By Nora A. Davis, MS, ARNP – Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – Board Certified – Charlotte County Health Department –
Have you heard “you are what you eat?” Research has shown that the food we eat definitely affects the skin. Our skin is the largest human organ and not only gives us our appearance and shape, but protection, regulation of temperature, and sensation of touch. Our bodies need proper nutrition to maintain skin health.
The foods we eat contain nutrients that provide energy and other things the body needs. Most of the nutrients in food fall into three major groups: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Every cell and tissue in the body contains protein, building blocks needed for skin repair and tissue strength. Different proteins work as enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, antibodies and specialized proteins such as hemoglobin and others, constantly repairing body tissues to keep it healthy. Protein is found in fish, lean beef, chicken, eggs and low fat dairy products.
Fat is critical to the functions of the body. It helps dissolve vitamins, lubricate the skin and maintain the structure of cellular membranes. Too much of it in the bloodstream slows down nutrient and oxygen transport to cells. Your cells won’t get the nutrients and oxygen they need when you eat too much fat. Eating too much fat is perhaps the biggest reason behind blood sugar problems swinging high and low. This ‘swinging’ causes a cascading hormonal reaction that leads to increased sebum production and blocked pores, hence, acne.
Essential fatty acids are some of the “good fats” that your body needs for healthy performance. ‘Essential’ designates these fatty acids as ones that are not made by the human body, and therefore must be replenished through food. These fatty acids are responsible for regulating cell function. They maintain the integrity of cellular walls, and allow transference of waste and water. This function plays a major role in skin health. Youthful skin is full of plump, water-filled cells. A skin cell’s ability to hold water decreases with age. A healthy skin cell has a healthy membrane, which keeps good things in, like water and nutrients, and allows waste products to pass out. It is a fatty acid’s job to keep that cell healthy and its membrane functioning. Not getting enough essential amino acids results in unstable membranes that cannot keep their buoyant shape, which in turn leads to saggy, aged skin instead of cells full, flexible and strong for healthy youthful skin. The essential fatty acids you are trying to get for healthy skin are omega 3 and omega 6 and can be found in flax seed, walnuts, salmon and canola oil.
Carbohydrates are consumed as sugars (such as fructose, glucose, and lactose) or starches (in foods such as starchy vegetables, grains, rice, breads) and fiber (cereals). Most come from plant-based foods—fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes (beans, peas, and lentils). Dairy products are the only animal-derived foods with lots of carbohydrates. Foods rich in carbohydrates include orange juice, table sugar, nonfat milk, pears, strawberries, whole-wheat bread, popcorn, biscuits, green peas, muffin, honey, sweet potatoes. Carbohydrates (except for fiber) are transformed by the body into blood sugar (mostly glucose), the body’s basic fuel (energy). Refined carbohydrates and sugars speed the skin’s aging process. Sugar breaks down collagen, a protein that is in all our body tissues including muscle and supportive facial tissues.
Antioxidants include some vitamins and minerals that the skin needs to be healthy. Vitamin A helps control the rate at which skin cells regenerate leading to smoother skin. Lack of vitamin A may lead to dry skin. Vitamin A can be found in fish, eggs, leafy green vegetables, oranges and yellow fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C and E reduce damage brought on by the sun, protect against DNA damage, reduce wrinkles and improve overall skin texture. Vitamin C is necessary for the formation of collagen, the support system of your skin Antioxidants reduce the damage caused by environmental pollutants when taken orally or applied topically. Vitamin C is found in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, sees, nuts, leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, whole grains, and egg yolks. Selenium is a mineral that works closely with vitamin E to reduce the risk of skin cancer by preventing sun burn. Selenium is found in seafood, meat and whole grains.
Zinc is a mineral important in the production and maintenance of both collagen and elastin, reducing wrinkles and sagging of skin. Without zinc your skin would not regenerate as it should and would lead to a dull flat skin appearance. A deficiency may contribute to acne. Zinc can be found in shellfish, meat, poultry, legumes and whole-grain products.
For healthy, clear, and radiant skin, maintain a balanced nutritional diet that includes proper nutrients and minerals. Remember, you are what you eat!
Florida Department of Health
941-624-7200 | www.CharlotteCHD.com