There are so many important vitamins and minerals which contribute to healthy skin, hair, nails and an overall glow. Whilst it can’t stop ageing or wind back the clock, eating well can certainly help your skin, hair and nails to look their best, and reduce the inflammation and toxins in your body which can contribute to bad skin.
The following nutrients are especially important to include in your daily diet for a healthy glow:
Your skin is the target of lots of damage. Free radicals are produced in your body as a result of pollution, stress, smoking, alcohol, poor diet, and other external and internal contributors. These can build up and wreak havoc on our cell structures and membranes. Now think of antioxidants as the scavengers or tiny pacman of your body. They are compounds found in food that you digest, which slow down or neutralise the damaging free radicals:
– They stop free radical damage to the skins’ collagen. This keeps it in production so that your skin can look younger, more elastic and firm. (Note that collagen production does slow down with ageing, but you can reduce the slowing by protecting it from these free radicals)
– They actually repair damaged skin membranes.
– Through their protection of collagen and elastin, they minimise the lines and wrinkles which are a normal part of ageing
– They can reduce the melanin pigmentation which results in age spots from sun exposure.
The most powerful antioxidants are vitamin C, vitamin E, carotenoids, and from the trace elements copper and selenium, although they include many more vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants are plentiful in fresh fruit and vegetables. Flavonoids are another powerful antioxidant and are contained in red wine and tea.
Here are some excellent Antioxidant food sources:
Carotenoids – Yellow, Orange and Red fruit and Vegetables
Beta-carotene – orange foods such as carrots, pumpkin, apricots, sweet potatoes and some leafy greens such as kale
Lutein – green, leafy vegetables such as spinach
Lycopene – tomatoes, watermelon, papaya
Selenium – rice and wheat
Vitamin A – carrots, sweet potato, milk, egg yolks
Vitamin E – almonds, vegetable oils, mangoes, nuts, broccoli
Vitamin C – available in many fruits and vegetables such as parsley, broccoli, berries, oranges, cauliflower, kale
Also beware that if you prefer to pop a pill to supplement these sources – research shows that antioxidant supplements aren’t as effective natural foods in providing your body with antioxidants. So it’s really important to eat a diet rich in all of these antioxidant food sources.
Zinc is really important for wound healing, healthy skin and hair. It’s a trace mineral which is present in all organs, tissues, body fluids, muscle and skin. It sits in the upper layer of skin. Zinc helps your skin glow in the following ways:
- When your skin is damaged, zinc works to repair it. The zinc content in the skin surrounding the damage increases, to fight infection, reduce inflammation and help to produce new cells and move them closer to the damage.
- Even healthy skin needs zinc for new cell production and to improve the function of cell membranes (see note on hair and nails below)
- It may prevent acne flare-ups. Zinc boosts immune function and controls inflammation. So when pimples develop, zinc can help prevent the skin around the pore to turn red, swollen and tender. And because zinc manages cell production and turnover, it can help reduce the amount of natural oil your skin produces, it may prevent pores from clogging in the first place.
- When your skin is exposed to UV light, pollution and other skin ageing toxins, zinc is part of the defence squad. Because it sits in the upper layer of your skin, it protects your skins’ fats and cells which make collagen from these damaging agents.
Tips to increase zinc absorption from foods:
- Zinc is absorbed more readily from meat than from vegetables, as the proteins in animal products interact with zinc to increase absorption
- Zinc is also present in legumes and cereals; however, phytates present in these foods can interfere with zinc availability.
- Oxalates (found in spinach, berries, chocolate and tea), and polyphenols such as tannins (found in tea) and excess fibre also impair the absorption of zinc, so you need to eat lots of Zinc!
- Calcium can inhibit zinc absorption so avoid drinking milk or coffee with meals high in zin, or foods high in calcium
- Cooking meat does not lead to dramatic loss of zinc but steam veg to reduce zinc loss as boiled veg can lose 10-20% of their zinc content.
- Soaking beans, seeds, and grains for several hours, then allowing sprouts to form, may significantly improve zinc bioavailability from these foods.
- Alcoholics are at risk of zinc deficiency
- Excess iron intake (supplements!) can interfere with zinc levels
Eating foods rich in healthy Omega 3 fats can result in smoother, plumper, firmer and younger looking skin. They protect the skin against external damages which causes ageing, or inflammation (psoriasis and acne). They increase moisture content of the skin, assist in collagen formation, provide skin elasticity and manage fine lines. Omega 3 fats also nourish hair follicles to help with improved growth of stronger glossier hair.
