Eat yourself beautiful: a nutritionists guide to food for clear, glowing skin

Sometimes all the lotions and treatments in the world are no use if things aren’t in check on in the inside. Diet affects so many parts of your system including energy levels, mood, weight management and skin health and it’s not uncommon to see poor dietary choices reflected in the skin. I spoke to my beautiful friend Alex, Founder and Clinical Nutritionist at Optima Health for some insight as to how food really affects our skin and how you can easily incorporate some skin loving food into your diet.

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Firstly, can you tell us if chocolate really causes acne?!
A few pieces of chocolate will not cause you to immediately break out. Rather, it is more about quantities and where it fits in in relation to your overall diet.

In our Western world, chocolate is often heated and chemically altered destroying any of its potential beneficial components. Typically, it contains milk, sugar, flavouring and emulsifiers, all of which can be pro-inflammatory. Both dairy and sugar have been shown to cause fluctuations in our hormonal and blood sugar balance, which can manifest as acne. Hence, this chocolate doesn’t exactly yell glowing skin!

But it is not all doom and gloom. Chocolate that is dark (70% ++) or raw can actually have a beneficial impact on our health and wellbeing. Cacao is packed with magnesium and chromium (both of which help to balance blood glucose levels), vitamins A, C and E (our essential skin nutrients), zinc (an essential skin repair mineral) and tryptophan (an important mood-influencing amino acid and stress reliever). It has many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties too. 

How does what we eat affect our skin?
There is such strong evidence toward the effect of food choice on our complexions so much so that skin health is often one of the biggest motivations for one to improve their dietary intake and lifestyle activities.

I like to think of our skin as a messenger; it informs us how well our body is travelling. For example,

  • Breakouts around the chin/jaw area can be indicative of hormonal imbalance, stress and/or a congested colon or poor gut health.
  • Dark under eye circles or puffiness can result from dehydration or tiredness and in more severe cases, adrenal exhaustion.
  • Facial redness can be indicative of congestion, sensitivities and/or allergies or perhaps conditions such as rosacea.

    Excess fried and processed foods, sugar and alcohol cause inflammation in the body and we know, that inflammation manifests as acne, redness, puffiness, oiliness etc. on our face and the rest of our skin.

    Poor liver or gut health will result in inefficient digestion and detoxification. These wastes and toxins are then recycled through the blood and then start to look for an alternative exit, where they are pushed toward the skin, causing all those symptoms that we don’t want. 

What types of food should we avoid that may wreak havoc on skin?
Avoid anything pro-inflammatory or any specific allergens to you.

  • Saturated fat, trans fat and omega 6 fatty acids found in things like dairy products, fatty cuts of meat, processed foods and meats and partially hydrogenated oils.
  • Refined sugars and carbohydrates found in processed grains (e.g. white rice and white bread) as well as discretionary foods such as confectionary, ice cream, cakes and pastries.
  • Nightshade vegetables (e.g. capsicum, tomatoes, eggplant, white potatoes, paprika, chillies, cayenne pepper). These vegetables can induce some inflammation in some. Only avoid if you’re sensitive, as these are highly nutritious.
  • Allergen-inducing foods (e.g. wheat or gluten, eggs, soy, fish, nuts, dairy, preservatives and artificial colours and flavours). Again, only avoid if you’re sensitive, as these are highly nutritious.
  • Alcohol and/or caffeine in excess. Both increase our cortisol level in the body, which can manifest as poor skin health. 

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What are the best foods to eat for…
Acne prone/inflamed skin types
Implement omega 3 rich foods to reduce inflammation. These include salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines and rainbow trout. Other omega 3 rich foods include flaxseed, legumes, walnuts and dark leafy greens. Grains are low GI and a good source of complex carbohydrates. They also provide B vitamins to assist with the stress response as well as dietary fibre which help feed the good bacteria of the gut, all of which keeps our skin nice and happy. Food examples include; quinoa, amaranth, millet, oats, buckwheat and brown rice. Opt for gluten free options if sensitive.

Foods rich in vitamin E will help prevent and reduce acne-related scarring. Try almonds, sweet potato, avocado, spinach and vitamin C for strengthening the skin’s cell wall e.g. red/yellow capsicum, red cabbage, citrus fruits, cauliflower, asparagus.

Incorporating more liver cleansing foods is key in reducing acne flare-ups and ensuring efficient detoxification. Foods to increase include garlic, beets, carrot, dark leafy veg, olive oil, apples, cabbage, broccoli, rocket, cauliflower, herbs, melons, berries and avocados.

