How to eat for healthy skin?

Many of us spend a small fortune on lotions and creams to keep our skin looking soft, supple and glowing. But is it possible that what we eat has a much greater effect on our skin health? It definitely does, according to Lauren McGuckin, Accredited Practising Dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

McGuckin is a passionate advocate for the benefits of a balanced diet for all aspects of health and vitality. Skin health is no exception. “There is a massive industry that produces and markets all sorts of products that claim to keep our skin looking youthful. Of course these products have their place and many may be effective, but I’m convinced that what we consume has a much bigger impact on the health and appearance of our skin,” she says.

Our skin is an organ
Just like the heart or the liver, the skin is an organ and is affected directly by what we eat. “We are all increasingly conscious about the importance of diet for our cardiovascular system and other systems and organs within the body. This principle applies to our skin as well. A well balanced diet with plenty of variety is essential for getting the right nutrients into our skin cells and this helps maintain the strength, resilience of our skin”, she advises. “As a general rule, if we feel good on the inside it will show on the outside."

Balance and variety
Rather than focusing on specific ‘silver bullets’, Lauren counsels that a broad diet is needed to give our skin all it needs. "The balance of foods that we need for overall health is generally what will also benefit our skin. This means taking in a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, lean proteins and good fats, while limiting sugar and saturated fats. If it’s good for our heart then it will generally be good for our skin too."

Look for Omega 3 and 6
The so called ‘good fats’ that contain Omega 3 and 6 are an essential part of the dietary combination that promotes healthy skin. Lauren explains, “These fatty acids are important for the condition of cell membranes, which help protect cells and aid the passage of nutrients. To obtain a healthy intake of Omega 3 and 6 I would recommend at least two meals per week that contain oily fish, such as salmon or tuna. Also enjoy other Omega rich foods such as nuts, beans, lentils and avocados. Oils and margarines that are made from canola are a good source too”.

The key is collagen
Collagen is a type of protein in the body that keeps skin strong and elastic. As we age, our collagen production slows and existing collagen can get damaged, so it is important to include foods in our diet that promote collagen production.

Lauren cites leafy greens, like cabbage, broccoli and kale as important for collagen. "Apart from those a good rule of thumb is to eat a variety of red, orange and yellow vegetables and fruits."

Good examples include:

  • Red - apples, strawberries, beets, cherries and capsicums
  • Orange – carrots, pumpkins, oranges, peaches and melons
  • Yellow – corn, squash, lemons and capsicums

Many of these foods also contain vitamin A, which is considered to be great for skin health, and Vitamin C, which is essential for synthesising collagen in the body.

Antioxidants boost skin health
Lauren also noted the importance of antioxidants in diet. “Antioxidants can help slow cell deterioration because they counter the effects of free radicals in the body, which cause poor cell function or cell decay. Antioxidants cannot be manufactured in the body, so they need to be taken in via your diet”. Examples of foods rich in antioxidants are nuts, seeds, vegetables, fish oils, whole grains, as well as many of the foods mentioned earlier in relation to collagen.

Hydration helps
Lauren also advises on the importance of hydration in maintaining skin condition and appearance. “There is no need to go overboard with water intake, but aim for a healthy six to eight glasses of water per day and increase this if you are doing heavy exercise. It’s also important to limit alcohol intake, as this can cause dehydration. I am not saying you need to avoid it altogether, but keep it moderate,” she adds.

Keeping a holistic outlook
Lauren stresses that the secret to good skin health really is to keep sufficient balance and variety in diet and combine this with a balance in other aspects of lifestyle. “Balance in a person’s diet is critical to keeping skin as youthful as possible, and balance in other aspects of life is important too. Regular exercise, sufficient sleep, sun protection are all important factors, as well as reducing stress. They all have an impact on how well our skin looks and feels, so it’s vital to make a holistic approach to gain the best results."

What have you found works when it comes to taking care for your skin? Join the conversation below...