Promoting a healthy skin diet usually begins with understanding what nutrients your skin needs below the surface to encourage healthy regeneration. But sometimes, knowing what foods to avoid can help minimize the problem to begin with.
Knowing What to Avoid
Life has a balance and knowing what foods to avoid (in excess) can help bring more stability for your skin’s condition.
1. Refined Sugars
Refined carbohydrates, found in foods with a high glycemic index, are absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, which rapidly raises blood sugar levels. When blood sugars rise, insulin levels also rise to help shuttle the blood sugars out of the bloodstream and into your cells. Insulin can instigate androgen hormone activity in the body and increases insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which in turn hastens skin cell growth and boosts an excess of sebum production. This can lead to clogged pores and related skin conditions.
When consumed in moderation, Omega-6 has been found to protect the body from cardiovascular disease. However, an excess of Omega-6 fatty acids is also known to stimulate inflammation in the body, and is suspected to be linked to other diseases like arthritis and even cancer. Omega-6 is found in poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils and so it can be difficult to monitor and suitably control intake for your healthy diet. However, Omega-6’s are found in abundance in typical junk foods like chips and candy. Another reason to avoid unhealthy snacks in your diet.
3. Fast Food
Fast food is typically high in content with both refined sugars and Omega-6 fats. We may often find ourselves choosing the option for the awesome variety, as well as the convenience of enjoying an expertly prepared meal with minimal effort. We can, however, improve our risks of over consumption by choosing from the menu more conscientiously. For example, consider avoiding empty fried foods like fries and sugary sodas where possible. Will a meal deal really fulfill your dietary needs?
Like refined carbohydrates, dairy has been found to spike insulin and boost the production of hormones that contribute towards excess sebum production. When we are young, dairy products are a rich source of calcium, necessary for the strong development of bones. However, as adults, calcium can lead to hardening of veins and arteries through calcification, and so it is in our interest to check our dietary intake against our actual requirements.
This is going to be a tricky one for tea and coffee lovers! Aside from the fact that many of us include adding servings of cream and sugar to our hot drink rituals, caffeine can raise our alertness and potentially diminish the quality of sleep if consumed late. The resulting tiredness will show its effects on your face the following day. Consider switching to decaf to take control of your habit and really consider whether the difference in taste is truly worth it. You may endure headaches for a few days as you ween off the caffeine, but getting through it can be like re-inventing yourself!
Frequent alcohol consumption leads to many problems including the pro-aging of skin. By dehydrating your entire body and agitating inflammation, your skin loses its elasticity and becomes prone to wrinkling and sagging. There are many reasons to reduce drinking habits, but taking the first step often relies of identifying an overconsumption.
You may be used to enduring mild allergic reactions to your favourite foods. Perhaps there’s something in your diet that is causing you to experience inflammation that you don’t know about? Understanding your gut biome is more complex than the time we typically afford towards identifying ingredients that may negatively impact our body and skin.
Working through an Elimination Diet may reveal some very personal insights about how your body functions best. As the name suggests, the method tries to identify certain foods as potential aggravators for your body by selectively eliminating them from your diet over a short period of time (usually 3-4 weeks), and monitoring the effects.
Some common food allergens that may surprise you includes milk, eggs, wheat, cereals that contain gluten (e.g. barley or oats), fish, crustaceans, tree nuts, peanuts, soybean, sesame, and celery. You may of course have something specific or different that your body reacts to. Some foods are thought to relieve inflammation and the effect of seasonal allergies, so picking your diet can sometimes feel like a game of battleship without a structured plan.
Further, complexities can arise if you suffer from multiple allergies, and in these cases, seeking help from a qualified and trained Immunologist (or “Allergist”) may significantly improve your quality of life.
What to Eat Instead
In general, fruits and vegetables are good choices when prepared correctly because they have skin-friendly Vitamins and other antioxidants. While sugary, the fibre in the pulp of fresh fruits and vegetables helps to reduce spikes of insulin coursing through your body.
