Say No to Yo-Yo: How to Safely Diet for Healthy Skin
Hint: it doesn’t involve “accountability coaches” or chugging shakes.
For the last few decades, there have been a slew of "miracle" fad diets promising your best body/hair/skin/pinky toe yet. From Atkins to South Beach, society is truly enamored with the idea of discovering the next cure-all health hack.
In fact, interest seems to have increased as of late, despite the consistent presence of debunked methods still floating around. Keto meals and tummy teas have all but conquered the last decade - thanks in large part to social media - and these trends are touching a wider audience than ever before. But they’ve also accomplished something more sinister: the spread of false diet information based on shaky science, stemming from amateur “consultants” and public figures.
In the last few months, several accounts have emerged from popular diet plans F-Factor and All In by Teddi Mellencamp, shedding light on their questionable client tactics and practices. F-Factor’s high-fiber protein shakes and diet plans have allegedly been linked to hair loss, amenorrhea (a pause in menstruation common in anorexia and low-calorie count) and other dangerous health issues for women, while All In By Teddi’s program is accused of bullying and fostering unhealthy relationships with food. Nearly all of these methods were pitched and led by untrained coaches and leaders.
The truth is that, while these popular programs could be well intentioned (although it's hard to tell when one of these "programs" drops clients for having a burger on a date🤔 ), their lack of real, tangible nutrition advice has led to the promotion of scary practices aimed at those who just want to feel and look healthy. Let's not forget the damaging amount of stress from trying to keep up with an abusive, demanding program; it’s no wonder aggressive acne, inflammation or eczema flare-ups or worse can occur as a result. In most (read: nearly all) cases, the risk isn’t worth the reward, and people are left in worse shape than they started with.
So, what does this all mean when you still want to change your diet without the $ketchy, misleading methods? Toss the trends, Mavens - here’s how the wrong diet can affect your skin, and which foods will actually promote happier, healthier skin moods.
How Diet Affects Skin
Your skin is, clearly, the largest organ on your body. While you walk, talk, sleep and breathe without giving it too much thought, your skin is busy changing, repairing, and adapting itself to all of the internal and external factors in your life. Because of this, it must be supported through not just your skincare products, but also the foods that you eat. You read that right: the food you eat DOES impact how your skin looks, and science proves it!
You see, the relationship between the digestive system and skin barrier is fragile; if you consume too much or too little of a nutrient, subsequent inflammation can quickly lead to angry skin moods, flare-ups, and some serious health issues, like cancer (in extreme, long-term cases).
For example, let's take into account the typical Western diet: most people following the "American" way usually consume high-glycemic (sugary), dairy-filled meals. Although previously debated, recent studies have shown that carbohydrates in milk contain serum insulin and insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), which increases sebum production, thus creating acne. If you already knew this, you're way ahead of the game - there has been a lot of back and forth about this. However, you can't argue with facts: for better or for worse, we're all eating things that are probably impacting our skin health.
Fad diets definitely know this - that's why they can convince people to shell out hundreds, or even thousands of dollars just to learn their “secrets” to optimal health. STOP! Put away your wallet, and listen to this simple fact: according to several studies, a well-rounded diet rich with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, lean proteins and omega-3 fatty acids is the best way to improve your health, both inside and out. Yep - no stomach-turning shakes, lettuce "tacos" (seriously, wtf is this??), or secret method: just whole, nutritious foods in your pantry.
The reason this works: low sugar, whole food diets help deter inflammation, which in turn reduces your risk of developing or worsening diseases like diabetes, or skin conditions like psoriasis. Collagen - the most important protein to maintain your skin’s elasticity (2) - is just one of many peptides produced through consuming whole foods. The experts will tell you that a healthy diet is just as important as any dermatological effort, and finding a balance between these two approaches will play a big role in how your skin will heal (or not heal) over time.
