conscious eating

Nourish Skin From Within
Foods That Enhance Health and Radiance
by Maya Whitman

Jutamas Lertboonsathaporn's Images_kerdkanno/CanvaPro

Our skin is the largest human organ. In addition to protecting us from ultraviolet radiation, bacterial invaders and chemicals, it also provides a visual record of the human story, as it is vulnerable to emotional stress, hormonal rhythms and poor diet. While more research is needed, there is growing evidence that food can be an ally for resolving stubborn acne, preventing certain types of skin cancer and aging gracefully. According to a clinical review published in the journal Medicina, nutrients like vitamins A, C, D and E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids, may be beneficial for atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.

“The global market for skincare topicals is estimated at around $180 billion,” says Mark Tager, M.D., an integrative healthcare synergist in San Diego, California, and author of Feed Your Skin Right: Your Personalized Nutrition Plan for Radiant Beauty. “There are some topicals with ingredients that do penetrate the skin. For the most part, these approaches pale in comparison with the power of an inside approach to skin health and beauty.” He reminds us that what we consume is reflected in our skin.

Gut Health and Glowing Skin
Emerging research published in Gut Microbes in 2022 shows the relationship between intestinal flora and skin health and proposes the value of supplemental prebiotics, probiotics and fermented foods. “Trillions of organisms—mainly bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract—produce vitamin K, neurotransmitters and short-chain fatty acids, each of which plays a role in skin health,” says Tager, highlighting the microbe Akkermansia muciniphila, which produces acetone. “People with acne have much lower levels of this short-chain fatty acid in their skin microbiome. Raising the acetate levels, along with changing the ratio of good-to-bad gut bacteria, can help with acne.” Tager recommends eating fiber, which is the preferred food of the good bacteria like Akkermansia, as well as taking probiotics.

Deanna Minich, a nutrition scientist, functional medicine practitioner and author of The Rainbow Diet: A Holistic Approach to Radiant Health Through Foods and Supplements, concurs, “An imbalance in the microbiome has been linked to acne. Eating a diverse, colorful, plant-rich diet is a wonderful way to promote a healthy balance of gut bugs.” For acne, she lauds the benefits of green tea.

Full-Spectrum Sustenance
Skin-friendly foods are nutrient-dense and include avocados, sunflower and flax seeds, almonds, walnuts, berries and cold-water fatty fish (herring, sardines and salmon). “Colorful plant pigments or phytochemicals can fortify skin internally,” Minich asserts. “They tend to accumulate in the skin and offer protection from the sun by absorbing UV rays and reducing inflammation. When we eat a colorful diet, we’re eating an array of nutrients and phytochemicals that protect our skin.” She recommends carotenoids like beta-carotene and lycopene, which are abundant in foods like melons, tomatoes and carrots.

Minich also touts protein to help repair damaged skin, especially plant sources like lentils, beans and tofu, as well as animal proteins such as eggs, fish and lean meats, but warns against charring in the cooking process. “This can create inflammatory compounds known as advanced glycation end products (AGE), which can contribute to aging. Instead, prepare foods with low heat and wet cooking methods such as boiling, stewing and steaming.”

A 2019 prospective cohort study of French women published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition connected a decreased risk of melanoma and basal cell skin cancer with the adherence to the Mediterranean diet.

Trigger Foods
Reducing inflammation and taming a sweet tooth is important. “Too much sugar attaches itself to the collagen in our skin, making it brittle, and this leads to more fine lines and wrinkles,” explains Tager, advising, “Diets high in saturated fats and fried foods contribute to inflammation and changes in sebum production.” He underscores the possibility of food sensitivities to tree nuts, dairy, fish, wheat, eggs, shellfish, peanuts or soy that can manifest as skin irritations, itching and swelling.

