Everyone has a favourite face cream or treatment, but beautiful skin starts with nourishment from within. Older cells are constantly shed and replaced by younger ones and a steady supply of micronutrients is essential to support this rapid growth. Eat the correct balance of foods and you’ll feed your skin the vital nutrients it needs to help it stay soft, supple and blemish-free.
Eat your five-a-day
Fruit and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help to protect skin from the cellular damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are caused by smoking, pollution and sunlight and can cause wrinkling and age spots. Eat a rainbow of colourful fruit and vegetables and aim for at least five portions a day. Betacarotene, found in pumpkin, carrots and sweet potatoes, and lutein, found in kale, papaya and spinach are potent antioxidants, important for normal skin cell development and healthy skin tone.
Vitamin C is also a super antioxidant. It is needed for a strong immune system, radiant skin and helps blemishes heal properly. The best sources are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruits, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes. They all help to produce collagen that strengthens the capillaries that supply the skin.
Cut out crash diets
Repeatedly losing and regaining weight can take its toll on your skin, causing sagging, wrinkles and stretch marks. Crash diets are often short in essential vitamins too. Over long periods of time this type of dieting will reflect on your skin.
Stock up on selenium
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant. It works alongside other antioxidants such as vitamins E and C and is essential for the immune system. Studies suggest that a selenium-rich diet can help to protect against skin cancer, sun damage and age spots. One way to boost your intake is to eat Brazil nuts. Just four nuts will provide the recommended daily amount (RDA). Mix Brazil nuts with other seeds rich in vitamin E as a snack or salad sprinkle. Other good sources are fish, shellfish, eggs, wheatgerm, tomatoes and broccoli.
Vitamin E protects skin from oxidative (cell) damage and supports healthy skin growth. Foods high in vitamin E include almonds, avocado, hazelnuts, pine nuts and sunflower and corn oils.
Skin needs moisture to stay flexible. Even mild dehydration will cause your skin to look dry, tired and slightly grey. Drink six to eight glasses of water a day – all fluids count towards your daily allowance, but water is the best. If you work in an office, keep a large bottle of water on your desk to remind you to drink. Herbal, caffeine-free teas are good too. Try to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption, both can age the skin.
Don’t be afraid of fat
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – the types found in avocados, fish, nuts and seeds – provide essential fatty acids which act as a natural moisturiser for your skin, keeping it supple. These fats also come packaged with a healthy dose of vitamin E (a vitamin many of us lack), which will help protect against free radical damage.
Eat more phyto-estrogens
Phyto-estrogens are natural chemicals found in plant foods (phyto meaning plant). They have a similar structure to the female sex hormone oestrogen and have been found to help keep our natural hormones in balance. There are different types, some are found in soya bean products (isoflavones), whereas others are found in the fibre of wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and flax seeds (lignans). Include phyto-estrogen rich soya, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet.
Opt for omega-3
Make sure you get enough omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are essential fatty acids which mean they cannot be made in the body and must be obtained through the diet. You will find omega-3s in oily fish and plant sources such as flaxseed oil, linseeds, walnut and rapeseed oil. Omega-3 fats encourage the body to produce anti-inflammatory compounds, which can help skin, particularly inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psorasis.
Go for low-GI carbs
Eat plenty of beans, pulses, porridge and other slow-releasing carbohydrates. These release sugar into the blood stream gradually, providing you with a steady supply of energy and leaving you feeling satisfied for longer and therefore less likely to snack. Avoid high GI carbohydrates like biscuits and sugary drinks, as they lead to production of insulin, which may damage collagen and accelerate wrinkles.
Don’t forget Zinc
Zinc is involved in the normal functioning of the sebaceous glands in the skin (which produce oil) and helps to repair skin damage and keep skin soft and supple. Zinc-rich foods include fish, lean red meat, wholegrains, poultry, nuts, seeds and shellfish.
…once you make changes to your diet, don’t expect an overnight miracle. It takes six weeks for new skin to emerge up to the surface, so the visible benefits from dietary changes will take just as long. For persistent skin conditions, talk to your GP or consider seeing a dermatologist.