Woman holding basket of vegetables

3 dietary tips for healthy, youthful skin

Everything you eat, or don’t eat, affects the health and Beauty of your skin. This means that no matter what your skin type or condition, it can be improved by diet. And, on the flip side, no matter how good the skin you are born with is, problems can arise from eating a poor diet.

While most plants only contain “incomplete” protein, it’s easy to be a vegetarian or vegan and get all the essential amino acids needed for skin health.

My first tenet for healthy skin is that beauty begins in your belly: balancing gut health is the number-one game-changer for beautiful, healthy skin. Your gut is where you make nutrients, hormones and detoxifying enzymes; basically, every biological process carried out there can have a profound effect on the skin in a good way — or a not so good way.

Balancing gut health involves avoiding processed food, unnecessary medications, pollution and stress, and eating lots of low-HI (human intervention) foods as well as those that are easily digested, including probiotic foods such as lacto-fermented vegetables. In addition, exercising moderately but regularly, drinking clean filtered water and following some simple guidelines will keep your skin in good stead and help play to the strengths of your genes.

Here are the first of my seven principles for healthy skin; the rest will appear in the next issue.

1. Go low-GI

Fluctuating blood-sugar levels caused by eating high-glycaemic foods leads your body to release more insulin than it needs, which has been linked to skin conditions, such as acne and psoriasis, mood swings and weight gain. An easy way to smooth out your blood-sugar levels (and curb cravings, too) is to choose low-GI foods such as vegetables, some fruits, some soaked and fermented whole grains (gluten-free where possible) and lean proteins. Soaking or fermenting grains helps make them more easily digested.

Eating protein at breakfast and incorporating it into your diet throughout the day is a great way to stabilise blood sugar from the get-go. This stabilisation is also super important for preventing glycation induced by high blood-sugar levels, where sugar sticks to collagen and damages it

2. Choose healthy fats

To keep skin hydrated from the inside and glowing on the outside, it’s important to eat healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats such as those from olive oil, avocados, almonds, macadamias and pumpkin seeds benefit skin by lubricating from the inside and also contain anti-inflammatory antioxidants that help to mop up free radical damage. Omega-3s such as fish, freshly ground flax, chia seeds, walnuts and green leafy veg are used to make prostaglandin hormones that regulate the level of inflammation in the body and skin. Signs of omega-3 deficiencies include dry, flaky, itchy, inflamed skin and are associated with nearly all skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis and keratosis pilaris, to name a few.

Healthy organic saturated fats also play an important role in skin and whole body Health and should comprise at least 10 per cent of your diet. In particular, they contribute to the formation of cholesterol and, although it may have a “bad” name, cholesterol is one of the three primary lipid groups that make up the skin matrix. This is a “bricks-and-mortar” type of arrangement in the skin that needs to be intact if you want strong, resilient, healthy skin. If cholesterol is depleted, the skin cells begin to deteriorate and the outer level of the skin, known as the stratum corneum, begins to flake. This creates dry skin, redness and scaling.

3. Eat more protein

Want to boost collagen, elastin and keratin? Protein is the key as it helps form the structure of the skin, hair, nails, organs, bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Collagen and elastin together make up more than 50 per cent of the skin and give it strength, suppleness and elasticity. Protein is also used in many specialised chemicals that are important for skin health. These include haemoglobin, digestive and cellular enzymes and communication molecules (hormones, immune chemicals, neurotransmitters).

Protein foods are made up of 20 amino acids, of which nine are classified as essential as they cannot be made by the body and must be obtained through diet. A protein’s “quality” (how well it can be used by the body) depends on whether it contains enough of all nine essential amino acids.

A “complete” protein has all 20 amino acids, including adequate levels of the nine essential ones. This type of protein is mostly animal in source, the best types being lean red meat, organic eggs and chicken, oily fish and organic dairy products.

Vegetarian proteins are low in one or more of the nine essential amino acids and foods need to be combined so that all amino acids are consumed. The best sources include nuts, legumes and whole grains such as quinoa. While most plants only contain “incomplete” protein, it’s easy to be a vegetarian or vegan and get all the essential amino acids needed for skin health. The simple rule is over a 24-hour period, balance foods low in a particular essential amino acid with others rich in that same amino acid. This can be achieved by combining whole grains with legumes, nuts and seeds. Simply omitting meat from the standard modern diet can lead to protein, essential fatty acid, vitamin B12, iron and zinc deficiencies.

It’s also important to protect protein from damage during cooking. For example, cooking protein at high temperatures without fluid (BBQ, bake, fry, grill, roast) changes the proteins and creates chemicals (heterocyclic amines) that are known carcinogens and highly inflammatory to all body cells.

When proteins are cooked with sugar (fruit, glaze, marinade, sweet sauce), a chemical reaction called glycation occurs. Glycation leads to the formation of irreversible Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs). AGEs cause cross-linking of connective tissue proteins and accelerate ageing throughout the skin and body. This causes the breakdown of collagen and elastin, leading to wrinkles, brown spots and overall premature ageing.

Carla Oates

Carla Oates

Carla Oates is the CEO of The Beauty Chef, a natural beauty expert and the author of Feeding Your Skin and The Beauty Chef Cookbook.

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