What is skin? Skin is alive. It’s made of many thin layers of flat, stacked cells containing nerves, blood vessels, hair follicles, glands and sensory receptors.
Older cells are constantly being pushed to the surface by new cells which grow from below. When the old ones reach the top, they become wider and flatter as they get rubbed and worn by all your activity. Sooner or later, they end up popping off like tiles blown from a roof in a strong wind.
In fact, every minute of every day 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells fall from your body! In approximately a month’s time, your body has produced a whole new layer of skin cells.
So what can you do to nurture healthy, vibrant skin? In this article, we will indeed discuss foods, but don’t underestimate the power of stress management. To have skin that looks younger, less stressed and more alive, think about the stressors in your life and how you can manage them better. Negative stress can age you very quickly.
A healthy diet, moderate exercise, deep sleep and well managed stress are the key ingredients to great looking skin. So start de-stressing today by taking deep breaths, meditation, stretching, walking in the woods … you get the idea!
We all know too much sun is bad for our skin. Different wavelengths of light cause different changes in skin cells. Most sunscreens were initially developed to block ultraviolet-B (UVB) wavelengths, and UVB light remains most closely associated with sunburn.
However, ultraviolet-A (UVA) sunlight – longer wavelengths of the sun’s energy – may more readily damage the DNA in our cells and may be equally, or even more responsible, for skin aging and perhaps cancer. UVA and/or UVB sunlight cause stress, particularly oxidative stress. This stress can overload our antioxidant nutrient supplies, and it is one reason why eating a diet high in antioxidants can be helpful.
And now to the foods …
Some studies show that olive oil and cooked tomatoes can help to protect the skin. The lycopene in tomatoes and phenols in olive oil, phytonutrients, are especially valuable as antioxidants.
Antioxidants are agents that neutralize the oxidant effect of free radicals, those molecules that damage collagen and cause skin dryness, fine lines and wrinkles. Vitamin C, vitamin E and the mineral selenium are powerful antioxidants. Foods rich in antioxidants are not only helpful when the skin has been burned, but can also be included in your daily diet as a form of prevention. Here’s why:
Dietary sources of selenium include wheat germ, seafood such as tuna and salmon, garlic, Brazil nuts, eggs, brown rice and whole wheat bread. Brazil nuts are perhaps the best source, and eating just three or four Brazil nuts a day provides adequate selenium intake for most people.
Some studies show that pesticide residues can also take their toll on your antioxidant content, so when purchasing fresh produce, take the time to learn about ‘The Dirty Dozen’, discussed in the previous issue of Healthy Living, as well as the ‘Clean 15’.
When it comes to DNA damage and other skin cell changes caused by UVA sunlight, some superstar phytonutrient components are readily available:
EFAs are responsible for skin repair, moisture content and overall flexibility, but because the body cannot produce its own EFAs, they must be obtained through the diet.
The typical North American diet is over-abundant in omega-6 fatty acids found in baked goods and grains, and lacking in omega-3s, found in cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel, as well as flaxseeds, sardines, flax oil and walnuts. Simply balancing the intake of omega-3s with omega-6s can result in smoother, younger looking skin.
These healthy fats are found in high amounts in nuts and oils, such as olive oil and vegetable oil, and can also be found in meat and dairy products. Although monounsaturated fats are present in a wide variety of foods, olive oil is perhaps the most acclaimed source of these beneficial fats.
A recent study of over 1,900 French men and women analyzed diet, sun exposure, physical activity, age and geographic location. The study followed participants for over two-and-a-half years, and found that those with the lowest levels of monounsaturated fatty acids in their diets displayed the greatest likelihood of photo-aging and were classified among the group with the worst skin condition.
Mom and Dad were right. Lutein-rich and zeaxanthin-rich foods are also helpful in sunburn prevention. Dark green leafy vegetables, including kale, spinach, collard greens and turnip greens, are best-bet foods for these carotenoids. Broccoli, organic corn, peas, Brussels sprouts and leaf lettuce are also good choices.
Research has also found a link between skin aging and excess sugar and simple carbohydrates. These foods cause an elevation of blood sugar and insulin levels that cause inflammation and contribute to wrinkles and aging. Stable insulin levels can be maintained by eating a balance of healthy fats, lean protein and low glycemic carbohydrates. Avoid simple sugars and carbohydrates such as cookies, pies, cakes, candies and pastries because they cause spikes in insulin.
Honey has been valued for its anti-wrinkle properties since the days of the ancient Egyptians. Thanks to its potent, humectant properties, honey attracts and retains moisture, hydrating the skin and keeping it softer, more supple and less prone to wrinkles. You can even apply pure organic honey directly to the skin: leave it on for at least 15 minutes, rinse off with lukewarm water and pat the skin dry gently.
While the exact amount of water you should drink each day varies, no one can dispute the role of good hydration in keeping skin looking healthy, young and radiant. Experts agree that when the hydration comes from pure, clean water – NOT soda and fruit drinks – the skin cells rejoice. Aim to drink six to eight glasses every day, but not all at the same time!
Make a promise to your skin today to keep it nourished and rejuvenated from the inside out! Healthy skin all year round begins with the food and drink you choose. To achieve the healthiest skin possible, devote some time each day to consuming the nutrients necessary to fight the signs of aging.
Shawn M. Nisbet, RHN, CFA, is a registered holistic nutritionist, certified fitness consultant and Nordic pole walking master instructor. 416.804.0938; email@example.com; www.shawnnisbet.com; www.shawnsharesjuiceplus.com.