eating for healthy skin
It’s no secret that a major reason clients work out is to look good, as well as feel good and function well. But what, asks Karen Fischer, if a client’s skin health isn’t matching their physical health?
Our skin is our largest and most visible organ, yet many of us take it for granted. Even clients and members who invest in their fitness may be unconsciously starving their skin of essential nutrients and setting themselves up for premature ageing and skin disorders. Fortunately, some simple dietary additions can improve the skin in a matter of weeks.
Dry and dull skin, cellulite, acne, eczema and other skin complaints can signify your diet might be slowly starving your skin of some important nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats are – quite literally – used to make your skin. They also regulate the skin’s oil production and promote strong and resilient collagen, which is the 'glue' that holds the skin together and helps it appear smooth. Collagen is an important structure in the skin but does not stay the same once it has formed – it is constantly being renewed and repaired and it needs a consistent supply of protein and nutrient cofactors to do this. Without these nutrients, the skin, tendons and blood vessels soon become fragile and skin ageing accelerates.
Collagen is largely made up of the amino acids glycine, proline and lesser amounts of lysine, which are supplied by protein-containing foods including fish, eggs, meats and legumes. However, to successfully achieve collagen formation in the skin, protein needs the assistance of co-factors vitamin C, iron and manganese. In Australia the recommended daily intake is 64 grams of protein for men, 46 grams for women, and 65 grams if pregnant or breastfeeding, and it is higher for athletes.
The mineral iron, supplied largely by red meat and wholegrain cereals, is required for proper collagen formation in the skin. However, many health regimes and diets eliminate red meat and wheat grains in order to decrease intake of unhealthy saturated fats and hard-to-digest wheat gluten. Red meat can also cause an over- or under-production of oils within the skin and increase your risk of acne and wrinkles, so taking it out the diet can assist these conditions.
The most common nutrient deficiency in Australia is iron deficiency, so it is important to ensure adequate iron consumption, especially for women, vegetarians or vegans. Symptoms of iron deficiency include impaired brain function and fatigue, laboured breathing and pale skin from anaemia, and brittle or splitting nails or nails that have ridges or are spoon-shaped. As you age your body may lose the ability to properly absorb iron from foods, so your levels may be low even if you consume meat. Drinking tea and coffee or eating calcium-rich dairy foods can also reduce iron absorption, so a herbal iron supplement that contains vitamin C, to enhance absorption and collagen formation, may be necessary.
Zinc is another mineral required for collagen production and is beneficial for preventing acne and stretch marks during pregnancy. Signs of deficiency include acne, pregnancy complications, impaired growth and immunity, hair loss, diarrhoea, poor appetite, impotency and skin lesions, but not all symptoms will be present at once. Unfortunately zinc can be in short supply in some health regimes, especially ones that are very low in calories or omit meats or grains. Zinc deficiency can be caused by frequent alcohol consumption, during growth spurts or illness. Vegetarian and vegan diets are low in zinc, and high intakes of iron, calcium and protein can decrease zinc absorption. If you are taking zinc, iron or calcium supplements, take them separately at intervals as they compete with one another for absorption. It is also advisable to not take a zinc supplement with iron- or calcium-rich foods.
Use the following table to quickly reference food sources of zinc and other nutrients required for collagen formation in the skin.
Calcium has a youth-promoting effect on the skin, but for many people it may be best taken in supplement form, as the top source of calcium – dairy products – can contribute to skin problems including acne, eczema and cellulite. Calcium, when taken with magnesium and vitamin D for enhanced absorption, helps to tighten up connective tissue within the skin and also has a muscle-toning effect. For healthy skin and strong bones you need to consume approximately 1000mg of calcium per day from a combination of food sources and supplementation, and team it with weight-bearing exercise to improve bone density and muscle tone. Non-dairy food sources of calcium include one cup of kale (supplies 90mg of calcium), one cup cooked collards (357mg), one cup calcium-fortified organic soy milk (300mg), 56g serve of canned salmon (155mg), one cup cooked green peas (94mg), a handful of almonds (70mg), and one tablespoon of tahini (63mg).
The essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3 and omega-6 boost the moisture content of the skin, which can decrease the appearance of wrinkles. Omega-3 works by converting to potent anti-inflammatory substances, which help to boost the skin’s moisture content, calm skin inflammation, reduce skin sensitivity and enhance skin immunity. Both omega-6 and omega-3 should be consumed in a 1:1 ratio, but in typical Western diets the ratio is more like 20:1 and this can lead to skin problems such as acne. To amend the ratios, eat fewer processed vegetable oils, avoid fried take-away foods and ditch the margarine, and consume more omega-3 rich fish, seafood, linseeds/flaxseeds and dark leafy greens. Low-mercury seafood such as salmon, trout or quality canned tuna can be eaten up to three times a week. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can eat a daily serve of linseeds, flaxseed oil or chia seeds – as little as a teaspoon can boost skin hydration.
By making a few simple dietary changes, clients can improve the health of their skin, as well as their overall health, and give their confidence a boost in the process.
This article is adapted from Younger Skin in 28 Days RRP $29.99.
Available from www.exislepublishing.com.au
Karen Fischer, BHSc, Dip Nut
Karen is a nutritionist and mother of two, who is best known for her award-winning book The Healthy Skin Diet and for her on-air role on What’s Up Doc? on the Nine Network. For the past decade she has worked with hundreds of patients with eczema and other skin disorders. Karen’s website is www.beautyby.com.au and Younger Skin in 28 Days is her fifth book.