As a conscious consumer equally passionate about healthy living, nutrition, and *ahem* cosmetics, I have learned that good beauty products can be of some help to improve our appearance, but they will never replace the importance of our bodies receiving nutrients from whole foods. Several studies have highlighted the critical impact that nutrition has on our skin and how the lack of certain nutrients makes our skin more vulnerable to certain conditions. In addition, during the past few years there has been increased interest in a variety of popular diets (Weight Watchers, Abs Women, Bonus Years, Vegan, Paleo, etc.). It seems to me that this has caused much confusion as to what is really good for our bodies and what is not.
Thankfully, when searching for foods containing nutrients that are most beneficial for healthy skin, hair and nails, most nutritionists and dermatologists seem to agree about the benefits offered by the following foods:
1. Avocados and Olive Oil
I am very glad avocados have become a more popular food because they are an excellent source of Vitamin E and healthy fats, in addition to containing fiber and Vitamin C. Personally, I eat them almost every day. Vitamin E is a fat-soluble antioxidant that has been found to have photoprotective qualities. It provides some protection against UV radiation and it also prevents inflammatory, UV-caused damage to the skin. In addition to being a great source of Vitamin E, olive oil is also rich in polyphenolic compounds, antioxidant substances that fight free radicals and therefore help in preventing premature aging. Vitamin E is also a very effective topical skincare ingredient.
One of my favorite skincare products, argan oil, is packed with Vitamin E and works as a fantastic skin moisturizer for people with combination and oily skin types, as it has sebum-regulating properties. It also works wonders when applied on damaged/brittle hair.
2. Leafy Greens
I’m sure you saw this one coming! Leafy greens — especially spinach and kale — are an exceptional source of phytonutrients. In particular, spinach offers two nutrients, lutein and beta-carotene, which have been shown to promote the skin’s elasticity. Leafy greens also provide Vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that helps with repairing the skin from any damage caused by exposure to UV rays and environmental toxins. Vitamin C also helps to boost collagen production, promoting the skin’s firmness and elasticity. We just cannot skip on the greens, folks.
Tip: If you have a hard time eating your greens because you don’t like the taste of them, try to sauté them in a little grass-fed butter, such as unsalted Kerry Gold butter, available at most grocery stores across America and Europe. Add a pinch of sea salt and garlic powder to taste. If you are lactose intolerant, you can use ghee instead of butter. Ghee has the same benefits of grass-fed butter but it is almost entirely free of the milk solids present in butter. If you have to avoid dairy products all together, you can use coconut oil, (not virgin, but expeller-pressed coconut oil, as it has no coconut flavor to it).
3. Fermented Foods
Many skin conditions (acne included) may be caused by an unhealthy gut, which is unable to properly digest the foods we eat and promote the absorption of nutrients. Fermented foods introduce healthy bacteria into our gut, allowing the gut to function better and improve our overall health as they provide probiotics, vitamins and enzymes. Some studies have found rosacea and other skin conditions to be triggered by an inflamed, unhealthy gut. Glutathione (GSH) is a byproduct of fermentation and it is a potent antioxidant (also present in avocados). Fermenting foods is also an inexpensive, easy process. I must admit that I was not a big fan of sauerkraut, but after reading about the benefits of eating fermented foods I have started to eat it often.
Nuts are true nutrition powerhouses. They are rich in omega fatty acids, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. In particular, Brazil nuts contain selenium, which has been found to be particularly beneficial for the hair and scalp, especially when dry or prone to dandruff. Like avocados and olive oil, nuts are a great source of Vitamin E, which carries all the benefits mentioned above. Pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of zinc, which has been shown to be impressively beneficial in acne patients.
Tip: For full nutritional benefits, nuts should be consumed raw and should be properly prepared by soaking. Soaking nuts overnight helps to rid them of the antinutrients that make them difficult to digest. Prepare the nuts in a similar manner as you would beans and other legumes. Soak the nuts overnight (for at least 7 hours) in filtered water with one tablespoon of sea salt. Once they are soaked, drain the water and rinse them off. Then allow them to dry in the oven at a temperature no higher than 150 F for 12-24 hours, stirring occasionally. They will also taste better!
Egg yolks contain an especially important nutrient called biotin, which is a B Vitamin (B7). Low levels of biotin may result in brittle nails and hair loss, while healthy levels of biotin may actually reverse such conditions. However, in order to get the full benefits of eating eggs you should try to purchase pastured eggs from a local farm, where the chickens are truly cage free and have access to sunlight, grass and bugs. Unhealthy chickens do not produce healthy eggs! If vegan, you can obtain your biotin intake from peanuts.
If you are ready to introduce some healthy, nutrient-dense foods into your diet, remember that it is not only important to add nutrient-dense foods to our diet, but that we also need to eliminate foods that do not offer any benefits, such as processed foods. Moreover, healthy skin, hair and nails also depend on other health and lifestyle factors such as: food allergies, food intolerances, sleep habits, exercise habits, stress management and water intake. Some medications may also carry side effects that impact our appearance. All factors are very important, and only by keeping balance can maintain healthy, glowing skin, hair and nails.
Disclaimer: I am glad to have had the opportunity to share with you the latest results of my personal research, but please note that I am not a medical doctor and I do not offer medical advice. The information provided above is offered for information purposes only, and it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Photo credits: Lilly Wallace