Omega 3 Fats belong to a broader group of fats called polyunsaturated fats. The best studied Omega 3 Fats are EPA and DHA. These Omega 3 fats are important in our diet because our bodies cannot make them from scratch, so we need to consume them. Omega-6 fats are more plentiful in foods than omega-3 fats. But because they are more plentiful, we often find ourselves consuming much more of them. Yet high consumption of omega-6 fats can directly reduce the amount of Omega 3 fats converted within our body (EPA and DHA) In short, in the wrong balance, Omega-6 fats are considered quite inflammatory, whereas Omega-3 fats are considered anti-inflammatory
Tips for increasing Omega 3:
− Try and limit your total daily consumption ratio of Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fats, to 1:4
− Consider increasing your intake of nuts (like walnuts) or seeds (like flaxseeds). Including these on a daily basis can work well in most meal plans.
− If you choose to avoid all animal foods (including seafoods), you may require possible supplementation with omega-3s.
− If you consume animal foods but avoid seafoods, take extra care in selection of EPA- and DHA-containing animal foods. Animals that have consumed healthy amounts of omega-3s in their diet will be the most likely to contain EPA and DHA. Generally, these animals will have been raised in a natural setting throughout their lives and pasture-fed on a variety of grasses, and other plants.
− If your diet includes fish, 2-3 servings per week is a good target level for bringing fish-based EPA and DHA into your meal plan. Avoid larger species of fish such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel which can be very high in mercury. Stick with salmon, tuna, sardines and anchovies.
– If you can’t eat your Omega 3 requirements, take a fish oil capsule instead, An adult requires approx 250-500mg of combined EPA and DHA per day. A child 50-200mg/day.
All of the B Vitamins are important for healthy glowing skin, and strong healthy hair and nail growth. There are a few which stand out!
Vitamin B12 is really important for cell production, so it’s essential for healthy skin, hair and nails and that youthful look. It’s important to prevent dull skin, treat eczema, prevent drying of the skin (good for moisture retention), preventing skin pigmentation, skin lesions and white patches, and for good skin healing. Deficiency of B12 can lead to premature hair loss or slow hair growth, and lack of hair pigmentation as well as brittle and rough and pale nails (You’ll also experience memory loss, fatigue and poor mood!).
B12 is mostly found in animal products, so vegetarians are at risk of a deficiency. You can find it in liver, meat, eggs, shellfish , cheese, meat, fish, fortified milk (including Soy), fortified yeast and some sea leaves. As we age our stomachs can lack the stomach acids which are needed for B12 absorption, so the elderly are more at risk of a deficiency, as are people with stomach or gut issues.
We all know that Folate (Vitamin B9) is important during pregnancy to prevent birth defects, but it’s also really important for healthy skin and hair. It is a firming agent for the skin and is great for glossy hair. Food sources include lentils, peas and beans, sunflower seeds, liver and yeast (vegemite), vegetables (spinach, asparagus, edamame/ soybeans, artichoke, brussels sprouts, lettuce, broccoli and beets), fruit (avocado and papaya), Grains (enriched pasta and braids),
Sunlight (UVB) absorbed by the skin destroys folate, yet it stimulates the all too important Vitamin D production. Albumin is a blood protein which prevents a lot of UVB destruction of folate. It is produced in the liver and requires sufficient amounts of protein in your diet (chicken, dairy, eggs, nuts). Pregnant women getting a lot of sun exposure should ensure they are getting enough albumin and folate.
Vitamin B6 is also important for healthy skin, amongst its many other roles, as it helps to stabilise hormones which prevents hormone imbalances which can cause skin breakouts (particularly important in teenagers!). You can find B6 in tuna, salmon, chicken, beef, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachio, cabbage, chickpeas, and avocado.
Sunlight and specifically UVB is required to stimulate vitamin D production. Research is positive that vitamin D can help to fight acne by making your skin smooth and strong, controlling your insulin response (which also controls acne), boosts your immune system, and calms inflammation which can also cause acne.
Did you know that Vitamin D also fights disease and depression? It is also essential for you to absorb calcium to prevent osteoporosis later in life? 10-15 minutes of sunlight a day is enough to get a good daily dose of vitamin D alongside sources in your diet. We also know that sunlight and exercise is also great for serotonin production (the good mood hormone) so a daily walk in the sunshine will do wonders for your mood and your skin.
