Understanding the latest dietary guidelines and how they impact the skin is key to solving the puzzle of selecting foods that feed a clear complexion.
What you eat not only goes straight to your hips, it is also mirrored in your complexion. Proper nutrition can have a major impact on the way your skin looks and feels. Current research suggests that processed foods and high-fat dairy products can exacerbate acne, promote inflammation and cloud a clear complexion. Other evidence indicates that foods high in protein and antioxidants (fruits and vegetables in particular) can have anti-aging effects.
The Latest Dietary Guidelines And Your Skin
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its latest Dietary Guidelines,1 while in 2011 it released a new icon for healthy eating called MyPlate.2 Both recommend that Americans eat more healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and seafood. The guidelines also encourage people to consume less sodium, saturated and trans-fats, added sugars, and refined grains such as white flour. No foods are off-limits, but the guidelines encourage portion control and calorie modification.
I agree with these guidelines, I feel they are a step in the right direction toward a skin-healthy diet, as well as a diet that can reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and obesity. However, I feel it is important to limit milk and dairy products to one or two servings a day rather than the three recommended. The data suggests that dairy products can be problematic for people with acne and other inflammatory skin conditions. These products may prompt the body to produce more of the male hormones, called androgens, which cause more oil and sebum production that can clog pores. Additionally, dairy produced in non-organic farms may contain external hormones and pesticides, which can exacerbate skin conditions. Eating calcium-rich vegetables such as spinach and collard greens to compensate for eating less dairy.
It also appears that following a low-glycemic diet – which is what the dietary guidelines recommend – is a key to clear skin. This is a diet that is low in refined carbohydrates and processed foods and high in produce and lean protein, which helps to keep the blood sugar stable. It has been theorized that a high-glycemic diet can lead to insulin resistance, where the body needs to produce ever-increasing amounts of the hormone insulin in order to clear glucose (sugar) from the blood. Insulin resistance has been definitively linked to high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, and there is evidence that it also leads to acne and more skin inflammation. Further research is needed, but a few studies suggest a benefit for acne in following a low-glycemic diet.
Recommendations Selecting Foods That Feed A Clear Complexion
Whole grains – These products contain a wealth of skin-healthy nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber, which can stabilize your blood sugar and prompt skin repair. Look for products that list "whole grain" as their first ingredient. Expand beyond wheat to other grains such as quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), oatmeal, bulgur, whole-grain barley and brown rice.
Fruits and vegetables – Leafy green vegetables contain many antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory nutrients, as well as fiber, which again can regulate blood sugar.
Healthy fats – Fatty, ocean-sourced fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, herring, anchovies and sardines, as well as walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce inflammation in your body that could be exacerbating skin conditions. These essential fatty acids also help to keep your skin healthy, maintain its natural oil barrier, and make it look younger (less wrinkly) and clearer. Other sources of good fats are olive oil and avocados.
Plant protein is a good alternative to red meat – Contrary to popular belief, most plants are very rich in protein. It is best to eat plants in salad form, or lightly steamed, as cooking them destroys many of their vital nutrients.
Tea – Green, black and other teas are a good source of antioxidants, in contrast to coffee, which has a lot of acid that can increase insulin production and inflammation, and ultimately cause wrinkling. I recommend limiting coffee to one cup a day, or switch to tea altogether.
Water – Staying hydrated with plain-old water is essential to good health skin. It is best to drink filtered water, stored in a glass bottle, throughout the day.