Our skin is the barometer for our overall wellbeing. It’s the first line of defence against the barrage of daily stressors: the weather, pollution, chemical aggressors, anxiety and diet that take such a toll on our health. It pays a heavy price, but there are a few foods that may be significant in helping skin maintain its resilience in the modern environment.
Walnuts are a potent source of omega-3 and 6 which are essential to, but increasingly unbalanced in, Western diets. An excess of the latter — found in high concentrations in many modern vegetable and seed oils — can lead to inflammation and disease within the body, whereas omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. Walnuts also contain a comparatively high proportion of zinc, and an abundance of antioxidants including vitamin E, C and selenium, all beneficial to skin health.
The omega-3 fatty acids in oily herring, salmon and mackerel play a key part in the maintenance of cellular membranes. Healthy polyunsaturated fats boost the elasticity and moisture content of our skin while reducing the inflammation associated with conditions like psoriasis. Oily fish is also rich in protein and zinc, the latter of which is a potent anti-inflammatory and skin healer.
Broccoli contains a carotenoid called lutein that protects skin from the drying effects of oxidative damage. It also contains sulforaphane, which it’s thought offers some protection from the effects of sun damage, along with a boost of collagen for improved skin vibrancy. It’s these qualities, combined with a healthy mix of essential vitamins and minerals, that make broccoli an essential dietary addition.
As a general rule, nuts and seeds are skin-friendly thanks to their impressive nutrient profile. Sunflower seeds contain large amounts of vitamin E, known to improve skin and eye health when eaten regularly, and they are high in antioxidant selenium. They’re inexpensive, easy to incorporate in breakfasts and lunches and delicious raw or dry toasted.
Soy contains isoflavones, which occur naturally in some plant foods and are believed to mimic or inhibit the hormone estrogen. While we often hear of the detriment of this particular quirk of soy, some early tests have linked isoflavones with improved collagen content and skin moisture, particularly in women over the age of fifty. It’s also thought that soy can offer some protection against sun damage and, in turn, certain skin cancers.
Green tea has long been lauded for its health-boosting properties. It contains catechins which are thought to benefit skin in several ways. Firstly, they can help to reduce redness associated with sun exposure — by up to 25%, according to initial studies — and it’s also believed that catechins improve skin’s moisture, softness, plumpness and elasticity, thanks to their powerful antioxidant profile.
Tomatoes, and most other red or orange-hued fruits and vegetables, are loaded with vitamin C and contain antioxidant carotenoids, which are boosted by healthy fats. The lycopene and lutein in tomatoes are thought to protect against a range of common skin assailants, including sun damage, drying and premature wrinkling. Because carotenoid’s properties are improved by healthy fats, consider pairing tomatoes with extra virgin olive oil, nuts or avocado.