Careful about fruit juices, however, which filters out the goodness and leaves you with just the sugars. While they may seem natural, your body treats fructose (natural sugars) in pretty much the same way. Sugary drinks, including fruit juices, should be counted as treats.
When hydrating, nothing beats plain water, but consider sparkling water combined with a few drops of sugar-free flavouring as an acceptable alternative to the sodas and soft drinks you may have become used to. It may not taste quite the same, but trust us that you’ll eventually enjoy both feeling refreshed and having all those calories back to play with!
Healthy fats help your skin gets its “glow.” Too little fat in your diet can make your skin wrinkled and dry. We want to focus on monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from plants like nuts, seeds, and avocados and from fish. These help your skin stay moist, firm, and flexible, and they’re better for your heart than saturated fats.
It turns out that maintaining a balance between your intake of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids can have a significant impact in minimizing inflammation in the body and reducing the risk of associated problems (e.g. heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancer). The human body doesn’t have the enzymes to produce them, and so we are entirely reliant on our diets for absorption. Unfortunately, most western diets today encourage a severe imbalance, with Omega-6 abundantly consumed and the availability of Omega-3 rich foods becoming seemingly more scarce.
When this ratio between Omega-6 and Omega-3 pushes beyond a 5:1 ratio, we start to enter harmful territory. On average, in today’s western societies, our diets typically have up to 4 times the imbalance! We need to restore some stability through our diets.
Excessive intake of any polyunsaturated fatty acids, including omega-3 and omega-6, has several risks. The double bonds (“poly”) in the fatty acid molecules are very reactive and tend to oxidize, forming chain reactions of free radicals. These free radicals can cause cell damage, which is one of the mechanisms behind aging and the onset of cancer.
The most important thing you can do to reduce omega-6 intake is to eliminate processed vegetable oils from your diet, as well as the processed foods that contain them. Many foods contain both Omega-3, and Omega-6, so focussing our diets that are rich in Omega-3 (and supplementing as needed) is a great way to bring the balance closer.
Some well-known diets try to focus our eating-styles and habits based on the way our bodies have been used to eating for thousands of years, trying to curb the post-industrial and fast-moving trends in our changing diet.
- Mediterranean-style diets are rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain, legumes, fish and olive oil and low in dairy and saturated fats, and have been linked to a reduction in severity of acne by many.
- Palaeolithic-style diets are rich in lean meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts and low in grains, dairy and legumes. They have been associated with lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and often works best when combined with an appropriate fasting schedule.
Check out our Skin Nutrient Glossary for more information on key nutrients, but for now consider the following types of foods and their potential as rich sources for healthy skin nourishment:
- Fatty Fish (e.g. salmon, sardines, tuna): Protein, Omega-3, Selenium
- Dark Greens (e.g. spinach, kale, collards): Protein, Vitamins A, C, and E; Omega-3; Selenium (particularly in spinach)
- Eggs: Protein, Vitamins A and E, Selenium, Zinc
- Flaxseeds: Omega-3, Selenium
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas): protein, Zinc
- Avocados: Healthy Fats, Vitamins C and E
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Healthy Fats, Vitamin E
- Green Tea contains polyphenols that are associated with reduced inflammation and lowered sebum production. Green tea extracts have been found to reduce acne severity even when applied directly to the skin!
- Turmeric contains the anti-inflammatory polyphenol curcumin, which can help regulate blood sugar, improve insulin sensitivity and inhibit the growth of acne-causing bacteria.
If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough of these key nutrients from your food, talk to your doctor or a qualified physician to make sure that any additional supplements you might consider taking won’t affect your health in other ways. Fish oil is a source of Omega-3, for example, but taking it may not be a good idea if you’re on blood thinners or have a weakened immune system, and Zinc supplements can make some antibiotics less effective.
A healthy skin diet doesn’t have to be boring! Going forward, we will be creating a collection of food and drink recipes that are quick and easy to prepare, and packed full of great skin nutrients and flavour.
If you have a recipe that you would like to share, get in touch, otherwise check back in with us soon and join in the discussions!