Nutrition is important for health. An unhealthy diet can damage your metabolism, cause weight gain and even hurt organs, such as your heart and liver. But what you eat also impacts another organ — your skin. As scientists learn more about diet and the body, it's increasingly clear that what you eat can significantly affect the health and aging of your skin.
Eat your way to fabulous skin
Everyone has a favourite face cream or treatment, but beautiful skin starts with nourishment from within. Older cells are constantly shed and replaced by younger ones and a steady supply of key nutrients is essential to support this rapid growth. Eat the correct balance of foods and you'll feed your skin the vital nutrients it needs to help it stay soft, supple and blemish-free.
That said, as much as we may try to resist it, our skin does naturally age. Wrinkles and age spots are the inevitable result of time, but skin ageing may be sped up by overexposure to the sun and tanning beds, strong soaps, chemicals and poor nutrition. With this in mind, a holistic approach is best. Treat your skin kindly and optimise your nutrition by eating antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, healthy fats from oily fish and nuts, and a varied and balanced diet. This should give optimal levels of the nutrients that are crucial for radiant skin, including beta carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc and selenium.
Read on for 11 top tips on eating your way to glowing skin
1. Eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables every day:
Fruit and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help to protect skin from the cellular damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals, smoking, pollution and sunlight can cause wrinkling and age spots. Eat a rainbow of colourful fruit and vegetables and aim for at least five portions a day. Betacarotene, found in carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin, and lutein, found in kale, papaya and spinach are potent antioxidants, important for normal skin cell development and healthy skin tone.
2. Eat enough vitamin C:
Vitamin C is also a super antioxidant. It is needed to support the immune system, promote radiant skin and help blemishes heal properly. The best sources are blackcurrants, blueberries, broccoli, guava, kiwi fruits, oranges, papaya, strawberries and sweet potatoes. Vitamin C is needed to produce collagen that strengthens the capillaries that supply the skin.
3. Don't crash diet:
Repeatedly losing and regaining weight can take its toll on your skin, causing sagging, wrinkles and stretch marks. Crash diets are often short in essential vitamins and minerals too. Over long periods of time this type of dieting will reflect on your skin. It is always best to eat a healthy, balanced diet. If you're considering trying a weight loss plan, make sure you have all the facts first – explore our expert guides to popular diets and read the six things you should consider before starting a diet.
4. Stock up on selenium:
Selenium is a powerful antioxidant. It works alongside other antioxidants such as vitamins E and C and is essential to support the immune system. Studies suggest that a selenium-rich diet can help to protect against skin cancer, sun damage and age spots. One way to boost your intake is to eat Brazil nuts. Just four nuts will provide the recommended daily amount (RDA). Mix Brazil nuts with other seeds rich in vitamin E as a snack or salad sprinkle. Other good sources are fish, shellfish, eggs, wheatgerm, tomatoes and broccoli.
5. Eat enough vitamin E:
Vitamin E protects skin from oxidative (cell) damage and supports healthy skin growth. Foods high in vitamin E include almonds, avocado, hazelnuts, pine nuts and sunflower and corn oils.
6. Drink six to eight glasses of water a day:
Skin needs moisture to stay flexible. Even mild dehydration will cause your skin to look dry, tired and slightly grey. Drink six to eight glasses of water a day – all fluids count towards your daily allowance, but water is the best. If you work in an office, keep a large bottle of water on your desk to remind you to drink. Herbal, caffeine-free teas are good too. Don't forget that some fruit and vegetables, such as watermelon, courgette and cucumber, also contribute fluids – the added benefit is that the minerals they contain will increase the rate you hydrate your body and skin. Try to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption as both can age the skin.
7. Eat some healthy fat:
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – the types found in avocados, oily fish, nuts and seeds – provide essential fatty acids which act as a natural moisturiser for your skin, keeping it supple and improving elasticity. These fats also come packaged with a healthy dose of vitamin E (a vitamin many of us lack), which will help protect against free radical damage.
8. Opt for omega-3:
Make sure you get enough omega-3 and omega-6 fats. These are essential fatty acids which mean they cannot be made in the body and must be obtained through the diet. You will find omega-3s in oily fish and plant sources such as linseed and their oil, chia seeds, walnuts and rapeseed oil. Omega-3 fats encourage the body to produce anti-inflammatory compounds, which may help inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.
9. Eat more phyto-estrogens:
Phyto-estrogens are natural chemicals found in plant foods (phyto from the Greek word for plant). They have a similar structure to the female sex hormone oestrogen and have been found to help keep our natural hormones in balance. There are different types, some are found in soya bean products (isoflavones) such as tofu, whereas others are found in the fibre of wholegrains, fruit, vegetables and linseed (lignans). Include phyto-estrogen rich soya, wholegrains, fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet.
10. Go for low-GI carbs:
The glycaemic index (GI) is a system that ranks carbohydrate-based foods on how slowly or quickly they are broken down in the body into glucose. Try to eat plenty of beans, pulses, porridge and other low-GI, slow-releasing carbohydrates. These release sugar into the bloodstream gradually, providing you with a steady supply of energy and leaving you feeling satisfied for longer and therefore less likely to snack. Avoid high-GI carbohydrates like biscuits and sugary drinks, as they lead to production of insulin, which may damage collagen and accelerate wrinkles.
11. Eat plenty of zinc:
Zinc is involved in the normal functioning of the sebaceous glands in the skin (which produce oil) and helps to repair skin damage and keep skin soft and supple. Zinc-rich foods include fish, lean red meat, wholegrains, poultry, nuts, seeds and shellfish.