Collagen Factors
According to Tager, collagen forms a scaffold within the body and is an essential component of connective tissue that supports the skin’s elasticity. Minich notes, “Collagen supplements can be helpful to improve the appearance of skin, but the body also creates its own collagen and needs nutrients like zinc and vitamin C to do so.”

A Personalized Approach
Ultimately, better skin depends upon multiple considerations, including diet, lifestyle, genetics, medical history and emotional health. “The real breakthrough we have seen over the last decade is the rise of personalized nutrition,” Tager observes, encouraging people to work with medical and nutritional professionals to develop a customized plan.

Maya Whitman is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings.


Pineapple-Hibiscus Drink
Recipe: Pineapple Hibiscus Drink DivyaAlter Rachel VanniDivyaAlter Rachel VanniThis delicious and attractive beverage presents with a beautiful ruby color and smooth texture. It stimulates digestive enzymes, soothes the digestive tract and delivers the many benefits of hibiscus and pineapple in a delicious way.
Yield: 5 cups

• ¼ cup dried hibiscus flowers
• 2½ cups fresh sweet pineapple juice, strained
• 2 to 3 Tbsp maple syrup (optional)
• Place the hibiscus flowers in a one-quart vessel and pour in three cups of room-temperature filtered or spring water. Cover and leave on the counter for at least eight hours or overnight. Strain and reserve the liquid; discard the hibiscus.
• Stir together the hibiscus water and pineapple juice. Add the maple syrup to taste for additional sweetness. Enjoy at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Store refrigerated for up to three days.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Chef Divya Alter from her cookbook, Joy of Balance (Rizzoli, 2022).

Green Tabbouleh
Recipe: Tabbouleh salad DivyaAlter Rachel VanniDivyaAlter Rachel VanniThis salad is very colorful and fresh-tasting. The vibrant greens flecked with red, orange and black vegetables, as well as the white quinoa, paint an image of a righteously healthy bowl. For variety, add steamed vegetables such as beets and sunchokes [artichokes], or raw cucumbers or jicama.
Yield: 4 servings

• ⅓ cup white quinoa, washed and drained
• ¼ tsp plus a pinch salt, divided
• ½-inch fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
• 6 fresh curry leaves
• ½ green Indian or Thai chile, seeded (optional)
• 1 bunch kale (about ½ lb), washed, stems removed and torn into smaller pieces
• 1 tsp olive oil
• Tiny pinch asafoetida [Indian spice]
• ¼ cup finely diced carrots
• 2 or 3 red radishes, diced
• 2 Tbsp celery, finely diced
• ¼ cup pitted black olives, chopped
• ¼ cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
• 2 Tbsp fresh parsley leaves
• 1 Tbsp fresh mint leaves

• 2½ Tbsp olive oil
• 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
• 1 tsp salt
• ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a medium saucepan, bring three cups of water to a boil over medium-high heat, then add the quinoa and one-quarter teaspoon of the salt. Cook uncovered for 12 to 15 minutes until a little tail-shoot separates from the seed. Drain. Spread on a plate or tray to let the quinoa cool completely.

In a food processor, finely chop the ginger, curry leaves and chile. Add the kale leaves and pulse until they are finely chopped but not pasty.
In a 10-inch skillet, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the asafoetida, food-processed kale and carrots. Sauté for about three minutes, until the kale wilts but is still vibrant green and the carrots are softer but still crunchy. Season with a pinch of salt and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice, salt and black pepper. Toast the pine nuts or walnuts in a small skillet on low heat. Move them frequently in the pan until they turn slightly golden in color. Transfer the nuts to a small bowl and let them cool completely.

In a large bowl, combine the quinoa, kale and carrot mixture, radishes, celery and olives. Just before serving, drizzle the dressing over the tabbouleh and toss to mix. Serve at room temperature and garnish each bowl with pine nuts, parsley and mint.

Recipe and photo courtesy of Chef Divya Alter from her cookbook, Joy of Balance (Rizzoli, 2022).

  • Issue: July 2024


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