Alessandra Felice guides you to all the nutrients needed to keep your skin looking and feeling great.
Our skin is our largest organ and the first line of defence between our bodies and the outside world, protecting us from bacteria, viruses, pollution and chemical substances that we encounter daily. There are many factors that can impact skin health, such as hormonal changes and imbalances, genetic predisposition, chronic inflammatory or autoimmune conditions and ageing, but also lifestyle related factors, such as high and prolonged stress levels, lack of exercise, poor sleep patterns, smoking, low hydration and diet. Just as what we put on our skin is absorbed, enters the bloodstream and effects how skin looks, what we consume every day affects its structure and appearance.
For example, excessive consumption of refined sugars and artificial sweetener can cause an increase in inflammation in the body and high inflammatory molecules levels can lead to a breakdown in collagen and elastin that contribute to skin strength and elasticity. Highly refined sugar and trans fats consumption could also cause a raised free radicals and ‘advanced glycation end products’ production, which can cause inflammation too and hinder skin structure and appearance. Excessive caffeine consumption, whether from coffee or energy drinks, increases cortisol (main stress hormone in the body), which
then raises insulin levels, possibly leading to increased sebum production and breakouts in people with more sensitive and acne prone skin.
Luckily though, foods can also have a beneficial effect on our skin, as we can easily daily consume many nutrients that are involved in the formation of skin fibres, structure and in the protection of this amazing organ. Let’s take a look at some of the most skin loving nutrients…
Omega 3 rich foods
Chia and flaxseeds, walnuts, leafy greens, hemp seeds, algae, Brussels sprouts, vegetable oils
Essential fatty acids are, as the name suggests, an essential component of cell membranes, keeping them elastic and functioning well, as well as being natural moisturisers that help to reduce dryness, leaving the skin feeling and looking smoother and plumper.
They are also able to reduce inflammation levels in the body and have been found useful in conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne. Plus, they have been shown to be protective against sun damage.
Antioxidant rich foods
Berries, fruits, vegetables, cacao
Antioxidant compounds can help decrease the effects of environmental damage caused by sun exposure and pollution by protecting the skin against free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can damage our cells. These molecules can also speed up the appearance of signs of ageing like fine lines, wrinkles and dark age spots. While these are a natural part of getting older, as they occur when collagen and elastin production slows down, their appearance can be accelerated by the presence of free radicals.
For example, selenium (plant-based sources are Brazil nuts, wheat, brown rice, mushrooms) is an antioxidant mineral that helps protect the skin quality and elasticity from UV rays damage. And cacao is not only delicious but one of its constituents called theobromine acts as a vasodilator that helps to increase the flow of blood to the skin’s surface. The blood flow to the skin promotes healing from sun damage and cell renewal. Plus, it contains skin loving nutrients such as vitamin C, E, copper, zinc and magnesium.
Vitamin C rich foods
Bell peppers, kiwi, strawberries, oranges, papaya, broccoli, tomatoes, peas, kale
This vitamin is known to be a powerful antioxidant that not only protects the skin from free radical damage and can reduce the appearance of brown spots and pigmentation, but it’s also needed for the production of collagen.
Collagen is a structural protein that forms cartilage, ligaments, tendons, bones and skin. Together with elastin and keratin, it’s what gives our skin structure and elasticity. And vitamin C works in conjunction with other nutrients like the amino acids proline and lysine, to build collagen.
Vitamin E rich foods
Almonds, sunflower seeds, spinach, avocado, sweet potato, wheat germ, dark leafy greens, hazelnuts
Vitamin E is another essential nutrient for healthy collagen production, as it works with vitamin C to stimulate its formation. It’s also a main antioxidant present on the skin and protects cell membranes from damage by UV rays and environmental toxins.
Vitamin A and carotenoid rich foods
Carrot, squash, dark leafy greens, sweet potato, pumpkin, red pepper, apricot, mango, tomato, peach
Vitamin A is able to slow down the turnover of skin cells and increase the deposition of collagen, slowing the normal breakdown of your collagen and elastin associated with ageing. It can also increase the rate of wound healing and repair cellular structure.
Plus, it can improve the appearance of dark spots, pigmentation and acne by decreasing melanin granules and sebum production. Carotenoid rich foods get converted to retinol (active vitamin A) in the body and also have antioxidant effects on cells and skin.
Whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, algae, green leafy vegetables
Proteins are necessary for tissue repair and for the construction of new tissue. Every cell needs protein to maintain its life, including skin cells. Main structural proteins of hair, skin and nails, such as collagen, elastin and keratin, all contain different combinations of amino acids and some of these are essential ones, meaning they need to be obtained from diet. By eating a variety of whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and green leafy vegetables you’ll be able to hit your requirements without any trouble.
Copper containing foods
Sesame and sunflower seeds, cashews, mushrooms, soya beans, tempeh, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts, leafy greens
Copper peptides help to replenish and nourish the skin, making it look plumper and more hydrated. It can also help to activate antioxidants that protect against environmental damage and its peptides can be applied topically to the skin to increase collagen production.
Banana, oats, raisins, wheat, leeks, green beans, brown rice
This trace element is necessary for collagen formation, it can help to regenerate tissues and skin, delay the ageing process and it supports the binding of water molecules to cells. As we age, silica’s concentration in our tissues declines, so it’s important to include sources in our diet.
Zinc containing foods and other nutrients
Whole grains, beans, legumes, cacao, miso, nutritional yeast, broccoli, green beans
Zinc is necessary for protein and cell membranes structure, to transport vitamin A in the blood and it can promote wound healing. Plus, it encourages cell renewal and contributes to maintaining collagen structure.
Most of the nutrients mentioned also support the strengthening and growth of hair and nails. Essentials are: protein, fatty acids, zinc, vitamins A, C and E, antioxidants, selenium, but also B vitamins and iron. B vitamins like biotin and B5 are essential for hair and nails. Low levels and deficiencies lead to brittle nails and loss of hair.
Whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, green leafy vegetables, nutritional yeast, avocado, coconut, spirulina and sweet potatoes are foods containing them. Iron is needed for hair follicle growth cycles and for strengthening nails. Pair plant-based iron sources (lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashews, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables, dried apricots and figs, nettle, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, quinoa) with vitamin C rich foods to aid absorption.
And don’t forget about water!
Skin, hair, nails and all our cells need water to function as we are mostly made of water, in case you didn’t know. So keep hydrated throughout the day, whether with water or through herbal teas.
The beauty of using foods to nourish your skin means that often you can apply them directly and have a mini pampering session. You can make a face mask of mashed avocado, cacao powder and ground turmeric or mashed papaya, coconut yoghurt and turmeric to hydrate, soften and make skin naturally glow. You can apply coconut or avocado oil to the hair and leave overnight as a hair mask, then rinse out in the morning. Or make a homemade body scrub with ground oats, olive oil and sugar or ground coffee, cacao powder and coconut oil.
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Alessandra Felice (ND Dip CNM)
Alessandra is a nutritional therapist and medicinal chef, who trained with the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts in New York and the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London.