By Braelynne Jurius RDN, LD, Nutrition Coach for Meredith Whole Living Center
The highest quality skin care products and services infuse skin with essential nutrients, but did you know that for optimal skin health you can nourish your skin from the inside as well? While an overall balanced diet is going to promote healthy skin (and general health), there are a few key nutrients that are particularly beneficial and worth prioritizing in your diet if your goal is optimizing your skin at any age.
Vitamin C is an important precursor for collagen, an abundant protein in the body that helps skin maintain its elasticity. This vitamin is also imperative for proper wound healing and preventing skin discoloration, both associated with scurvy, or vitamin C deficiency. One serving of bell peppers, papaya, broccoli, brussels sprouts, strawberries, or pineapple will provide 100% or more of the daily value for vitamin C.
Like vitamin C, zinc also helps with wound healing. But, zinc goes beyond that and can be beneficial for preventing and healing acne due to its antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory benefits, which helps reduce redness and irritation related to acne, as well as reduces the appearance of acne scars. Some of the best sources of zinc include beef, lamb, sesame and pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, cashews, turkey, quinoa, and shrimp.
Fat soluble vitamins A, D, and E are imperative for skin health. Vitamin A is converted to retinol in the body, which is needed to produce new skin cells and help skin maintain its moisture. We can get vitamin A from animal foods such as salmon, eggs, dairy, shrimp, and liver (but don’t overdo it!), as well as plant foods like sweet potatoes, carrots, winter squash, and dark leafy greens. Vitamin D has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that may help prevent and/or treat acne. The best source of vitamin D is absorption from sunshine, but we can obtain it from fatty fish, eggs, and a small amount in mushrooms. Vitamin E is an essential antioxidant that helps maintain healthy skin. It can be found in sunflower seeds, almonds, leafy greens, avocados, asparagus, and peanuts.
Vitamins, or micronutrients, are important for skin health, but so are macronutrients: essential fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Essential fats (omega-3s and omega-6s) are called essential because the body does not make them on its own, therefore, we must obtain them from the diet. Without them, our skin would become dry as these fats are vital for all healthy cell membranes, helping the skin stay hydrated and younger looking. These fats can be found in fish, nuts, seeds, and oils. Carbohydrates ultimately get broken down into glucose in the body, which is the primary fuel for skin cells and aids proteins and fats, which in turn provides structure to the epidermis, or outer layer of skin. What we want though is whole food carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables (non-starchy and starchy), and whole grains. When we eat too many refined carbohydrates like white flour and sugar, or products made with these ingredients, this can actually worsen skin health and promote acne due to increased blood sugar and inflammation. Protein, as mentioned above, provides structure to our skin cells. Protein can be obtained from animal products like fish, eggs, dairy, meat, and poultry, as well as plant sources like beans and legumes.
In short, if we aim to eat a variety of whole foods including vegetables, fruits, proteins, beans, whole grains (if you choose), nuts, and seeds, we will also obtain a variety of nutrients, including those that are essential for healthy skin.