The Best Foods For Clear Skin: A Naturopathic Doctor Explains

Photo: Darren Muir

Ann Wigmore, one of America's pioneering holistic health experts, once said the food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison. Skin, the largest detox organ in the body responds differently—think glowing skin or red and inflamed—depending on the food we ingest.

Stop to think for a minute about the massive amount of work the skin has to do as our largest detox organ in both ridding the bad from our bodies and absorbing the good. Supporting this process becomes critical to the healthy balance of your skin. As a naturopathic physician and registered dietitian, I believe the first and most important thing anyone can do to improve skin is turn the attention on to diet. Focusing on skin health means clean foods, more antioxidants (the inflammation fighters in our body) and less toxins and free radicals (an inflammation trigger in the body). This is one of many reasons why vegetables and fruits are vital to health, and sugars and alcohols can wreak havoc on us. Many people with acne, psoriasis, or eczema have subclinical gut inflammation or leaky gut; thus, many of the best foods for skin health involve reducing inflammation and supporting growth and repair of the gut.

Here are some of the top foods for improving the look, feel, and function of your body’s largest organ for detox: skin!

1. Broccoli.

This powerhouse vegetable not only has antioxidants and cancer-fighting properties; it is also a great source of naturally occurring vitamin C and indole-3-carbinol. Indole-3-carbinol can naturally help balance hormones that, when not balanced, lead to acne, rosacea, and other common skin problems. Vitamin C plays an essential role in the production of collagen, a vital protein in the skin matrix involved in skin repair and skin integrity. Furthermore, vitamin C is now being studied for its role in protecting the skin from UV radiation damage, which is hopeful for helping sun spots and wrinkles fade and promoting youthful-looking skin.

2. Almonds.

Not all nuts are created equal, and when it comes to skin, almonds move to the top of the list. Almonds are a great source of fat-soluble vitamin E. The barrier function of our skin, made up of a layer of healthy lipids (fats) requires vitamin E for function. Therefore, high amounts of foods with vitamin E help to support that bilayer and protect our skin from oxidative stress and UV damage. Because vitamin E is fat soluble and can be easily stored in our body, it is best to meet your needs through foods rather than supplementation when possible. Vitamin E supplements often are synthetic versions of the vitamin and contain unwanted stabilizers and fillers.

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3. Water.

No secret here, dehydration changes the appearance, feel, and function of skin. Remember how important skin is for detox? Well, water is the essential nutrient in this process. Generally, drinking eight glasses or 2 liters of water a day is a good place to start; however, some people may need more with exercise and hot temperatures. Alkaline water and enhanced water (such as detox water and chlorophyll waters) are great ways to give the skin that extra boost from your daily water intake.

For skin health make sure you are not counting your coffee, juices, teas, and the like into your total water intake.

4. Omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids like those found in cold-water fish, fish oil, and fatty fish have been shown in studies to reduce free radical damage through their anti-inflammatory effects. Free radicals act like scavengers that attack the collagen of the skin; antioxidants are the antidote to those free radicals reducing their damaging effect. There are actually studies that show maternal intake of essential fatty acids is inversely associated with risk for childhood eczema. An important point here is to specifically increase omega-3; think fish oil and fish intake (not omega-6, which is found in some seeds and plant sources). Correcting omega-3-to-omega-6 ratios is a direct way to balance skin inflammation.

5. Berries.

Berries are well-known for their high antioxidant content to combat the damage done by UV rays to our skin. Furthermore, they are also loaded with skin-essential vitamin C for collagen production; however, berries can also play an important role in balancing the good and bad bacteria of the gut by acting as a naturally occurring prebiotic fiber.

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6. Prebiotics.

We are now more than ever linking the relationship of our gut flora to healthy skin. Foods that are high in prebiotics such as leeks, onions, garlic, and dandelion greens create a gut environment that is more conducive to growing and sustaining a healthy balance of the probiotics of the gut.

7. Probiotic foods.

Foods high in probiotics such as kimchee, sauerkraut, kombucha, and yogurt (for those not sensitive to dairy) are essential to maintaining a healthy balance of gut bacteria and preventing leaky gut, which is a major cause of skin inflammation. Imbalances in gut bacteria can be the cause of eczema, one of the most common skin disorders in children and adults. Recently there have been a number of studies that conclude that further understanding of the skin microbiome is necessary to gain insight into skin disorders and their management. Taking action to balance gut bacteria includes eating foods high in probiotics and prebiotics and avoiding foods high in sugars, which promote the overgrowth of commensal bacteria to unwanted elevated levels.

8. Low histamine foods.

Histamines are natural substances produced by the body and present in many foods. They are responsible for some reactions in our body such as hives, for example. Additionally, they are released by the body during times of stress and in the presence of allergies. The release of histamine can cause flushing, rashes, and itching. If your skin is very reactive to foods high in histamines such as aged foods, alcohol, citrus, and smoked foods, reducing these foods can reduce your skin's reactivity. Eating a low histamine diet for a few weeks can help identify whether skin concerns are related to this group of foods.

These are just a few.

Here's what happened when mbg's beauty editor cut caffeine and gave up dairy in the name of skin health.

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