In celebration of my 30th birthday ( which is today!) I am bringing you a very special article in collaboration with Dr. Aaliya Yaqub MD (Instagram -> ClearSkinDoc), a board-certified internist with a passion for skincare, vitality and anti-aging.
She is also the medical founder of Forward a healthcare startup based in San Francisco. Her passion is leveraging technology to empower people with the right knowledge to take care of their bodies and their skin in a preventative way. She is on faculty at the Stanford School of Medicine and is the mom of two young children.
Nutrition And Skin Health
I know how big of a topic skin health is, so I hope you guys enjoy this piece.
The skin health industry is absolutely massive and North Americans spend millions of dollars each year on products to enhance and protect the look and feel of their skin.
One thing that often gets overlooked in all of this is, however, is the fact that your skin is essentially an organ, not entirely different from your heart, kidney or liver.
With that in mind, the connection between nutrition and skin health often does not get the attention it deserves.
While there isn’t an overwhelming body of high quality research that dictates an undeniable association between the quality of your diet and the health of your skin, scientists are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that dietary choices really do matter.
In today’s article, I take a closer look at what we know about the connection between diet and dermatology and discuss the dietary steps you can take to fight against acne, skin aging and skin cancer.
1) Acne Management
There is no denying the fact that the prevention and treatment of acne is probably the most common and most widely discussed issue in the realm of skincare.
Given the sheer notoriety of the issue, you’d think there would be a greater body of evidence that has assessed the link between diet and acne progression but , in truth, the amount of research in this topic area is quite limited.
Even so, the best available research points to two primary dietary culprits that may contribute to acne progression.
#1 High Glycemic Index Foods
For those that may not know, the glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how much and how quickly a carbohydrate containing food raises your blood glucose (sugar) levels. Foods that are higher in glycemic index score are generally digested and absorbed more quickly and cause a quicker, more significant rise in your blood glucose levels. It has been suggested that your body’s reaction to continuous consumption of high GI foods may contribute to acne progression. So how do you identify and moderate your intake of high glycemic foods?
Six Low GI Dietary Swaps You Can Make Today
- Choose brown rice, converted rice and quinoa more often than white rice.
- Choose 100% whole grain products more often than white bread/bagels/pitas.
- Choose steel cut oatmeal, barley or all-bran cereal more often than instant oatmeal, granola and sugary cereals varieties.
- Choose sweet potatoes & yams more often than baked russet potatoes. As a general rule, the more you cook and “process” a food, the higher the GI. So if you enjoy a lightly baked potato with the skin, the GI will be much lower than a mashed potato that is cooked very soft with the skin removed.
- Limit your intake of highly processed items such as cookies, candy, pop, baked goods ( muffins, pretzels, cakes etc), ice cream, french fries etc. These foods are often high in glycemic index and low in nutritional value.
- Choose plenty of unprocessed nutrient dense whole foods that are naturally low in glycemic index including the majority of fruits & veggies as well as all varieties of nuts/seeds & legumes ( lentils, etc).
The evidence linking dairy and acne is not necessarily compelling, but those who struggle with acne and are regular dairy consumers may want to consider reducing their intake.
For most people, this means less milk, cheese and yogurt and more fortified soy/almond milk based alternatives.
You will be less affected by reducing the amount of dairy in your diet a (from a nutritional standpoint) if your overall dietary pattern is very strong (rich in fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, etc).
For the record, the potential connection between high GI foods, dairy and acne is also recognized by the American Academy Of Dermatology.
2) Skin Cancer Prevention
When we talk about skin cancer prevention, much of the discussion is centered on being smart in the sun, and rightfully so. There is, however, some evidence suggesting certain dietary components may be linked with reduced risk of skin cancer.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential and cannot be synthesized by your body , thus must be taken in from your diet.
The current state of evidence does not allow me to tell you that consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids is a definitive step you should take to reduce your risk of skin cancer, but there is growing interest surrounding a potential benefit of these foods in this and other areas.
The richest food sources of omega-3s include:
Plant-based: Walnuts, ground flaxseed, chia seeds.
Animal-based: Trout, sardines, salmon.
Make some effort to be getting at least one food from either list in your diet on a regular basis.
There is a growing interest in the connection between dietary antioxidant consumption and the prevention of skin cancer.
It is important to understand that your best course of action is to seek out a diet that is plentiful in antioxidant rich whole foods, rather than purchasing antioxidant pills or powders.
There is so much more to whole foods that contribute to your overall health and longevity than JUST the antioxidant content.
As a general rule, foods that are high in antioxidants also tend to be among the healthiest, most nutrient dense foods.
Some of the commonly available foods that are highest in antioxidant content: Veggies ( especially leafy greens like kale, spinach broccoli & artichoke), Fruits ( especially berries) and Nuts ( especially walnuts, pecans) are among the best selections.
3) Delaying Skin Aging
“Fruit and vegetables consumption may represent the most healthy and safe method in order to maintain a balanced diet and youthful appearing skin.”
Schagen et al 2012 Dermato Endcrinology – “ Discovering The Link Between Nutrition & Skin Aging”
I’ve put this article together today with the intention of drawing attention to some of the healthy, whole foods that have been associated with better skin health outcomes.
At the end of the day, however, I have not really presented anything earth shattering and it is important to understand that there is not one super food, and certainly not one supplement, that will determine your skin’s health in the long-term.
Choosing healthful whole foods, as I have always preached, is surely your best course of action to maintain all aspects of your health.
With that being said, hopefully you learned something new today about diet and dermatology!
Until next time,
Andy De Santis RD MPH