Can what you eat really improve your skin? Absolutely. And despite the marketing, it’s much better to feed our skin from the inside (from food) than to slather on moisturizers and peels with the same nutrients.
Think about this: We have 19 million cells per inch of skin. Our skin is the body’s first line of defense, a barrier that blocks other organs from environmental hazards. And like all organs, the skin needs nutrients to stay strong and do its job.
There is no single nutrient that can maintain healthy skin. We need a balanced diet composed of a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, olive oil, nuts and seeds. All are important for skin health.
Start with vitamin A. The beta carotene in vitamin A plays an important role in repairing skin tissue and replacing cells that contribute to the structure of the skin. It can help prevent dry, rough skin, a sign of deficiency. Choose foods that are orange and red — cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, tomatoes and red bell peppers.
Add vitamin E. It absorbs energy from ultraviolet light and helps prevent sun damage. It also helps with inflammation in the skin. Snack on almonds, asparagus, avocado, greens, mango, peanuts, pumpkin and spinach.
Vitamin C can also help your skin health. It’s a powerful antioxidant that protects skin cells by warding off free radicals from UV rays. It’s needed for collagen synthesis wound healing. The best sources are berries, Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, green and red bell pepper, strawberries and oranges.
For those fine lines and wrinkles, think collagen, a type of protein that makes up to 80 percent of the skin. Protein-rich foods encourage collagen production. Good sources of protein are beans, beef, bone broth, chickpeas, eggs, Greek yogurt, legumes, nuts, poultry and seafood.
If your skin is flaky or dry, you may be dehydrated. Drinking more water helps keep your skin healthy. Healthy adults need at least eight glasses a day, perhaps more.
Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for maintaining skin function, especially in the top outer layer of skin. Omega-3s can also protect against sun-damaged skin and aging. Good sources are chia seeds, flaxseeds, salmon, tuna, fortified eggs and walnuts.
The key for healthy skin is to eat a colorful diet — lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and water.
Q: Which is a better choice for my health, raw nuts or roasted?
A: It’s a toss-up. Some nut proponents say raw are healthier than roasted, and some say the opposite. There are pros and cons to each. Either can be a good choice, as long as they aren’t covered in salt or chocolate. The difference in vitamin and mineral content between oil-roasted, dry-roasted and raw is inconsequential, according to the Agriculture Department food database.
On the con side, raw nuts may have higher amounts of compounds that block the body from absorbing nutrients such as calcium and iron. More concerning is that raw nuts have caused outbreaks of food poisoning due to salmonella bacteria, and peanuts can harbor fungi that produce disease-causing compounds called aflatoxins. Roasting reduces levels of aflatoxins.
The bottom line is that nuts are a source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, as well as fiber, vitamin E and magnesium. If you eat nuts instead of chips, pretzels or crackers, it’s a healthy choice.
Curried Grilled Sweet Potato Wedges with Peanut Sauce
Here’s a fun summer side dish that’s healthy for your skin. It’s from EatingWell magazine.
» 2½ pounds sweet potatoes, cut into wedges
» 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
» 1 tablespoon curry powder
» 2 teaspoon ground cumin
» ½ teaspoon salt, divided
» ¼ teaspoon ground pepper
» ½ cup coconut milk
» ½ cup smooth peanut butter
» 2 tablespoon lime juice
» 2 tablespoons water
» 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce
» 2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
» 2 teaspoons pure maple syrup
» Chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
Preheat grill to medium. Toss sweet potatoes with oil. Sprinkle with curry powder, cumin, ¼ teaspoon salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Oil the grill rack. Turn off one burner. Grill the sweet potatoes on the hot side, flipping occasionally, until slightly charred, about 10 minutes. Move them to indirect heat and continue cooking. Flip them occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes more. Transfer to a serving platter, and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt.
Meanwhile, whisk coconut milk, peanut butter, lime juice, water, tamari (or soy sauce), chili-garlic sauce and maple syrup in a medium bowl. Serve the potatoes with the sauce, and top with cilantro.
Serves 8 (1 cup sweet potatoes and 2 tablespoons sauce)
Per serving: 167 calories; 4 grams protein; 18 grams carbohydrates; 10 grams fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 5 grams total sugars (2 grams added); 3 grams fiber; 339 milligrams sodium
— Charlyn Fargo Ware is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @NutritionRd, or click here for additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.