What to eat to improve your skin
Our skin, the body’s largest organ, responds to what we eat so keeping it nourished is a must if you want a radiant complexion says skincare queen Liz Earle.
By Liz Earle
Food has been a focus for me for many years. I’ve written about it, campaigned about it and I now feel even more passionate – if that’s possible – about eating well and the many issues surrounding it.
We really are what we eat and, nowadays, we know the complex truth that underlies this adage. Everything we consume is processed by the body in some way and goes towards making either good – or bad – components. And nowhere do the results of this process show more obviously than in our skin, the largest organ of our body.
Here’s my guide to how to eat to make the best of your complexion.
- Eat slowly
Food is not simply something to shovel in unawares; it’s for savouring and valuing – even just a lunchtime snack. Eating slowly is important for the digestive juices, too, as the anticipatory salivation releases enzymes that make food easier to digest. Try putting down your fork after each mouthful and chewing 20 times before swallowing. Eating little and often suits most people far better than devouring one or two big meals.
- Avoid sugar
According to the old nursery rhyme, little girls are made of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’. While I’m quite happy to believe the last bit, being made of sugar is a different matter. Sugar is a real enemy to your skin, as raised blood sugar levels increase the risk of skin inflammation. Although inflammation is a natural healing reaction, it can easily get out of control, and many researchers say it contributes to problems such as acne, eczema and skin ageing. At home, we use xylitol, a natural sweetener, which reduces tooth decay and is thought to help support bones.
- Plenty of protein
Protein is indispensable to healthy skin, hair and nails, and for proteins to do their job effectively they need essential fatty acids (EFAs) plus a good spread of vitamins and minerals. The body can’t make EFAs, so they must come from the diet – oily fish (such as mackerel and salmon), eggs, flaxseeds, flaxseed and rapeseed oil, walnuts and dark green vegetables such as spinach. Try to include some protein in every main meal.
- Remember your five a day
Vitamins and minerals abound in vegetables and fruit. They also contain crucial fibre to keep the elimination system working well, ridding the body of toxins that could impair health. Aim to eat five to seven portions daily – preferably in a variety of colours – but cut down on root vegetables such as parsnips and potatoes because they contain a lot of starches. Eat fruit between meals, if possible, or at the beginning, but not at the end of a meal as the sugars can sometimes ferment in the gut, causing bloating and other problems.
- Go for good grains
The key here is to eat less rather than none at all, and to stick to unrefined varieties. Look for organic oats, wholegrain bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta, quinoa, kamut (an ancient grain similar to wheat) and farro.
- Treat yourself
I bring good news for chocolate lovers (like me). Feel free to eat a little of the darkest chocolate you can – with a minimum of 70% cocoa solids – as it’s really good for you. The real McCoy helps diminish appetite, is the highest food source of magnesium and is very high in antioxidants. My advice is to eat small amounts of the best-quality chocolate you can.
- Eat nuts and seeds
These are the life force of plants, bursting with nutrients such as protein, EFAs, vitamins (notably skin-friendly vitamin E), minerals and fibre. Make a mix of your favourites to take with you as a snack. I prefer nut butters, such as almond and hazelnut, instead of peanut butter. I also like mixed-seed butters made with sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds – a great breakfast snack on oatcakes or toast.
- Drink water
Some scientists say that drinking any type of liquid (milk, tea or coffee) is as good as drinking water, but my experience is that I feel and look much better if I drink lots of still, pure water. So, the drill for my family is to sip six to eight large glasses of water a day, mostly between meals. Flavour with fresh lemon, cucumber sticks or root ginger for variety.
- Eat regularly
Enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner and have healthy snacks in between meals. Never leave more than three hours between eating – your blood sugar levels start waning two to three hours after eating. If you snack when your blood sugar is low, you are more likely to stuff in sugary or starchy foods, which will give you a quick high, and an equally quick low.
Adapted from Liz Earle’s Skin Secrets by Liz Earle, published by Kyle Cathie Ltd.