Food for Healthy Skin
Beginning a new diet is intimidating, I know, especially when you’re not sure where to begin. Before you dive in, though, you'll want to first eliminate any possibility of allergies to be sure you aren't consuming food (even if it's healthy) that may trigger an adverse reaction. Consulting your doctor before making a major diet change is crucial to maintaining a happy, healthy, inflammation-free gut. Once you've been cleared by a professional, these skin health staples are must-haves for your grocery list:
Fish & Eggs
Traditional diets may have you booting anything remotely fattening, but not so fast - fatty fish and eggs are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, aka the best kind of "fat" you can consume. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, omega-3 helps fight acne, discoloration, and psoriasis, all while promoting heart health and a more balanced mental state (especially when your hormones are on the fritz) (3).
Vitamin E is also prevalent in fish and protects your skin barrier from free radicals, while zinc aids in the production of new skin cells. On the flip side, rapid consumption of red meat (as popularized by the keto diet) has been linked to high cholesterol and an increase in inflammation-triggered health issues from saturated fat; no bueno for the glowing skin you crave. Try replacing one or two meat-heavy meals a week with fish and/or eggs to help counteract this affect.
Another healthy source of good fat: avocados! That's right y'all, your avocado toast is safe (on whole grain bread, preferably). Avos have a unique combination of Vitamin E and Vitamin C, both of which are antioxidants that promote collagen production for bouncy skin. Vitamin E is also thought to prevent sun damage (4). The fat from avocados isn’t saturated, so inflammation won't have a chance to develop. This allows your skin to maintain a flexible, moisturized appearance. Fact: half an avocado in the morning with breakfast will provide 14% of your daily value of Vitamin E and 11% of Vitamin C. We can't speak to the health benefits of an accompanying mimosa, though...🥂
Green tea is a popular antioxidant that's packed with energy-enhancing capabilities. It may not be a bad idea to replace at least one of your daily cups of coffee with green tea, especially when you consider how much acidity you're cutting out from that cup of joe. Green tea helps protect your skin from damaging UV rays, thanks in large part to a compound inside called catechin. This compound aids in improved moisture, thickness and elasticity, helping your skin bounce back as you age - *30 going on 13, anyone?*
Nuts & Seeds
Cashews, walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds: all so deliciously snack-y, and all mini antioxidant powerhouses. Nuts in particular contain a delicate balance of omega-3 and omega-6 acids (omega-6 can be harmful, so consume in limited amounts), which can both help balance your system and allow you to avoid inflammation. Zinc, an important factor in skin barrier function and blocking bacteria, is also found in nuts and seeds. There are a plethora of nut butter and sauce recipes on the internet, but here's one of our faves to try yourself! You can also pack these to-go for a healthy snack throughout the day, all while fueling your body with powerful, skin-nourishing antioxidants like Vitamin E and selenium.
ALL of the fruits & vegetables - sweet potato, red grapes, broccoli, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, oh my!
Even if you’re nowhere near going full vegan, adding more fruits and vegetables to your daily diet is truly the easiest way to improve your overall health as well as the appearance of your skin. Beta carotene, a plant-based nutrient found in sweet potatoes and carrots, is transformed into Vitamin A when consumed. By adding at least one vegetable based meal each week, you’re promoting a stronger skin barrier that is less susceptible to sun damage and retains moisture at a higher rate. Other important nutrients added to your diet from this adjustment are luteins (prevents dry skin and is found in kale), sulforaphane (neutralizes free radicals and maintains collagen levels, found in broccoli) and carotenoids (a group of vitamins that prevent UV damage). Of all the diet changes out there, this tip is one of the most scientifically backed sources of skin health from within. Get your Lola Bunny on!
Don’t do it alone
The biggest problem with fad diets? Besides misinformation, these trends imply a “one size fits all” mentality to health & wellness. Just like these programs don’t work for everyone, the information above may be factually true, but you can still experience adverse reactions to certain dietary changes if you’re not careful. It’s always best to start slow, introducing a few new additions here and there, and monitoring your body’s reaction to each before continuing. If possible, consult your primary care physician before making any major changes to your diet - and above all else, do what makes you feel and look your best!
Written by Adrianne Neal