The food we eat provides the nutrients that our body needs for every single function that it carries out – including for our skin. Getting these nutrients from our diet makes all the difference when it comes to improving the quality of our skin as well as its structure, for skin that looks as nourished as it really is.
Here’s how various nutrients from the food we eat can affect our skin.
Essential fats, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, are nutrients that our body cannot make. These need to be obtained from the food we eat, for the functions that they serve within the body.
When it comes to our skin, consuming a sufficient amount of these essential fats allows them to support our skin’s barrier function, in other words, its ability to maintain its structure, retain its moisture content, and (especially omega 3 fats) help reduce the occurrence of dry skin and dermatitis.
Apart from simply consuming adequate quantities of both these fats, it’s also important to balance out our ratio of each. Modern diets tend to have a disproportionately higher amount of omega 6 fats, and increasing our consumption of omega-3 rich foods can dramatically improve dry skin and related conditions.
Foods rich in omega-3: flax seeds, chia seeds, fish, walnuts
Foods rich in omega-6: almonds, peanuts, olive oil, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds (all seeds and seed oils)
Foods to limit: Refined oils and processed food cooked in refined oil, which have an unnaturally high omega-6 content.
#2: Carotenoids and Vitamin A:
Carotenoids are a family of yellow/orange/red coloured pigments that function as antioxidants in our bodies. Beta-carotene, a pigment responsible for the orange colour of carrots, is converted to vitamin A in our bodies, which plays a crucial role in our vision and the growth and specialisation of our body’s various cell types.
It also plays a number of roles in maintaining our skin’s health:
- It deposits in the skin and prevents free radical damage caused by the sun’s UV rays.
- It regulates our skin’s health by turning on genes that help skin cells develop. Drugs based on vitamin A are routinely used to treat acne.
Another important carotenoid in the context of skin health is lycopene, which is found in (and gives the colour to) red fruits like tomatoes. Like all carotenoids, it functions as an antioxidant. Unlike others, however, it acts as the skin’s first line of defence against sun-induced free radical damage, preserving our skin’s vitamin A and other antioxidants for their other functions.
Carotenoid-rich foods: Anything naturally red, orange or yellow such as carrots and tomatoes.
Flavonoids are a broad family of compounds that help regulate a number of cellular functions.
One of the most ubiquitous groups of phytonutrients, flavanoids are especially potent antioxidants (far more effective than vitamins C and E), offering powerful protection from free radical damage – a major cause of skin ageing.
Specific flavonoids, like the ones found in grapes and tea, even help improve our blood circulation, which, in addition to improving heart health, even contributes towards healthy skin.
These plant pigments are found in common foods we consume regularly (and happen to be amongst our favourites!), playing a big role in their associated health benefits.
Flavonoid-rich foods: Blueberries, Grapes, Red wine, Tea, Cocoa
#4: Vitamin E:
Vitamin E is an essential nutrient that plays vital roles in the skin: it functions as a powerful antioxidant, protecting against sun-induced damage, and even possesses anti-inflammatory properties, managing inflammation in the skin which is a major causative factor for dermatitis and acne. Vitamin E also supports wound-healing.
Vitamin E rich foods: almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, olive oil, avocado, broccoli, spinach, asparagus
#5: Vitamin C:
Beyond functioning as a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C’s main role in supporting skin health is related to the production of collagen, which is our skin’s main protein. The enzymes that our body uses to make collagen cannot function without vitamin C, and ensuring that we receive an adequate amount of this essential nutrient is crucial for healthy skin.
Vitamin C rich foods: citrus fruits, amla, strawberry, guava, kiwi, lychee, papaya, kale
Most of our skin’s structure is made up of collagen. Dull skin, blemishes, wrinkles and signs of (even premature) ageing are all largely due to the damage of collagen in our skin, generally caused by the sun’s UV rays, pollution and smoking.
Like all other proteins made by our body, collagen is made from amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of proteins. Our body breaks down the protein in the food we eat to obtain these amino acids, which are then used to build proteins, including collagen. Ensuring that we consume adequate protein is necessary for healthy skin.
Protein rich foods: Legumes (daal), tofu, meat, seafood, eggs, dairy
#7: Dietary fibre:
Dietary fibre helps maintain our digestive health and regulate our blood sugar, both of which are believed to help manage acne. Soluble fibre is ‘prebiotic’, meaning it supports the growth of good bacteria in our gut, leading to good digestive health, and, as new research suggests, healthy skin as well.
Fibre-rich foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains
Probiotic foods contain live cultures of the good bacteria in our gut. By ensuring that good bacteria thrive in our gut, we can prevent a number of digestive disorders that can trigger skin issues such as acne and eczema.
Probiotic-rich foods: Natural yogurt, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, unpasteurised cheeses etc.