Glow from the inside out: Top foods for healthy skin this summer
Summer is here! With Memorial Day behind us, and the official first day of summer just over a week away, relaxing days, outdoor sports, festivals, fun in the sun, nights out with friends, and traditional summertime foods are upon us. But more time spent outdoors increases the risk of dehydration, skin sensitivities and nutrient deficiencies. Luckily, summer is full of fresh, seasonal foods at peak nutrient density to help us stay healthy and hydrated to maintain clear, radiant skin. Check out our favorite foods to keep your skin vibrant and glowing this summer.
The skin, your body's largest organ, is also one of the most unique. Not only does your skin protect against external damage and harmful substances, it also reflects your internal health. Skin disorders have long been associated with nutrient deficiencies, and internal inflammation, dehydration, lack of sleep, stress, and digestive issues can also manifest in our skin in some way. Conversely, consuming foods that nourish your body is key to overall health and radiant, clear skin (not just in the summer months, but year round).
Water - the forgotten nutrient- is necessary for hydration, organ functions, toxin release, and regulation of hormones and body temperature. A dry, scaly look to your skin might be due to dehydrated cells that are contracting, causing cracking, peeling, or a dull tone.
What you can do:
Drink 6-8 - 8oz. glasses of water per day (or until your urine is clear).
Add fruit to your water for a fun change of pace.
Consume fresh produce throughout the day for key nutrients and hydration - its a win-win (foods can make up nearly 20% of your daily fluid intake!).
Fruits and vegetables especially high in water content: watermelon (of course!), lettuce, spinach, celery, pickles, strawberries.
In order for skin cells to stay hydrated, they need dietary fatty acids to help retain water and keep the cell walls flexible. Additionally, Omega 3's and Omega 6's play an acute role in structural integrity and barrier function of the skin. A balanced intake of healthy fats is essential for decreasing inflammation and reducing the effects of excessive sun exposure.
What you can do:
Add a handful of nuts to your daily snack or morning oats.
Add 1/3 avocado to a salad or whole grain wrap.
Use an olive-oil based salad dressing.
Add salmon and tuna to your routine 1-2 times per week.
Brazil nuts - just 1 (yes, one!) Brazil nut per day provides your daily Selenium requirement, in addition to healthy fats. Selenium is a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation
Antioxidant - Rich Fruits & Vegetables
Can we just add another bullet to the list of reasons why we all need to eat more fruits and vegetables? As you may know, the different pigments of fruits and veggies offer different varieties of nutrients, and antioxidants that are the front-line defense against free radicals.
Without getting too scientific, free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron (think back to that high school chemistry class, and recall that electrons like to be in pairs). When a molecule has an unpaired electron, it's considered a free radical that is unstable. An abundance of free radicals can create oxidative stress. Long-term, such stress is thought to be a significant contributor to diseases like atherosclerosis, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease, as well as damaged, dull skin. Free radicals can be created through external sources like ozone, cigarette smoke, pollution, UV radiation, physical and psychological stress, and poor diet.
On the other hand, antioxidants are essential to the defense against free radicals, as they scavenge the free radicals and inhibit proliferation of harmful cells. Luckily, our skin is equipped with a network of protective antioxidants; however, to maintain and strengthen the body's antioxidant capacity, you must consume them on a regular basis.
A diet rich in Vitamins A and C can help. Both vitamins are powerhouse nutrients, rich in antioxidants, that have the potential to protect against UV light damage and maintain collagen production. Vitamin A has a history of use as a topical treatment for sunburn as well as acne. This essential vitamin promotes new skin cell growth and maturation.
Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant, requires a small amount of healthy fats to be absorbed. Vitamin E can absorb UV light, scavenge free radicals, and may play an anti-inflammatory role in the skin.
Zinc has long been associated with improving antioxidant capacity in the cells, reducing the risk of oxidative stress due to sun damage.
While many foods like the ones listed above are anti-inflammatory, examples of inflammatory foods include refined carbohydrates and sugars (like white bread or pasta, highly) processed carbohydrates (like crackers or candies), and low fiber options (like baked goods or other sugary treats). Foods containing trans fats and processed meats like hot dogs, bologna and bacon, are also inflammatory foods. All aforementioned inflammatory foods should be consumed in moderation and infrequently.