Increase your probiotic and prebiotic foods to boost the amount of beneficial bacteria in your system. Fermented foods, such as yoghurt, kimchi, tempeh, sauerkraut and drinks such as kombucha and kefir, contain probiotics. Prebiotics are important as they act like fertiliser for our probiotics as well as playing a role in hormonal balance. Sources include; onion, raw garlic, leek, beans, cashews, chickpeas, lentils, peaches, asparagus, greenish bananas, oats, dark leafy greens amongst others.

Anti-ageing
Antioxidants are key when it comes to anti-ageing foods. Aim to include a host of seasonal fruits and vegetables as well as wholegrains and quality meats and fats. The brighter your plate, the better! Leeks, onions and garlic are sulfur-rich vegetables that contain compounds such as allicin that are known to fight off free radicals within the body. 

The cruciferous vegetables, featuring foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, are potent detoxifiers also exert anti-inflammatory properties. Herbs and spices also have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties with some examples being ginger, garlic, turmeric, oregano, rosemary, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, sage.

Fat is especially important in our diets as it provides fundamental building blocks for hormone production. Healthy fat consumption also helps to curb inflammation, assist metabolism and aid weight loss. Good quality fats also help give a supple appearance. These include foods such as raw nuts/seeds, avocado and quality extra virgin olive oil.

Beta-carotene (which, once consumed, is converted by the body into vitamin A) is found in red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. It helps keep our bones and vision strong as well as our complexion clear.

Green teas and herbal teas are also potent detoxifiers which also help to curb inflammation and help us age gracefully.

Strong hair, skin and nails
Ensure adequate protein with each meal. Hair is almost entirely protein, with its two primary components being keratin and collagen. Inadequate protein can lead to thin, brittle hair.

Biotin is another important nutrient for growth and repair of hair cells. It is also required for the efficient and proper metabolism of our macronutrients (hello good digestion and absorption!). Sources include: liver, egg yolk, salmon, avocado, pork, cauliflower and raspberries.

Zinc is an important mineral required for protein synthesis and helps to increase hair, skin and nail growth and thickness. Sources include: sesame seeds (including tahini), oysters, scallops, beef, lamb, eggs, amaranth, chickpeas/lentils/beans, chia seeds and pepitas.

Believe it or not, the thyroid is a major gland involved in hair health, skin health and nail health. Iodine is an important thyroid-supporting mineral. Sources include: seaweed, iodised table salt. Selenium is a second important thyroid-supporting mineral. Sources include: Brazil nuts, couscous, oats, brown rice, mushrooms.

Silica also helps to stimulate hair growth and helps the skins elasticity. Sources include: green leafy vegetables, beans, mango, cucumber and zucchini.

Any of the nutrients and foods above apply for all cases and I always recommend hydration, rest and reduced stress when treating skin conditions. 

What are your tips for incorporating skin-loving foods into our daily diet?
I always say to choose simple food and incorporate as much ‘nude food’ as you can into your diet. All foods are ‘super’ in their own right, you don’t need to spend a big buck to get your skin to glow.

I always eat in colour and aim for a variety of colours in each meal. Start small, if you’re adjusting your diet. Perhaps it is about adding something ‘green’ to every meal or reducing your coffee intake drinking more water? Adjust your goals each week to avoid getting overwhelmed.

Any yummy recipes you can share to help get that glow?
I love a smoothie for a little bit of skin lovin’! My go to smoothie at the moment is extremely nutrient dense and full of all the skin loving nutrients.

Ingredients
2-3 kale stalks – leaves removed.
1-2 silverbeet leaves, roughly chopped.
1 carrot, roughly chopped.
1 handful frozen zucchini
½ frozen banana, roughly chopped.
1 handful frozen mango, roughly chopped.
1 heaped teaspoon cacao powder
¼ avocado
Water, to desired consistency.

Method
Add the kale, silverbeet, carrot, zucchini and water to a blender and blitz well. Add the banana, mango, avocado and cacao and blitz well. Add more water to suit desired consistency. I personally like mine on the thicker side. Your skin (and the rest of your body) will thank you!

Meet Alex 

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If you need to get your health back on track, Alex is your girl. Get in touch with her today by emailing info@optimahealth.com.au. Mention this blog post for $20 off your Intro Pack (RRP $150)