By Gemma Hurditch for CNM
Switching to a cleaner, organic diet with more emphasis on “plant-based” foods can support improvements in health and wellness. Many people also notice that they have brighter, more glowing skin.
Here are six steps to help improve your skin.
Essential fatty acids are one of the most important factors in creating strong, supple, well-hydrated skin. Not all fats are the same, and the desirable skin-supporting omega 3 fatty acids can be lacking in a vegetable based diet; this is because oily fish is the richest natural source. Flaxseeds, (also known as linseeds), are a great vegan source of omega 3. I prefer to have flaxseeds ground daily rather than take a flaxseed oil, as the oil is quite unstable and can begin to go rancid before it leaves the shop shelves. Never heat flaxseed oil as it becomes damaged. A couple of tablespoons of ground flaxseeds added to meals or a smoothie are enough to support skin health and reduce inflammation. Inflammation is a common culprit in skin issues.
Omega 3 is highly effective in reducing inflammation, signs of which include itchy, reactive and reddened skin. Eat flaxseeds, chia seeds and walnuts liberally. If you are having problems with inflammation, an omega 3 algal oil can be of benefit.
Seed oils such as sunflower are high in the omega 6 type of fat which competes with omega 3 in the body. Most diets, even ‘healthy’ ones are much higher in omega 6 than omega 3, as omega 6 is in so many foods including most vegetable cooking oils, processed and packaged foods, wheat germ…, the list goes on. It is a good idea to reduce intake of omega 6, particularly in their processed form. So, minimise cooking with oils such as safflower, sunflower, rapeseed (canola), corn and soy, and instead use olive oil or coconut oil sparingly. Spreads and butter substitutes are often high in omega 6. Swap these for avocado, hummus or a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Nuts and seeds may generally be high in omega 6, but they include minerals such as zinc, which is needed to utilise the omega 3 in plant foods. Nuts and seeds also contain vitamin E, an antioxidant that is great for skin rejuvenation. Choose raw, unsalted (and preferably pre-soaked) nuts and seeds.
The antioxidants in plant foods are believed to be one of the reasons that a plant-based diet is good for health and longevity. In terms of skin health, the carotenes are particularly beneficial. Found in abundance in carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes and other richly pigmented foods, carotenes provide antioxidants which mop up free radicals for a youthful complexion and protection against sun damage. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A which is vital for skin renewal. Lycopene is highest in cooked tomato products. Carotenes are best absorbed with a little fat such as olive oil.
As antioxidants are key to anti-ageing, it makes sense to boost daily intake of antioxidant foods. These include berries, dark green leafy vegetables, green tea and spices. Turmeric, cinnamon, oregano and clove are some of the most potent antioxidants we have, so use them liberally in cooking and as herbal teas. Add peeled, chopped turmeric or ginger to stir fries, or add a cube of them when preparing fresh juices. Ginger pieces boiled on the hob for 15 minutes can make a delicious ginger tea which will revive a sallow complexion, and is particularly good in winter.
Vitamin C is a well-known skin nutrient helping the formation of collagen which gives skin its elasticity and spring. Vitamin C is best taken alongside bioflavonoids. That’s how vitamin C is found in nature – for example in kiwi fruit, citrus and peppers, and it’s one of the reasons why natural food-borne vitamin C is superior to artificial supplements.
Lysine for Collagen
And talking about collagen, lysine is an important amino acid for collagen synthesis. A vegan diet can be lacking in lysine, because vegan staple foods such as nuts, seeds and wholegrains are often higher in the amino acid arginine which competes with lysine. Keep up your lysine intake with pears, apples, figs, lentils, apricots and mung beans. If you suffer from cold sores or from excessive hair loss, a lysine supplement with food-state iron may be in order. These nutrients combined are helpful for skin support and boosting immunity against skin infections.
Hydration is also super important for skin quality. The skin is our largest detoxification organ and proper hydration can help flush out toxins and keep skin plump, supple and well moisturised. Aim for 2 litres of filtered water per day.
Stabilise Blood Sugar
Following a low glycaemic load eating plan is an important consideration. The glycaemic index or glycaemic load (an ever better tool) are indicators of how quickly a food will spike you blood sugar. There is evidence that the more stable our blood sugar levels are, the better quality our skin is, both in signs of ageing and reduced skin blemishes such as pimples and skin tags. There are many online resources you can use to check the glycaemic rating of your foods. Generally speaking, if your diet is largely vegetable based then you will be well on your way to a low glycaemic load diet. Problems can occur when consuming a lot of fruit juices, jams, dried fruit and refined carbohydrates such as white bread.
Keep it real
Opting for whole, unprocessed foods will keep fibre content high, leading to a regular bowel, which is great for skin quality. A sluggish bowel can increase toxic burden which the body may attempt to eliminate through the skin, resulting in a sallow, blemished complexion, or an exacerbation of problems such as psoriasis or eczema. Reduce toxic load by choosing fresh organic, seasonal produce and focusing on whole, unprocessed foods wherever possible.
Find out more about how you can train to become a natural health practitioner, attend one of our upcoming open events.