How much of what you eat REALLY affects your skin?

Let's explore the link between diet and skin health.


We’re familiar with the much-used phrase “You are what you eat” but how much of what we consume in our daily diets plays out in the health of our skin? Can you really make a tangible difference to the appearance of your skin by eating certain foods and avoiding others? “Yes” say the experts.

If you suffer with problem skin, then there are certain dishes including processed, fried and sugary foods which may be contributing to your underlying issues – particularly if its flare-ups of acne or rosacea you suffer from.

Studies show that diets with a high glycaemic load (which raise your blood glucose levels), or which include a lot of starch and sugar can often trigger breakouts and acne. There's also been studies that link dairy to acne and other skin conditions, although it's not clear whether it's the dairy itself or the hormones in milk which cause the reaction. So, which foods in particular do the experts recommend we stock-pile and which foods should we turn our backs on for the sake of our skin?

"For that ultimate skin boost, try and stick to a diet which includes high-quality lean proteins, fibre, healthy oils, raw fruits and vegetables." says GP and food expert Clare Bailey “These foods often fall into what we know as the Mediterranean diet group and the overall health benefits associated with this way of life are well documented. By adopting the Mediterranean diet, in addition to boosting your skin’s health, you can also expect some major health advantages. Studies have shown that the Mediterranean diet can prevent heart disease, strokes, Parkinson’s Disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as encourage weight-loss. What’s not to like about this diet?

Clare Bailey goes on "Foods like oily fish, fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, pulses, etc, tend to contain high-quality amino acids which are the building blocks for firm skin, so a diet rich in these foods can help your skin appear plumper and often younger. In addition to their anti-ageing properties, many of these foods also contain anti-inflammatory properties and are rich in antioxidants. This means they’re great at calming skin irritations and play a key role in defending the skin against environmental stressors."
So, which foods in particular should be added to our shopping lists according to Clare Bailey?

  • Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts and chia seeds
    All of these are ideal for a healthy snack or to add to a salad. They are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids which help provide building blocks for healthy skin cell function and new collagen production. These nuts and seeds are also packed with healthy vitamins and minerals like copper, zinc, vitamin A, C and E among others that help achieve glowing, smoother looking skin.
  • Oily fish like salmon and mackerel
    Oily types of fish like salmon and mackerel contain omega-3 fatty acids which are linked to reducing inflammation. This can help soothe break-outs, but also contribute to maintaining supple, soft skin. Oily fish is also a good source of high-quality protein, vitamin E and zinc which are all known to have positive effects on the overall health of your skin.

  • Kale and spinach
    Not only are these green favourites rich in Vitamin A, B and C, but kale and spinach also contain high levels of iron which is important for healthy skin. As with the previous foods, both contain anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. (Have you noticed the trend yet?) In general, the darker the green, the better, as that is an indicator it contains more nutrients.

  • Ginger
    Ginger contains around 40 antioxidant properties - it’s anti-inflammatory, antiviral and even antibacterial. This super root will help prevent free radical damage, (damage at a cellular level caused by UV rays, smoking and pollution) flare-ups and protects against ageing.

  • Avocados
    Avocados are high in healthy fats and are known to help keep skin flexible and moisturised. Studies also show that avocados contain compounds that may help protect your skin from sun damage. UV damage to your skin can cause wrinkles and other signs of ageing. (Obviously don’t rely on avocados to protect you from the sun – always use an SPF!)

By adding any of these super-skin boosting ingredients to your diet and aiming at eliminating processed foods, fast foods and sugar, it’s likely that you’ll notice a tangible improvement to the quality of your skin. However, to really get to the bottom of whether your diet is contributing to your skin condition, visit an experienced nutritionist who can review your diet patterns and/or help you with an elimination diet.