Articles on nutrition are abundant these days, everybody is a foodie, and the old dogmas are shifting. Saturated fat is no longer the enemy it once was, and sugar has been revealed as the true baddy.
But what about our skin? What should we eat, or abstain from to keep our youthful looks for longer?
Good skin is always a work in progress. If you are blessed with a set of ‘good skin genes’ you had an enviable head start, but everyone can do things to minimise breakouts and to protect their skin against ageing. Of course, a good lifestyle is essential for good skin. Nothing beats the power of sufficient sleep and relaxation, abstinence from smoking and minimising the consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Ever-important as well are sun protection and a good skincare routine.
But let’s have a closer look into the specific topic of DIET and SKIN. Good nutrition can do much to improve the condition of our skin and to delay premature ageing. Let’s break down the nutritional information and look at the specific ingredients and foods that bestow the most benefits to our good looks. Going back to the aforementioned sugar and its impact on the skin: well, it turns out that excessive sugar consumption is detrimental to overall health and also to skin. Eating sugar (white sugar, aka saccharose or sucrose) rapidly increases blood sugar (glucose) causing a spike in the hormone insulin. If it happens too often or lasts for too long, this creates a permanent state of body inflammation detrimental to many tissues and proteins. Inflammation also promotes breaks down of collagen and elastin that are responsible for the elasticity of the skin, resulting in premature sagging and wrinkles. It is no wonder that scientists have coined a term inflammaging – referring to the ageing effect of the inflammation on the body.
Pure sugar aside, many sweets and highly processed carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, sugary drinks, sodas, cookies and cakes, and even very sweet fruit in excess, will have the same effect on the body. These are all foods with high glycaemic index – meaning they rapidly increase blood sugar and insulin. In the long run, this causes inflammatory changes in the body.
So folks, to stay young: keep off the cake! Eat carbohydrates mindfully, choosing whole foods over processed ones. Particularly good sources are whole grains (oats, rice, quinoa), nuts (but not salted, they trick you into eating too much) and beans. If you must have fruit yoghurt, mix a spoonful of low sugar jam or stewed fruit into plain yoghurt. Commercial yoghurts are loaded with added sugar. If you normally consume sweet drinks, you’re better off having a glass of water and a piece of fruit, you will consume less sugar that way.
And when you eat those good carbs, try to accompany them with some good fat at the same time. It is hard to overestimate how important fat is for our overall health and wellbeing. By now everyone and their uncle have heard about the beneficial effect of Omega 3 fatty acids. So what’s the deal? Omega 3’s are essential components of certain fats, and of our bodies, but we cannot make them and need to get them from food. They are important for function of our body, our brain, and give our skin the power to ward off inflammation, speed up healing and prevent conditions such as acne and dermatitis.
Oily fish is an important source of Omega 3. So eat your sardines, your mackerel, your salmon and your trout on a weekly basis. There is enough Omega 3 in two small weekly servings of sardines to fulfil all your Omega 3 requirements. Other good sources include whole milk and cheese from organic (grass grazing) cattle, free-range or organic eggs; and, to a lesser extent vegetarian foods including linseeds and hemp seeds, and nuts such as macadamia and walnuts. The other kind of fatty acids, Omega 6, are also important but we in the West eat far too much of these to the detriment of Omega 3 (they compete). In other words, we want to minimise our consumption of Omega 6 rich food and maximise our Omega 3 intake. In practice, this means seriously lowering the intake of vegetable and nut oils (yes, that includes sunflower, corn, peanut and even the much loved canola/rapeseed oil) and heavily processed fats like margarine. These ‘bad’ fats are particularly rich in Omega 6, and too much of these do you no good. The only oil that is definitely recommended is olive oil. Other good fats are butter and ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil and, for those who are really progressive and nutritionally aware good ol’ animal fat such as lard and beef tallow. Seriously. Especially if the animals have been pastured (i.e. living free range outdoors and eating natural diet). Your skin will love you for it!
