collagen & promote wrinkles & other signs of aging.
These are natural chemicals found in plant foods (the word “phyto” literally means plant in Greek). They have a similar structure to the female sex hormone estrogen & keep natural hormones in balance. As you guys know, one of the main causes of acne is hormonal imbalance, so what better way to heal it than with natural compounds found in some common foods?
Some good food sources include fermented tofu, the fiber of whole grains, fruit & veggies!
BTW: regarding soy:
- SAY YES to whole, real soy, such as miso, tempeh, tofu & edamame (which is basically soybeans in their pod). These can be a good source of good quality protein & plant compounds that help promote overall health. Always try to go for organic soy & stay away from GMO versions!
- SAY NO to processed soy, such as soy proteins isolate & concentrate, genetically engineered soy foods, soy supplement, hydrogenated soybean oil, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, non-organic sources of soy & soy junk foods, such as soy cheese, ice cream, oil & burgers.
Another antioxidant! Selenium works alongside vitamin E & C to support the immune system, protect against skin cancer, sun damage & age spots. YOUR BEST SOURCE? BRAZIL NUTS. Just 4 nuts = the RDA!!!! Other good sources are fish, shellfish, eggs, tomatoes, wheatgerm & broccoli.
STOP THE CRASH & YO-YO DIETING & LEARN TO EAT MINDFULLY, INTUITIVELY & ADOPT A HEALTHY SUSTAINED & LONG-TERM LIFESTYLE:
Believe it or not, repeatedly losing & regaining weight can take a toll on your skin & lead to sagging, wrinkles & stretch marks. Crash diets also often fall short in essential vitamins & minerals.
Think about this: is an on & off again relationship going to make your heart happy or are you going to constantly be fooled & tricking yourself into thinking it’s going to work out this time around & then boom, it doesn’t? Yeah, that’s what I thought. Well, guess what? That’s what happens to your body when you are constantly tricking it into thinking that it’s on a diet then off a diet than on again, then off again. Reality is, in life, CONSISTENCY & BALANCE IS EVERYTHING. In the same way that you strive for consistency in your relationships, work & education, strive for it with your nutrition!
Another natural antioxidant, vitamin E protects skin from oxidative cell damage & supports healthy skin growth. It also enhances immunity & allows the body to fight inflammation that may lead to acne. It promotes healthy collagen formation as it is the most abundant antioxidant found in the skin (it also enhances the effectiveness of existing collagen & works synergistically with vitamin C to stimulate collagen formation).
Keep in mind that vitamin E can only be properly absorbed if there is adequate fat intake included in your diet (it’s a fat-soluble vitamin!).
Foods high in vitamin E include almonds, avocado, seeds, green leafy vegetables, hazelnuts, pine nuts, sunflower oil & sunflower seeds (they contain 37% of the RDV per oz).
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, like with all things that are done the healthier & more natural way, once you start to incorporate these changes or some of them, into your diet, don’t expect to wake up with the most radiant glowing skin overnight, a.k.a. don’t expect an overnight miracle. It actually takes about 6 weeks for new skin to emerge up to the surface, so be mindful that any benefits you’ll see from dietary changes to be visible will take just as long.
EAT REAL FOOD!
AND YOU WILL RADIATE (& SO WILL YOUR SKIN!)
And most importantly:
EMBRACE YOUR NATURAL BEAUTY & LOVE THE SKIN YOU’RE IN!