The Best Foods for Your Skin

Dr. Janet Zand

June 21, 2019

Last week, I told you about a number of foods that might be bad or even downright ugly for your skin. Foods tend to affect us differently, but the bottom line is that anything that drives inflammation as you digest it will ultimately be bad for your skin. Some food you’ll need to evaluate on a case-by-case basis. Other food is just categorically ugly – we know it will negatively affect just about everyone.

But don’t despair. There is plenty of food that’s great for your skin.

Of course, if inflammation is bad, anything that reduces it can help. That means antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables are a great choice. But you probably knew that. So let’s talk about some additional options.

If you have a gluten sensitivity, you obviously need to be careful with the grains you choose. The chemical makeup of the “dwarf wheat” commonly sold is often the root of the problem. Look for sprouted wheat instead, which has lower levels of phytic acid. This can make it easier to digest and help protect your gut.

Of course, if you do have a true gluten allergy, you need to avoid wheat and other sources of gluten altogether. But there are plenty of gluten-free grains and seeds to choose from. Amaranth, kamut,rice, millet, and quinoa are all great whole grains and seeds that make for good wheat alternatives. If you’ve been eating mostly refined flour, start experimenting with these too.

Carbs often get a bad rap. But that’s because we tend to think of refined grains, which don’t offer much nutritionally. Whole grains supply many vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, which are great for your skin.

Whole grains also tend to be much lower than refined grains on the glycemic index. Coconut flour and almond flour are grain alternatives that are low glycemic as well. That means they’ll help your blood sugar stay stable and won’t contribute to collagen breakdown. Plus, whole grains are a good source of fiber, which, as I’ll explain below, ultimately benefits the skin.

How to Make Alcohol Less Damaging to Your Skin

Of course, one of the most “refined” forms of grain is alcohol, which often isn’t a good choice for skin health. Water is the obvious alternative, but obviously not very exciting. To mix things up, try coconut water. Many people find it to be very hydrating and a good source of electrolytes.

If you’re quite literally mixing up a cocktail, try using coconut water as your base liquid. It won’t counteract the alcohol entirely, but it can help make the occasional drink less taxing for your skin. Picking a pure distilled white spirit will help keep the sugar content low as well. Watch out for liqueurs and other sugary mixers.

Another option is kombucha. Fermented foods and drinks can help your gut stay populated with friendly bacteria strains. This, in turn, can decrease your overall inflammation levels. It’s true that kombucha can be a bit of an acquired taste.

Should You Eat Meat?

Next up is meat. While plant-based foods are skin superstars, a little meat is okay too. Just try to choose organic, grass-fed options. Rather than supplying sodium, nitrates, hormones, and antibiotics, these will give you a good source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are harder to find than omega-6 fatty acids, and it’s important to keep your intake in balance. Animals eating grass rather than conventional feeds helps ensure that these protein sources can pass omega-3s along to the consumer.

When you do purchase organic, grass-fed beef or chicken, make sure you save the bones. If you find that you’re sensitive to caffeine, try swapping your morning cup of coffee for a cup of bone broth. Bone broth is a great way to get more skin-boosting protein and collagen into your diet.

You can find a DIY recipe here. Or you can purchase premade bone broth. Just make sure you get it from a reputable source that uses bones from organic, grass-fed animals.

Bone broth might seem like an unusual choice first thing in the morning. But many people find it warm and soothing, like coffee. Of course, if you can’t give up coffee but find caffeine inflammatory, you can try Swiss water processed decaf. You’ll still get the antioxidant benefits of coffee. Just make sure you aren’t loading it up with dairy and sugar.

Consider This Tea for Your Skin

Finally - green tea. Green tea typically contains less than 30 mg of caffeine per cup. Brewed coffee often ranges from 95 to 165 mg. So green tea can help you wean yourself off coffee without going cold turkey on caffeine. And you can see if your body tolerates that level of caffeine well.

If not, of course, there are many other herbal teas that supply antioxidant and digestive benefits. Try dandelion, burdock root, lemon grass, cinnamon or hibiscus.

If you’re cutting out dairy, there are a number of milk alternatives. Just make sure you choose an unsweetened version. Coconut milk, almond milk, flax milk, and cashew milk can all be good choices. Steamed almond milk is particularly delicious in coffee.

To avoid fast food, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of grab-and-go snacks available. The good news is that it’s easy to choose healthy snacks that don’t just help you avoid the ugliness of fast food but actually supply plenty of benefits in their own right.

The Overlooked Food That Makes a Big Difference

Fiber is key to helping promote a healthy gut environment. And having more friendly bacteria in your gut helps reduce inflammation throughout the body. I know I sound like a broken record, but inflammation absolutely does show up on your skin.

Women need at least 25 grams of fiber a day. Men need even more – about 38 grams. But on average, women tend to get only about 15 grams. Fast food is so insidious not only because it contains lots of ingredients that are bad for our skin but because it takes the place of more nutrient- and fiber-rich food.

Fruits and vegetables are awesome sources of both antioxidants and fiber. And they make great snacks. Try cutting up carrot sticks or celery to stash at work or tuck into your purse. They’re just as portable as French fries!

Nuts can be a great snack choice too. Try to choose ones rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These include macadamia nuts, cashews, and hazelnuts. It’s easy to prepackage nuts to eat on the run. And because they’re so filling, they can help you skip the drive-thru and wait until you can prepare a healthier meal at home.

If dairy doesn’t bother you, you can add a cup of yogurt with berries for an on-the-go parfait. That’s a better breakfast option than a bagel or pastry! Just make sure your yogurt pick has no added sugar in it.

If you do end up eating a high-salt meal, whether at home or on the go, you might find that your face looks puffy the next day. Too much sodium can cause your body to retain moisture. Ice water can help topically and yes, you should drink it too.  In addition, parsley tea or celery juice works wonders to remove excess sodium.

Don’t just use cold tap water. Actually fill a bowl with ice and cool water. Then wash your face with the frigid water. This will help wake you up after a heavy meal! And it will tighten up your pores and help your skin look less puffy. It can also help reduce the appearance of any inflammation.

How to Use Salt to Benefit Your Skin

Last but not least, let’s talk about salt. Yes, salt can be a villain. And it’s definitely one of the reasons fast food can be so ugly. But you can repurpose that salt shaker in a way that actually benefits your skin.

Sea salt has antibacterial properties. So if you have a breakout, you can make a paste of sea salt and water. Apply it to the blemish, and let it sit. If your skin is sensitive, rinse the paste off after 10 minutes. If not, you can give it up to an hour. The salt will help draw the oil out of the pore. And the antibacterial properties will help kill off the germs that caused the breakout in the first place. 

The foods you eat really can make a difference for your skin – and your overall health. Try evaluating one category of food at a time to see what works for helping you feel and look your best. Your inflammation triggers might be different from a friend’s. But you’ll always get more of a glow if you pick produce over pizza!

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