Eating a variety of plant-based foods rich in particular vitamins, minerals and other specific compounds is a very effective way to help improve skin conditions as well as improve general skin health; including its look and feel. When considering skin health, it is important to understand that skin grows from the inside out, which means that it requires the right nutrition going in for proper growth, structure, protection and immunity.
Typical modern day diets
Typical modern day diets, defined by large intake of high G.I (glycemic index) carbohydrate foods (e.g. refined grains and cereals), high intakes of meats, and inadequate intakes of fruits, vegetables and healthy fats, have been associated with numerous skin conditions, including acne, psoriasis and dermatitis herpetiformis. This way of eating has also been associated with premature ageing of the skin, as well as poorer skin health in general.
Acne & pimples
Acne and pimples, caused by inflammation of the skin follicles, is an undesirable skin condition that is negatively influenced by consuming high G.I foods, for example refined breads, cereals, biscuits, juices and sugar sweetened drinks. When these types of foods are consumed they cause an increase in the release of Insulin and IGF-1; hormones that stimulate oily secretion (sebum) production, stimulate adrenal androgen synthesis, and increase the bioavailability of androgens; all of which influence acne. Hence, the more high G.I foods that are consumed the worse skin conditions, like acne, can get.
However studies show that altering the diet to include low GI carbohydrate foods and high amounts of plant foods (e.g. wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and legumes) can improve acne, reduces sebaceous glands and decreases inflammation... overall improving skin health.
Skin ageing is characterised by the skin losing its elasticity and in turn sagging. These unfortunate processes are related to changes in the skins collagen and elastic fibres, which themselves are impacted by diet. In particular, the consumption of processed carbohydrates and sugars can accelerate the signs of ageing skin, as they promote cross-linking of collagen fibres. This cross-linking occurs through a process known as glycation, which is accelerated by a high consumption of refined carbohydrate foods. A high intake of refined carbohydrates (e.g. white breads, biscuits, sugary cereals, soft drink) causes blood glucose to elevate to high levels, and in turn increases the production of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). An increased accumulation of AGEs can lead to reduced elasticity of the skin, and therefore influence skin to sag and age quicker.
However, on an empowering note, consuming unrefined low G.I plant-based foods (e.g. vegetables, fruits, wholegrains and legumes) reduces glycation and the production of AGEs, which slows the ageing of skin, as well as improves its integrity. Further to this, research has found a number of specific plant foods that may inhibit the production of AGEs; these include, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and garlic.
Healthy eating, healthy skin
It is clear that typical modern day diets negatively influence skin health, both in the short and long term. However in comparison, plant-based diets, characterised by low G.I carbohydrate foods, healthy plant fats, and an abundance of micronutrients, antioxidants, phytochemicals and hydrating plant foods, support and improve the integrity and health of skin.
3 nutrients that are particularly important for skin health
Vitamin A, or retinol, is one of the most highly recognised nutrients for skin health. It influences the skins physiology by promoting epidermal differentiation, inhibiting sebaceous gland activity, suppressing the formation of androgens, and modulating dermal growth factors. These are all essential for good skin health. It also promotes cell turnover in the skin, which is important for preventing the progression of acne. If you do not get enough vitamin A in your diet your skin will become rough, dry and scaly.
Plant foods rich in Vitamin A include, dark green (spinach, kale, broccoli, lettuce), yellow (squash, mango), orange (carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, apricot,) and red (capsicum) vegetables and fruits.
Zinc is an essential mineral that assists with the proper structure of the proteins and cell membranes of the skin. It also participates in basal cell mitosis and differentiation (the production of new skin cells). Furthermore, zinc improves wound healing and protects the skin against ultra violet radiation. It is also known to influence the work of Vitmain A, by increasing its absorption, transportation around the body, as well as its utilisation. Hence zinc and vitamin A work closely together for good skin health. Zinc deficiency can result in dry skin, stretch marks, acne, eczema and poor wound healing.
Zinc rich plant foods include legumes, soy foods, green peas, mushrooms, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and nutritional yeast.
Vitamin C is found at high levels in both the outer layer (epidermis) and inner layer (dermis) of the skin. It has been known for quite some time to play a very important part in skin health, particularly via its crucial role in the body’s natural collagen synthesis. Collagen is required for the skins structural stability. On top of this, Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, which helps to combat oxidative damage, reduces inflammation, as well as speeds up wound healing. Adequate vitamin C intake can also help to repair and prevent dry skin. A number of studies have also shown that diets high in Vitamin C are associated with less wrinkling and overall, better skin appearance. In contrast, diets low in Vitamin C, such as those low in fruit and vegetables, lead to poorer skin health. You may have heard of Scurvy? It’s a disease caused by a deficiency of Vitamin C, and it first manifests as rough, dry skin. Hence, this vitamin is integral for good skin health.
Vitamin C rich plant foods include plums, capsicum, dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, brussels sprouts, coriander, basil, parsley, berries, kiwifruit and citrus fruits.