by Patty James
We all want beautiful skin, but there is so much confusing information available to us. Let’s begin with some basic nutrition education for healthy skin.
Free radicals and antioxidants
A free radical is an unpaired electron that is highly reactive and can cause tissue damage at a cellular level, accelerating the progression of cancer, heart disease and age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Free radicals are a natural byproduct of oxygen metabolism, and most are either recycled or excreted.
Exercise creates free radicals as does sunlight, pollution, smoking and even digestion. Normal processes in the body eliminate free radicals, but if you’ve had a lot of activity that promotes free radicals, your body may not be able to eliminate all of them.
Antioxidants quench free radicals by donating their own electrons to them and, simply put, the chain reaction of oxidation is broken. The best way to ensure adequate intake of antioxidant nutrients is through a balanced diet consisting of five to nine servings of vegetables and fruit per day, while avoiding foods that can increase free radical activity, such as processed and refined foods and “bad” fats. The following foods are high in antioxidants:
- Beans—small red, pinto, red kidney and black beans
- Dried prunes
Components of certain foods are naturally supportive of healthy skin, such as vitamin A, which is also known as retinol. Although vitamin A is found only in foods of animal origin, such as calf’s liver and yogurt, some fruits and vegetables contain compounds called carotenoids that can be converted into vitamin A by your body. Carotenoids are plant pigments, responsible for the red, orange and yellow color of fruits and vegetables. Here are some good choices of vitamin-A rich foods:
- Calf’s liver
- Yogurt—preferably plain yogurt that has no added sugar
- Raw carrots
- Sweet potatoes—leave the skin on for added dietary fiber
- Leafy greens—kale, turnip greens, chard and collard greens.
Note: Remember that much of vitamin A can be lost when it’s heated, so eat your fruits and veggies raw when possible. Avoid frying; steam, bake and broil when you can.
Vitamin C helps maintain the collagen in our skin, keeping it firm. Vitamin C also improves iron absorption and increases the effectiveness of vitamin E. Good sources of foods high in vitamin C are:
- Papaya and mangos
- Red, yellow and orange peppers
- Brussels sprouts
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that decelerates the aging of skin cells, and is known for its ability to diminish the appearance of scars. It protects skin from ultra violet (UV) radiation, and is good for our immune systems. Good sources of vitamin E are:
- Sunflower seeds
- Chard and other leafy greens
- Wheat germ and oil
Selenium is a trace mineral required in only small amounts (large amounts can be toxic) but is essential to good health and healthy skin. Selenium is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, which are important antioxidants, helping to prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Foods high in selenium are:
- Brazil nuts
- Cottage cheese
- Black walnuts
- Brown rice
- Brewer’s yeast
- Wheat germ
Zinc helps maintain the integrity of skin and mucosal membranes. Men need more zinc than women, as concentrations of zinc are very high in the prostate gland and semen. Foods high in zinc are:
- Beef shanks
- Pumpkin seeds
- Fortified breakfast cereals
- Pumpkin seeds
- Garbanzo beans
Note: Techniques to increase zinc bioavailability, especially important for vegetarians, include soaking beans, grains and seeds in water for several hours, then allowing them to sprout before eating raw or cooking.
It is imperative that you consume enough essential fatty acids (EFA), as your body does not make them. Omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the body’s production of inflammatory compounds involved in the aging process, that affect how healthy skin looks and feels. Foods high in omega 3 fatty acids are:
- Salmon and other cold-water fish
- Flax seeds and oil
- Safflower oil
- Fortified eggs
Note: Look for oil labeled cold pressed, expeller processed or extra virgin, as they are less processed.
Your body is 70 to 80 percent water, and if you are not drinking enough, your cells don’t regenerate properly and remove waste, resulting in a buildup of impurities. Drinking ample water allows all of your organs to function properly, affecting the health of your skin.
Drink 8 glasses a day. Herb tea with no caffeine can substitute for water.
Don’t forget to dry brush your skin, which helps to remove dead skin cells and improve circulation. With proper nutrition, which begins with simple health education, glowing skin can be yours.
Patty James is a certified natural chef with a master’s degree in holistic nutrition. She founded the Patty James Cooking School and Nutrition Center, the first certified organic cooking school in the country. James also runs Shine the Light on America’s Kids, an organization that educates children on how to live a healthy lifestyle. She is the author of More Vegetables, Please! For more information, visit PattyJames.com.