What you can do:
Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables at every meal.
Take advantage of the juicy peaches, berries, corn, summer squashes, and more. Summertime is the perfect time to enjoy seasonal produce rich in vitamins and minerals!
Consume a variety of dark pigmented fruits and vegetables, like tomatoes, red onions, spinach and sweet potatoes which are loaded with Vitamins A and C and top the charts for compounds called bioflavanoids. Bioflavanoids are responsible for the vibrant color of many fruits and vegetables, and help maximize the benefits of Vitamin C, as well as anti-viral, anti-allergy, and anti-inflammatory compounds.
Swap refined carbohydrates for low-glycemic options like whole grain breads, pastas, rice, and crackers. Making the switch to low-glycemic foods has been shown to reduce inflammation and promote overall health.
Gut - Benefiting Bacteria
So, you've heard gut health is important for cognitive function, immune health, digestion and "staying regular" - we also know that those little bacteria in our bellies also effect skin health. Your skin's ecosystem is a complex environment filled with diverse microbiota (bacteria). The more "good" bacteria you have, the healthier your skin will be, primarily due to the antimicrobial properties that enhance your skin's natural defense barriers.
What you can do:
Add fermented foods, rich in probiotics, to your daily routine: kefir, miso, kimchi, kombucha, aged cheeses, sauerkraut
Add prebiotic foods to your routine: asparagus, onions, garlic, lentils, bananas, artichokes, soybeans, whole grains
Take a probiotic supplement as directed by your dietitian or doctor.
Protect with Protein
Dietary protein, whether plant or animal-derived, is broken down into amino acids (the building blocks for regenerating tissues and collagen), contributing to our skin's integrity, firmness and youthful radiance. Good quality proteins like beans nuts, seeds, and lentils, lean beef chicken and fish are critical to give your body, and skin, what it needs.
What you can do:
Make sure you include a protein source at each meal or snack:
A can of white albacore tuna in water with whole grain crackers.
String cheese with a piece of fruit and handful of nuts.
Plain Greek yogurt topped with pumpkin seeds and berries,
Veggies and hummus.
Hard boiled egg.
Turkey "roll up".
Deck of cards-worth of lean meat (fish, chicken, turkey) with a side of whole grains.
Chickpeas atop a salad.
Low-fat cottage cheese with diced pineapple.
Lentil black bean burgers.
Certain lifestyle practices can reduce inflammation, dry skin ,and premature aging:
Chronic stress can lead to increased cortisol levels, increased inflammation, poor gut health, and potentially hormonal imbalances. Keeping stress in check is key to reducing inflammation, and improving skin glow.
Adequate, good quality sleep is essential for reducing risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, while improving cognitive function and, yes, skin health.
According to the CDC, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimal mental and physical health.
Most of us enjoy a drink or two, especially during the summer months, but too much alcohol can promote dehydration (and - over time - underlying damage to the liver and heart). Be sure to include a glass of water in between each drink to hydrate and keep your skin supple.
Dietary guidelines for Americans recommend no more than 1 alcoholic drink per day for women, and 2 per day for men
Cranking up your workout to break a sweat will help rid your body of unwanted toxins. Exercise gets your blood pumping and metabolism flowing, aiding in our natural detoxification processes - leading to healthier skin.
Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week
Research shows smoking enhances the normal aging process of the skin due to the free radical production from the toxins in cigarettes. Toxins in smoke can also prevent skin from producing sufficient collagen, contributing to wrinkles and dullness. Not to mention the increased risk of throat, lung, and mouth cancers.
Bottom Line: The old adage: "you are what you eat" forever rings true as it relates to overall health, including skin health. Consuming a variety of antioxidant-rich and nutrient-dense foods is essential for healthy, glowing skin. What we put in our bodies will be reflected on the outside. A balanced diet, rich in anti-aging foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean protein, and healthy fats is essential to optimal skin health.
Weigh in: What's your favorite regimen to maintain that glow?
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