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Health and Beauty Articles

You are what you eat: The relationship between food and healthy skin

I’ve spent years focusing and practising what goes onto a person’s skin; as opposed to what goes into a person’s skin. I’ve had difficulty in treating problematic skin in the past (namely, my own) and decided to try a different method towards helping it – I started to eliminate certain things from my diet, such as refined carbohydrates, snacks and alcohol – which resulted in a 4 year bout of acne clearing up in a matter of days. The foods and drinks we consume on a day to day basis have a major impact on the state of our skin and general health – I’ve noted it’s no coincidence that people’s skins are at their worst over the festive season where there’s cheese, biscuits and wine galore! A healthy, balanced diet is an essential prescription for the perfect complexion.  
A whole ¾ of women stated in a recent survey that healthy, glowing skin is what they want more than major contenders such as weight. I take this as no surprise, as healthy skin is a big confidence booster which in turn improves our general outlook on life. I had the bad luck to be presented with a new spot over the weekend, to which my husband, ever the romantic, commented “You’ve got a new spot... niiiice!” I gathered from his immediate stunned expression that this was a ‘blurt’ moment where his brain hadn’t quite caught up with his gob in time to stifle this comment with a tad more tact; rest assured he has promised it will not happen again!
One word summarises what we need to keep our bodies and our skin healthy – antioxidants. Antioxidants are nutrients that work towards defending our cells – including skin cells – against the damage of oxidative stress (a chemical process where free radicals attack healthy cells.) Oxidative stress is the main contributing factor to premature aging, and is commonly caused by smoking and sun-exposure. Increasing the antioxidants in our diet’s will help slow down this aging process, and help to maintain healthy skin earlier on in life.
Antioxidants are found in the forms of vitamin B, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin A (beta-carotene,) selenium and are typically found in foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans. Other components that are important for healthy skin is omega 3 and sulphur.

Why vitamin B?

There are many vitamins in the B group the help to produce beautiful skin, including vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12. All of these vitamins work towards regulating circulation and healing the skin (age spots can be reduced by generous doses of vitamin B2.) Deficiencies in B vitamins can also cause eczema, dermatitis as well as fatigue, depression and damage to the central nervous system. These can be found in multi-grain breads, brown rice, mushrooms and asparagus.

Why vitamin C?

The production and renewal of collagen in our skin is key to keeping it plumped up and firm – and lucky for us vitamin C is at hand to encourage this and help protect the skin from free radicals. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables, particularly broccoli, tomatoes, berries, citrus fruits and watermelon. Many of these ingredients can be combined to make delicious smoothies for breakfast, or simply added with some natural yoghurt and honey will give you a filling, healthy snack.

Why vitamin E?

Vitamin E is essential for protecting our skin – you’ll find this ingredient in a lot of moisturisers, and particularly eye creams. It helps prevent UV damage to the skin, helping to slow down the ageing process. This can be found in wholegrain cereals, nuts, seeds, olive oil, spinach, avocados and in a multivitamin tablet (you’re much better having your vitamins by eating the right foods than using tablets.)

Why beta-carotene?

This form of vitamin A is vital for repairing body tissues as well as helping them grow. High doses of actual vitamin A can be harmful and toxic, so beta-carotene which is found foods is a healthy lesser version. This can be found in carrots, apricots, mangoes, pumpkins and sweet potato. Having plenty beta-carotene in your diet can also improve eyesight – so get stuck into the orange foods!

Why selenium?

This is a mineral that helps to protect the skin against sun damage as well as improving elasticity and firmness. Again this shouldn’t be taken in a tablet form but should be sourced through foods (a study has shown a 25% increase in melanoma in patients who took this supplement.) Selenium can be found in Brazil nuts, tuna, crab, oysters, whole-wheat pasta and bread, lean beef, prawns, turkey, chicken, mushrooms and eggs. I’d personally recommend avoiding oyster’s due to the risk of food poisoning, healthy skin or not! Please also note that selenium is very highly concentrated in Brazil nuts so just 1-2 per day is recommended.


Omega 3 – fatty acids

After ending our talk on antioxidants another important one to mention is foods rich in omega 3. This helps to maintain cell membranes and it produces a barrier for the skin – keeping out toxins while keeping in water and nutrients. Inflammations are also lessened throughout the body, meaning that break-outs are less likely. Omega 3 is largely found in fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, as well as being found in walnuts and soybeans. Not only does omega 3 have huge benefits for promoting healthy skin it also plays a crucial role in brain development and can reduce the risk of heart disease. If you’re not a fish lover then try adding strong flavours to overpower the flavour of fish by adding soy sauce and lemon juice to a salmon fillet and baking for 15 minutes. If you really detest fish then supplements are advised, as the body cannot produce these fatty acids by itself.

Sulphur

Sulphur is known as a beautifying mineral as it rids the body of harmful toxins. It also strengthens the bonds between skin cells, making the skin much suppler. This can be found in a wide range of foods such as garlic, leeks, onions and eggs.
Low glycemic index foods (you may have heard of the ‘G.I diet’)
These are foods that are released slowly in the body, as opposed to processed foods (high glycemic foods) that the body burns up rapidly, which has an effect of blood sugar levels soaring and then falling; leaving you with a sudden dip in energy and concentration. Researchers have found that low G.I. foods are effective in helping treat and prevent acne and clearing greasy skins. Foods like whole grains, brown rice, quality proteins (tuna, salmon,) and fresh vegetables are listed in the G.I diet.
Skin conditions that are largely affected by the foods we eat are eczema, psoriasis, sensitivity and acne (including rosacea.)
Acne vulgaris (large outbreak of spots, greasy skin and blackheads) can be triggered particularly by chocolate, greasy foods, peanuts, fizzy drinks – generally foods that are high in fat and additives (see G.I diet above.) Not all acne sufferers notice a link between food and their acne, but trying an elimination diet with these types of foods will help determine if this may be a contributing factor to acne flare-ups.
Acne rosacea (characterised by blotchy, red skin and swelling) tends to be triggered by spicy foods, hot drinks, alcohol and smoking. Smoking depletes the skin of Vitamin C which is an essential vitamin for the production and renewal of collagen fibres in the skin, as well as starving it of oxygen; whereas spicy foods, alcohol and hot drinks increase the blood circulation and in time cause the blood vessels to show prominently on the cheeks and nose. Anti-inflammatory foods that are high in omega 3 can help to reduce the flushing that is associated with this condition.
There are a wide range of foods that can trigger the condition Eczema (dry, red and itchy patches of skin) which include dairy products, peanuts, wheat, fish, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, vegetable oil and sugar. As this list includes a wide range of foods the most effective way to test which foods trigger your own eczema is to keep a food diary, and week to week eliminate different foods (1 week try cutting out dairy, another try no wheat etc.) and note how you feel after your meals – with the hope of pin pointing your own personal triggers. This could be used for all other skin conditions but particularly eczema as there are so many reported triggers. Foods to include in your diet are oily fish, tomatoes and beetroot as they help to reduce inflammation.
Psoriasis, a medical condition which affects the immune system and is characterised by patches of silvery-white scales and reddish skin, can be significantly affected by the consumption of alcohol. Patients are normally advised to have alcohol in moderation or to avoid completely if it is worsening the condition.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet will improve our complexions, health and confidence - give it a go and see the glowing results for yourself! 

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