As always, there is more to it. But, we do know that what we eat directly impacts several different processes in the body. For example, if we eat more sugar, our blood sugar will be higher. If we eat more fat, our cholesterol may go up or down depending on if we chose a big chunk of cheddar cheese or a savory avocado. Most- if not all- of the organs in the body are affected by our typical food choices.
The skin is the largest organ in the body and often manifests the condition of what’s going on inside. Maintaining good skin integrity can be crucial to protecting the body from infection (immunity), maintaining a healthy body temperature and supporting a healthy sense of touch. Our skin completely renews itself every 2-4 weeks as skin cells move from the lower dermis to the upper layers (epidermis) that we can see. The dermis houses the sebaceous glands (sweat, oil), nerve endings, blood vessels, collagen and elastin.
Collagen and elastin are structural proteins that support the skin’s function. Collagen is a rigid connective tissue, where as elastin (like elastic) helps the skin to stretch and retract. The body stops producing elastin during puberty, and then it’s up to us to maintain the elastin throughout the aging process. Without healthy elastin, collagen begins to become weak and even more rigid. This process can cause changes in skin tone and can lead to the dreaded wrinkles!
Even though there are endless amounts of beauty products, one of the best ways to care for skin is from the inside out. So, if you are looking for yet another reason to eat healthy, look no further. There are several nutrients that help skin to stay hydrated and nourish the elastin and collagen.
- Vitamin A and Carotenoids
Vitamin A is converted in to retinoic acid in the body, which has been known for years to “cure” wrinkles. There are many topical ointments that contain these retinoids, but why not feed the skin from the ground up? Food sources of vitamin A include orange fruits and vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, oranges, sweet potatoes), as well as, dark green vegetables (kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus) and eggs (yolk).
Biotin, like other B-vitamins, are co-factors (helpers) in several metabolic processes throughout the body, including processes that build and repair. Biotin plays a critical role in the formation of the dermis, as well as the base for hair and nails. Biotin can be found in eggs, banana, and certain whole grains (oatmeal and brown/wild rice).
- Vitamin C
This vitamin is a potent antioxidant and thus fights hard to protect the body from damage inside and out. We know that the skin can be damaged by the sun’s UV rays, smoking and pollution. Vitamin C also plays a role in the creation and maintenance of collagen. Most people know that vitamin C can be found in citrus (oranges, grapefruit, lemon, lime), but it is also quite high in leafy green vegetables, bell peppers, and tomatoes.
- Vitamin E
This fat soluble vitamin is also a strong antioxidant that can protect the skin from external and internal damage. Vitamin E is found in nuts, seeds, olives and other vegetable oils, as well as, egg yolks and spinach.
Colorful antioxidants are also known as phytochemicals. There are an abundance of different phytochemicals found within each color category: orange (carotenoids), green (chlorophyll), purple (betaines), red (polyphenols), white (sulfides). Enter the beauty found in beets! Beets are very high in betaines, which are responsible for its deep purple color. This rich color represents the strong antioxidant capabilities of the food, which also promotes anti-inflammatory and detoxification processes throughout the body.
- Selenium & Zinc
Two minerals that are critical to skin health. Selenium is yet another antioxidant that can minimize the damage caused by the sun. It is found in whole grains, including the germ (wheat germ), seafood, garlic, nuts and yet again- eggs. Zinc supports cell growth, including the growth of skin and hair. It can also maintain a healthy degree of oil production. Zinc deficiency is often characterized by dry skin, dry hair and brittle nails. Zinc can be found in nuts, pumpkin seeds, oysters, meat and poultry, as well as, oats and eggs.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These anti-inflammatory fats can help to naturally decrease systemic inflammation. Inflammatory skin conditions include acne, psoriasis, rosacea, and hyperkeratinization often found on the back of the upper arms. Consuming foods rich in these heart healthy fats may lead to smoother, young-looking skin with less acne and psoriasis. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish (salmon, sardines) and seeds (flax, chia).
The last nutrient isn’t a nutrient at all, it’s water. Practicing good hydration means providing the body with enough water to carry out its normal functions in an efficient and effective manner. This may be 4 cups to 8 cups of water per day. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends 9 and 13 cups of water for women and men, respectively. It is always best to start where you are at and build from there. So, if you are drinking 2 cups of water, would on doubling it and if you are drinking 8 cups per day, work on maintaining that amount and adding a cup or 2 throughout the day. It is also important to account for dehydrating beverages including alcohol or caffeine.
Now, instead purchasing another expensive moisturizing cream to protect your skin this winter season, consider starting your day with a hardboiled egg and oatmeal and load up your supper plate with dark leafy greens, salmon and a sweet potato to fill up on skin-nourishing nutrients.
Written by Cassie Vanderwall, MS RD CD CDE CPT