Sunscreens which block UVB prevent Vitamin D production. Did you know that vitamin D is made in the skin from cholesterol? This means your cholesterol levels are likely higher in winter than summer when we tend to get less sunlight exposure. There are debates in research as to whether Statins (drugs for heart health) affect vitamin D levels in the body. If you take statins and don’t get much sunlight, it’s worth keeping an eye on your vitamin D levels with your GP.
Food sources of Vitamin D include fatty fish like salmon and Tuna. Smaller amounts are found in egg yolks, liver and fortified cereals and dairy (milk and cheese). Fish liver oils also contain Vitamin D. Vitamin D from foods is fat soluble and less bi active than sunlight. Ensure you eat your vitamin D source with some fat in your diet to absorb it.
Sugar and Weight can affect your skin
There is now sufficient scientific evidence supporting an association between a low glycemic diet and reduced acne and inflammatory markers in the body (cytokines). Higher glycemic foods are carbohydrates which cause a spike in blood sugars. This then causes a spike in insulin and insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) in your body. This surge can lead to an excess of unwanted hormones, which cause your pores to secrete sebum, a greasy substance that attracts acne-promoting bacteria. High levels of IGF-1 can also cause certain skin cells to multiply and cause acne.
The Mediterranean diet places a heavy emphasis on fish, olive oil and antioxidant food intake, as well as fairly low glycemic load foods. Research has supported the Mediterranean diet as being associated with a positive reduction in inflammation and acne.
High GI foods to be avoided include most processed and refined foods, added sugars. With several exceptions, a diet high in fruit and vegetables, fatty fish and other good fats, and healthy unrefined wholegrains is the key to reduced inflammation and acne.
Reducing the BMI of an overweight individual can also reduce the amount of acne, although being overweight is usually linked to a diet of higher glycemic foods and a higher carbohydrate intake, so the two are usually linked.
When your skin is elastic it’s a sign that you have lots of collagen. This is a strong structural tissue or material that binds together the cells in your body. It is made of fibrous protein and tends to reduce with age. It strengthens the skin, blood vessels, bones and teeth. It’s fibrous networks (elastin) form the reissue that keeps your body together.
If you’ve been very sick or on a very low protein diet you will notice your muscles in your arms or legs are sagging. This is because you’ve lost collagen without sufficient protein in your diet (or through losing protein with illness). Split nails and bags under your eyes could also be signs of protein deficiency (as is poor growth and immunity in kids).
When you eat protein it breaks down into amino acids which travel through your blood and are carried through your body. Your cells then take the amino acids they need to make new tissue, blood cells, hormones, antibodies and hormones. There are 22 different types that your body needs to function properly, some it can make itself, but there are 8 which you need to consume in your diet. These come from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, milk — all dairy, cheese and soy – basically anything that comes from the animal. Nuts and legumes (peas and beans) contain some but not all of the essential amino acids; these are known as incomplete proteins.
So how is protein essential for good skin? well your hair follicles, nails, skin, muscles and eyes are all made of protein. Protein is also necessary for tissue repair and new tissue. It’s needed to replace work out or cells which have died. That includes the lining of the gut which is essential for good liver, immunity and skin health. The body also uses protein to make hormones, the balance of which are essential for good skin.
Women need approx 45-60g/ day. Men approx 64-80g/ day. Girls approx 35-45g/ day and boys 40-65g/day. Athletes need even more. Remember to spilt your protein across 3 meals per day. The body doesn’t absorb more than 20g per meal so anything extra will be excreted in your urine.
And the Gut and Liver?
Proper functioning of the gut, liver, and kidney are really important to maintain a healthy skin (and hair and nails). Toxins need to escape the body and if these organs aren’t working properly they will escape via the biggest organ – your skin. Hormones also need to be eliminated regularly to maintain hormone balance. if this doesn’t occur via a healthy functioning liver and gut, the result can be bad skin amongst many other symptoms.
The Teenage Years
Finally – the teen years are often a period of growth spurts, hormone surges and dietary complexities. This can result in poor skin (and mood swings). This is an age where good nutrition strategy is really important.
For more information on achieving healthy hormone balance or good health through nutrition, check out my nutrition guides which contain over 12 downloads, all for the same price as a cup of coffee !