But fat is not just about Omega 3. It is as much about vitamins. Vitamins such as A, D, E and K are absolutely essential for beautiful and healthy skin. They all have powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, in addition to promoting the regular skin renewal (esp. A and E), protecting the skin’s moisture barrier (prevents dehydration) and slowing down the ageing of the skin.
And those vitamins are all fat-soluble, which means we get them from fat, as well as eggs, fat-rich meat and dairy. There is up to 10-20 times more Vitamin A in meat (especially liver) than in carrots or sweet potatoes. Similarly, Vitamin D is abundant in whole milk and oily fish; Vitamin K is only found in animal products such as butter and mature cheese. If you are vegan or vegetarian you should seriously consider taking food supplements with Vit A and D, and ensure you get plenty of sunshine (where we get most of our Vit D from). Great sources of Vitamin E are most green vegetables, avocados, nuts, eggs and olive oil. Eggs also contain biotin, and green vegetables sulphur, both of which are responsible for maintaining our skin clear, smooth and elastic.
A small digression: those fat loving vitamins are great to put ON the skin, too. You can try making a food-based face mask with linseeds, avocados etc … but try putting raw liver or egg yolk on your face!? Maybe not. With this in mind, we have developed our beloved Dash 20 minute Vitamin mask, which really injects freshness and glowing skin renewal after only few (10-20) minutes of application once or twice a week.
In October, if you buy the Vitamin mask with another dry skin product (e.g. Nourishing oil, Serum no2 or Moisturiser 1A) you will get a free full size Hydrating face mist worth £10, which provides pH balancing and lasting help against dehydration.
Now – back to nutrition! Other important skin-loving nutrients are predominately found in vegetables and fruit. In that order. Vegetables are the often underestimated in various superfood articles and blogs, which all seem to want you to eat blueberries in the winter and spend your hard earned cash on exotic dried fruit (goji berries, anyone?) and obscure seeds from Central America (yeah, chia). Nothing particularly wrong with those. But, remember, vegetables ARE Superfoods. We find lycopene in tomatoes (protects from sun), carotenoids in carrots and orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and squashes (turns into Vit A), polyphenols and other antioxidants in coloured fruit and vegetables, zinc in oysters, meat, seeds and nuts, calcium in leafy greens (watercress and kale in particular), cheese, nuts and seeds, sulphur in eggs, garlic and onions, selenium in oily fish and Brazil nuts, and so on. We cannot overdose on vegetables, they are not fattening and will not increase our insulin or give
us inflammation or heart disease. In fact, they will protect us from all those things – and work hard to give us beautiful and radiant skin. Of course fruit is also important and very rich in skin-healthy nutrients. Just eat the whole fruit and not fruit juice or fruit purees (high glycaemic index) and you will be fine. Seasonal, preferably.
Another popular buzzword these days is antioxidants. Anti-oxidants are a family of compounds that protect us from the damaging effect of free radicals inside our cells. This protects our skin and body. Not some freedom loving progressive hippies, free radicals are bad news, causing our tissues to degenerate and our skin to age, sag and wrinkle L Diverse diet rich in whole foods, in tune with the seasons will minimise oxidation caused by free radicals and keep them in check. This all breaks down when we eat too much rubbish and rely on fast & processed food.
So once again: a good quality, diverse diet is essential. We can get extra skin-improving antioxidants from all rainbow coloured fruit and vegetables (green, blue, orange, red, yellow), also from tea and coffee (consume these in moderation) and… yes, it is finally coming… from red wine and dark chocolate J
Which brings me to the last, but not least, key message.
Be virtuous, but do not be virtuous 100% of the time. Research has shown that it is easier to stick to all manners of virtue and good choices if we occasionally allow ourselves to let our hair down and indulge. By the way, occasionally means up to 20% of the time, no more! The choice of how is individual, for some it might be a big slice of cake at their child’s birthday, or one too many cocktails/glasses of wine at that really good party last week, or ‘to hell with it’ McSomething burger, soda and fries combo 😉