Artwork by Sven Hennze.
When our complexion looks murky, we head to our dermatologist’s clinic for a either a laser treatment or a chemical peel to brighten it up (Dr. Kellett knows best!). But that’s not our only route to glow-y skin. The other stop we make is the grocery store. According to holistic nutritionist Allison Tannis, “Dry and flaky skin can be caused by a lack of oil and water in the skin’s second layer, the dermis. Feeding the dermis with oil, water and other nutrients is the job of blood vessels.” Tannis says certain nutrients found in whole foods can fuel this function, helping your skin look more luminous and youthful. Here are her top dullness-fighting foods.
Just one large carrot provides over 200% of your daily need for vitamin A, which supports the growth of fresh new skin cells. With about 1.6 billion skin cells on your body, turning over every 28 days, your body is constantly making skin cells. Eating foods that support cell growth helps your skin create fresh new skin. Since 1941, scientists have highlighted the importance of eating vitamin A rich foods for healthy skin after they discovered a lack of vitamin A in a person’s diet leads to abnormal skin growth. Caveat: Eating too many carrots can make your skin look orange.
Brightening nutrient: Zinc
Sesame seeds are small but mighty sources of zinc, a natural anti-inflammatory and an inhibitor of P. acnes bacteria. Zinc is also a great antioxidant in the outer layers of the skin, and can promote wound healing. Antioxidants stop free radical damage in the skin, which disrupts new cell formation, collagen strength and causes spots. Caveat: Phytate, a compound found in corn and grains, such as certain cereals and rice, can reduce zinc absorption. So avoid sprinkling sesame seeds atop these foods.
Brightening nutrient: Vitamin C
Just one orange packs 88% of your daily need for Vitamin C, a potent antioxidant that fights damage caused by sunlight. Vitamin C is also a co-factor required for collagen formation, which gives the skin its strength. Your complexion becomes less bright as you age. Just look at the skin of older people – its drier, paler and spotty. Age spots, or photoaging, is caused by sunlight eliciting an increase in pigment in certain cells of your skin (melanocytes). Prevent a spotty and mottled complexion by making oranges a part of your daily diet.
Brightening nutrient: Omega-3 fatty acids
That healthy glow of beautiful skin comes from healthy skin cells being fed by thousands of small blood vessels. Studies have shown that omega-3 fats beneficially affect the skin’s oil (sebaceous) glands, improving skin conditions like acne and psoriasis. Plus, omega-3 fatty acids are capable of mediating inflammation – by reducing the amount of inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids help reduce puffiness and redness in the skin. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish (e.g. sardines, salmon, tuna), and for vegans seeds, such as flax and chia, are rich sources.
Brightening nutrient: Probiotics
Red blotches on the skin are a sign of inflammation caused by trauma (e.g. rubbing of the skin, ultraviolet light or chemical damage), allergic reaction or rosacea. Eat away this inflammation. Probiotics found in yogurt are a well-known mediator of inflammation. Choose low-fat yogurts and top with berries for extra inflammatory fighting power. For higher dosages of probiotics try a supplement.
Brightening nutrient: Antioxidants
For those of us with naturally occurring freckles, they’re a dimension of our beauty. But, when skin spots are caused by sun, we need to act. Bite back against the damaging effects of the sun on your skin by sinking your teeth into antioxidant-rich foods like kale, which contains over 45 different antioxidant compounds called flavonoids. Mix it in with your favourite salad lettuce, or bake up some homemade kale chips in the oven.
Brightening nutrient: B vitamins
You spend a lot of energy making skin cells, a million skin cells are lost each day and replaced (phew!). Help your skin have enough energy to make its daily quota by eating foods rich in B vitamins such as Brewer’s yeast, mushrooms and wheat germ. These foods help your cells use energy from carbohydrates, protein and fat. Find wheat germ in the health section of your local grocery store and simply sprinkle on salads, pasta or granola.
Brightening nutrient: Molybdenum
You’ll need more than B vitamins to keep up with that daily quota of a million skin cells a day. A nutrient called, molybdenum can help. Molybdenum helps in the synthesis or copying of DNA (the genetic material of a cell) which is needed to make a new cell. One cup of cooked lima beans provide 188% of your daily needs for molybdenum. Other legumes such as edamame and green peas are also good sources.
When your skin is looking duller than normal, bite back by feeding your skin from the inside out. And treat it from the outside with targeted skin care products and a visit to your derm’s office.
About the Expert Allison Tannis, BSc MSc RHN wrote Feed Your Skin, Starve Your Wrinkles. She is a nutritional scientist and registered holistic nutritionist based in Halifax, NS.