An exciting food and wellness revolution is underway with more and more people embracing the link between diet, gut health, and skin health.
How does it all connect? Your entire body is made up of cells and bacteria and the nature of that fabric profoundly influences your health and the health and integrity of your skin. Your skin, hair, and nails are the last places to receive nutrients because they go to more important organs first. So, if you're not getting enough nutrition, your skin will starve.
While genetics also play an important part in your skin’s health, what is probably more pertinent is epigenetics: the way the expression of inherited traits is modified by environmental influences.
Diet and skincare play a huge role - you can eat to support a healthy gut, healthy liver, beautiful skin and a healthy weight.
Simply put, you are what you eat.
The best beauty foods
1. Lacto-fermented foods
Lacto-fermented foods are an excellent for improving digestion as they are predigested by bacteria so nutrients are more available for the body to use. The process also creates natural probiotics, key for good gut health. Studies also show that lack of certain acids such as hydrochloric acid in the gut contributes to skin problems from rosacea to acne.
Lactic acid bacteria can help increase these acids. Other important beauty foods to eat are prebiotic foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, bananas, green veggies, asparagus, onions and garlic that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Foods rich in digestive enzymes such as papaya and pineapple can also help nourish gut and skin health.
2. Anti-inflammatory foods
Inflammation contributes to a host of skin problems including dryness, pimples and loss of skin tone, as it breaks down essential collagen. Anti-inflammatory foods include lacto-fermented foods and those rich in antioxidants and omega-3s. Grain-fed meats contain inflammatory fats whereas grass-fed meats are rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and omega -3s. For beauty and health, avoid highly processed foods, sugar, alcohol, pasteurised dairy and gluten that can all contribute to inflammation.
3. Alkalising foods
Many naturopaths believe that too much acid in the body may lead to skin and health issues from arthritis to eczema. The modern diet is full of acidic foods such as red meat, alcohol, refined grains and sugar. To see and feel the benefits, reduce these and eat lots of alkalising foods: lemons, green leafy veg, fruit, herbs, spices, herbal teas.
4. Antioxidant-rich foods
Antioxidant-rich foods have anti-inflammatory properties and help protect the skin from free radical damage that ages it prematurely. Free radicals are unstable molecules that naturally roam our bodies looking to partner up with healthy cells, which they then damage. Antioxidant-rich foods include fruits, veggies, spices, green tea and legumes. While oxidation is a normal part of our body’s processes, it is exacerbated by exposure to toxins and pollution, eating processed foods, stress, cigarettes and alcohol so try to cut down on these for your health, and your complexion.
5. Vitamin C-rich foods
Vitamin C helps support collagen production and boost the skin’s immunity. Lemons, camu camu (a cherry-like fruit), acerola cherry, green leafy veggies, berries, papaya, kiwi fruit, broccoli and cabbage should all be on your shopping list if you want a beautiful complexion.
6. Vitamin A
Beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A helps rejuvenate the skin and promotes cell turnover, improving dry flaky skin. Carrots, sweet potato, leafy greens and seaweeds are rich in vitamin A. Cod liver oil is another great source and also contains skin-loving vitamin D.
7. Spark up your skin
Minerals are key catalysts for many biochemical reactions, helping to make enzymes, antioxidants and hormones. They are essential for skin’s hydration, resilience and overall texture and health. Oats, buckwheat and chickpeas contain silica, for example, which can help to promote skin elasticity. Zinc in pepitas is another anti-inflammatory helpful in repairing and building the skin, particularly if you are prone to acne or oily skin. Soak grains, seeds and legumes to reduce anti-nutrients, aid their digestibility and unleash their goodness.
8. Support the liver
Foods that support the liver are very important to wellness and beauty because this organ is involved in every metabolic process. Max sulphur-rich foods, including those from the brassica family - cabbage, broccoli, kale - in your diet and enjoy nourishing, slow-cooked bone broths.
9. Liver-supporting herbs
Eat liver-supporting herbs such as milk thistle, rosemary, fennel, dandelion and burdock root.
10. Eat fat
Eat essential fatty acids. The ideal ratio is 1:1 - 5:1 of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, but in the Western world it looks more like 20:1 - 50:1. While omega-6s are essential, their dominance causes inflammation in the body, so avoid processed packaged foods and refined vegetable, seed and nut oils.
Eat fresh seeds and nuts for omega-6s and dose up on omega-3s by eating fresh fish (especially cold-water fish), flaxseeds and chia seeds. Be sure to eat freshly ground flaxseeds and chia seeds as they oxidise very easily. Krill oil is also a great omega-3-rich supplement. Other skin-boosting unsaturated fats are olive oil - avoid heating it as it oxidises - and the fats in avocado.
Cook with saturated fats such as red palm oil and coconut oil: these are stable and rich in medium-chain fatty acids, which are great for digestion, brain and skin health.
11. Eat protein
Insufficient protein in the diet can lead to sallow-looking skin and lack of muscle tone. Protein is vital for collagen synthesis, tissue growth, and repair. It’s important for balancing blood-sugar levels and it builds muscle, increasing basal metabolic rate or the rate at which you burn fat. Good protein sources are fish, grass-fed meats, fresh nuts and seeds and cultured dairy.
A variation of this article was originally published in Wellbeing Magazine.
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