Health Topics

Healthy Living

February 2011
Food for Good Skin
Ishi Khosla

As looking good seems to matter much more, the business of beauty and fitness seems to be growing like never before. The cosmetic industry has become a multi-billion dollar industry and mind-boggling varieties of products seem to be making their way onto shelves. While topical treatments do help, beauty is certainly not skin deep. Health of the skin has a lot to do with what you eat and how you live.

Age, genetics, nutritional status, exercise, sleep, smoking, alcohol, general lifestyle and environment - sunlight and pollutants are some of the common factors that strongly determine the health of skin. Ultra-violet radiations from the sun generate formation of free radicals, which is also one of the factors in skin ageing.

Common skin problems which appear with ageing include acne, scars, hyper-pigmentation, age spots, open-pores, rough, dry skin, oily skin, fine lines, wrinkles and sagging skin. With advancing years, there is a gradual loss of moisture, collagen, elastin, and fat. The skin begins to appear rougher, drier and thinner, and the smooth, taut skin of youth is replaced with sagging, wrinkled skin.

Clear, glowing skin reflects overall health. This requires well-balanced fibre rich diet, plenty of fluids, regular exercise, quitting smoking and avoiding excessive exposure to sun. A study conducted to evaluate the associations between nutrient intakes and skin-ageing stated that women with higher intakes of vitamin C and linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid) and lower intakes of fats and carbohydrates are associated with better skin.

What your skin wants
The important nutrients for skin include proteins, essential fats, vitamin A, E, C, B complex, selenium, zinc and copper.

A good combination of plant and animal protein would include soya, low fat dairy, lean meat and fish. Essential fatty acids (linoleic and alpha-linoleic acid) which are found in seed oils are important in maintaining lustrous skin. Fatty fish, flax seeds and evening primrose oil provide essential fatty acids needed for skin maintenance.

The chief constituent of skin is collagen - a protein which gives structure requiring vitamin C. Collagen and elastin are fibres that keep skin smooth and toned. Vitamin C, E, selenium and copper are required together for healthy skin. They are powerful scavengers for free radicals- the highly reactive chemicals formed by sunlight and oxygen, smoke, pollutants and other toxins. Together with vitamin B complex, they promote repair and cellular growth. They also function as anti-inflammatory agents.

Natural antioxidants and probiotics are important as well. With increasing age, the body is less efficient in absorbing essential nutrients and producing its anti-oxidants, thus increasing their need through diet. Increased needs for antioxidants can be met through a well planned and nutritious diet. Probiotics help in improving gastro-intestinal health and enhance absorption of antioxidants and other nutrients.

Vitamin A, best known as a vitamin for healthy skin, is found in fish liver oil, liver, carrot, berries, melons, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, green leafy vegetables, papaya, mango, tomato, yellow pumpkins.

Vitamin C also boosts collagen production, which helps keep the skin firm. Adequate intake of citrus fruit (orange, lemon), guava, amla (gooseberry), papaya, broccoli, berries, green leafy vegetables can help meet increased vitamin C needs and maintain good skin.

Vitamin E, an antioxidant, also helps in maintaining good skin health and protecting from sun damage.Vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, soybean), butter, nuts, wheat germ, whole grain cereals, eggs, green leafy vegetables could be included in our diets to get the benefits of this essential vitamin.

Skin Deep
Acne, believed to be a common complaint of growing up, afflicting 85 per cent of teenagers, is in reality not an inevitable part of growing up. In fact, diet and lifestyle factors are mostly responsible for this malady. No single food may be responsible but a diet rich in simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, junk food and poor quality fat with less exercise is likely to cause hormonal disturbances leading to acne. Since, our ancestors were known to be acne free, it may be worthwhile to draw some tips from their diets and lifestyles.

Foods that must be included on regular basis include fresh vegetable juices, yoghurt, turmeric, wheat germ, plant proteins (dals, sprouts, soy), brightly coloured vegetables and fruits, amla, fish, flax seeds and other seeds, nuts, avocados; and plenty of fluids (2.5-3 litres a day). Though avocados are high in calories, they are a source of healthy skin boosting nutrients including good fats, vitamin A, E, C and B6.

5 Ways to Healthy Skin
  • Maintain good gut (intestinal) health and ensure that you do not suffer from any digestive complaints including constipation or diarrhoea. Choose a diet rich in whole grains, pulses, low fat dairy, fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fatty fish and cold pressed oils. Include functional foods like soya, aloe and turmeric.
  • Avoid toxic hydrogenated fats found in commercially prepared foods, bakery and fried foods.
  • Limit sugars and sweetened beverages.
  • Moderate caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Take plenty of fluids (2.5-3 litres).
Although there is no way to completely prevent skin ageing, it is well within our power to slow it considerably. Supplement only under the advice of a qualified professional and do not expect changes overnight.

Nutrients Functions Sources
Biotin (Type of Vitamin B) Important constituent of healthy skin, hair and nails Egg yolk, liver, dark green leafy vegetables, whole grains, bananas.
Selenium* Protects against sun damage Liver, kidney, red meat, seafood, eggs, Whole grains, vegetable sources (if grown in soil with enough selenium) are onions, garlic, mushrooms and broccoli.
Copper Formation of elastin (Fibres in skin that keep it smooth and toned) Liver, kidneys, shellfish, nuts, seeds, lentils.
Zinc* Helps against acne Seafoods, meat, poultry, whole grains
Water Skin Hydration and detoxification  

Ishi Khosla is a Clinical Nutritionist and Director - Whole Foods India
  • The information on this site does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to be a substitute for medical care provided by a physician.
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