The wise say beauty comes from within, and how right they are! And while we all want good stout hearts, brave souls and charming personalities, I don’t know many people who’d mind packaging all these in beautiful, glowing skin, too. As a dietitian, I’m often asked how to eat for health — heart health, metabolic health, reproductive health and more. Fewer people ask me about eating for beauty, which is strange when you think about it. Your skin is actually your largest and most visible bodily organ. Just as you can eat to feed your muscles, bones, and brain, you can (and must) also eat to nourish your skin.
The skin is also one of the few organs with an easy tell. Plaque can build in your arteries for decades without you necessarily knowing it. But acne, funky bumps, rashes, and odd hues blooming on the outside can reveal a lot about the state of your nutrition and health inside. For example, my clients who have struggled in the past with poorly controlled diabetes know the havoc this disease can play on the skin by causing dryness, scales, ulcers, and infections. One of my next posts is going to dive deeper to discuss the important linkages between nutrition, diabetes and the skin. But, for now, I’d like to speak to my full audience — everyone who eats and has skin! — giving you my take on the 5best foods for healthy skin.
1. Fatty fish nourishes skin from within
A pop-eyed, scaly fish may seem worlds apart from the glowing beauty you’re going for, but fish is arguably the single best thing you can eat for beautiful and healthy skin. Fish is one of nature’s best sources of zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which are anti-inflammatory and necessary for healthy skin. Look especially for wild-caught, cold water fish like salmon, mackerel and herring for the most skin-boosting nutrition.
If you’re not a fish eater, you can still get healthy fats your skin will love from avocados, walnuts and sunflower seeds. You can even combine all three on some fresh greens for a tasty salad (and, honestly, fish tastes great here, too).
I have to say, the skin is one of the most obvious places where I see low-fat diets taking a toll. This is partly because these diets are stingy with these vital healthy fats and partly because they tend to be higher in sugar, a real scourge for the skin (see What Not to Eat for Healthy Skin below.)
2. Foods with vitamin C build healthy skin
The middle layer of your skin, called the dermis, is held together by an important structural protein called collagen. The breakdown of collagen as you age is one of the primary causes of sagging, wrinkled skin. While we can’t stop the aging process altogether, we can help make sure our bodies have all the nutrition they need to keep producing healthy collagen.
You can support your body in making collagen by feeding it plenty of vitamin C. Fortunately, most people love at least a handful of foods that are abundant in vitamin C. Try grilling up a luscious pepper or roasting a head of broccoli. On the fruit side, oranges and other citrus are traditional favorites, but you can also find loads of vitamin C in strawberries, kiwis, and cantaloupe. I love to prevent dehydration with a cooling fruit salad, and it’s a wonderful bonus to know that I’m building my skin while I’m rehydrating it.
3. Chocolate is actually good for your skin
Eat chocolate. Wait, what? You’ve probably been told all your life that chocolate causes acne. If you have a sensitivity to chocolate, then yep, sure thing. Inflammation on the inside shows up on the outside. However, dark chocolate is an anti-inflammatory and I can go as far as to tell you that it actually provides protection against sunburn!
4. Foods with Vitamin A and E defend the skin
Speaking of sunscreens you can eat, I have another one for you: beta carotene. This is a precursor to vitamin A found abundantly in yellow-orange veggies like carrots and sweet potatoes. Beta carotene is actually taken into your skin and protects it against the sun like a friendly orange parasol.
If you experience damage to your skin from the sun, pollutants, smoke, fake foods and more, antioxidants are your food friends. Vitamin A also acts as a powerful antioxidant, as does vitamin E, defending and repairing your skin from cellular damage.
For vitamin A, try eggs, those yellow fruits and veggies, spinach, and other dark leafy greens.
For vitamin E, again, fatty fish is your go-to source for beautiful skin. However, you can also load up on almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, and other nuts and seeds, or enjoy fruits like mango, kiwi, blackberries and veggies like squash, peppers, chard, collards and turnip greens. How about a blackberry, apricot, peanut butter, and almond milk smoothie? The yum alone may make your skin glow!
5. Green Tea is an elixir for healthy skin
Green tea is high in catechins, powerful compounds that fight inflammation, oxidation and skin aging. This ancient beverage protects against sun damage and boosts moisture and elasticity in the skin. It’s also delicious and makes you feel as good as you’ll look. I love to drink it all year round and it works as well cold; in fact, it’s great in chilled drinks and smoothies. If you want to get creative, try this amazing green tea/kombucha mocktail (see how it also has spinach and other skin-friendly ingredients?).
Want a seasonally appropriate, glowing skin, lunch idea? Check out this recipe.
Bonus: What Not to Eat for Healthy Skin
What should you avoid eating if you want healthy skin? In a word, sugar. Yes, I know I just talked about chocolate above. I’m not talking about a treat here and there, especially one that comes along with such unparalleled nutritional benefits. I’m talking about big quantities of sugar… especially in sodas or other sugary drinks where it’s easy to consume literally tablespoons of it in a sitting without even noticing. Not only do sugary beverages and treats crowd out the other beauty-building foods you could be eating, but they also ravage your skin directly by forming compounds called advanced glycation end products (aptly called AGEs) that bind up the collagen in your skin and wrinkle you prematurely.
Healthy foods lead to healthy skin
You may notice from the list above that you really can’t go wrong with fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Really there’s no need to memorize a list of the best foods for healthy skin. Just pick the whole, healthy foods you love, grab your green-tea mocktail and a square of dark chocolate and raise a toast to you: You are beautiful, inside and out!
Want to go further?
The quality of your diet plays a vital role in the health and beauty of your skin. But it’s also important to pay attention to what you put ON your skin, too. Your skin (and your overall health) can be impacted by your environment and the products you use. So, once you’ve got the fridge full of healthy food, consider doing a bathroom cabinet makeover and choosing safer, clean beauty products to use. Here are some great suggestions!