1. Healthy Fats & Oils
If there is only one thing you do to improve your diet, getting your fats right should be priority number one. They make you pretty inside and out. Every cell in the human body has a lipid (fat) layer around it, and the structural integrity of that membrane is dependent upon the quality of the fats you eat. So, as far as fats go, the saying “you are what you eat”, has never been so important.
The benefits of healthy fats are numerous. Good fats are a wonderful source of long-burning fuel for your muscles, particularly the heart. Your brain is mostly fat; it keeps your thinking clear and puts you in a good mood. Fats help regulate healthy hormone levels. They allow you to absorb nutrients from food, especially vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats are important for maintaining healthy blood lipid levels and for healthy liver and gallbladder function. Healthy fats make your complexion glow. Without them, your skin would be as arid and cracked as the Sahara Desert. Fats keep you feeling full after a meal. Eating healthy fats will not make you fat – just more beautiful!
Saturated fats are skin superfoods because their chemical bonds are very stable and they aren’t prone to oxidation (cellular damage). They can help prevent wrinkles, dryness, and sagging skin. The saturated fats to enjoy in cooking include butter, ghee, tallow and suet from grass-fed beef and lamb, lard from chicken, goose and duck fat, coconut oil, and palm oil.
Omega-3 fats are a type of fats known for their incredible ability to fight inflammation. However, your body cannot make these, so they are considered “essential” and must be obtained from food sources. Increasing Omega-3 fats, especially in place of Omega-6 fats, is very healthy for the skin, too. Omega-3 fats are quite abundant in cold water fatty fish such as sardines and salmon. They are also found in grass-fed and pasture-raised meats, egg yolks, algae, nuts, and seeds such as chia and flax.
Omega-9 fats are relatively stable, like the saturated fats, and good for use in cooking at low temperatures. The most common is olive oil, as well as the oils from macadamias, almonds, pecans, cashews, peanuts, and avocados.
The fats to avoid completely are those that contain mostly Omega-6 fats. They are very unstable and extremely likely to become oxidized (rancid). They are highly processed and a recipe for inflammation and loss of natural beauty. Stay away from safflower oil, canola/rapeseed oil, margarine, sunflower oil, corn oil, vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, soybean oil, grapeseed oil, cottonseed oil, and any fake butter or vegetable oil products. If you have any in your house, throw them away now. And be very wary of restaurant foods – most of them are cooked in these beauty stealing oils.
You’ve seen rust on a car or an old nail, right? That’s a chemical reaction called oxidation; and it can happen inside your body and your skin, too. It’s one of the main reasons why your body ages. Oxidation is due to lifestyle and environmental factors such as pollution, pesticides, ionizing radiation, alcohol intake, smoking, poor nutrition, obesity, and sun exposure – and many of these are under your control.
Antioxidants thwart oxidation. A diet rich in antioxidants will help protect and stabilize your cell membranes and thereby prevent cellular and tissue damage. These nutrient powerhouses have the ability to counteract many disease processes, combat stress, and slow aging. Antioxidants also protect your skin from sun damage and wrinkles.
Plant foods are very high in antioxidants. These antioxidants are the thousands of phytonutrients responsible for the color, taste, smell, and unique characteristics of plants. A rainbow of natural colors at every meal is a great sign of a healthy, antioxidant-rich diet that will nourish you and protect your skin. Yet another way you can become prettier by the plate!
Spices and herbs are the most potent antioxidant foods. They are ultra-concentrated sources of phytonutrients. For example, curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, is often touted as “nature’s ibuprofen.” It has many antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antifungal properties. In addition, it’s also known to inhibit collagenase and elastase, the infamous enzymes that break down the skin’s collagen and elastin structure and consequently cause sagging and wrinkles.
Berries, fruits, nuts, seeds, sprouts, dark chocolate (YES!!!), and vegetables from the land and sea are additional common foods that get an A+ for their high antioxidant values. The beverages including green and herbal teas, coffee, fruit nectars, and fresh juices receive honorable mention, too.
A high-quality green powder is a good way to supplement with antioxidants, but whole foods should come first.
Vitamin C is probably the most well-known antioxidant. It is a water soluble vitamin found in many plants. Higher vitamin C intakes are associated with less wrinkles and skin dryness. Vitamin C also plays a very crucial role in the building and regulation of collagen (the framework of your skin). It has a very important role in wound healing, too, which is important because skin becomes much more thin and fragile with age. The best plant sources of vitamin C include bell peppers, guava, dark leafy greens, broccoli, brussels sprouts, kiwi, citrus fruits, and strawberries. Fresh herbs such as cilantro, chives, thyme, basil, and parsley are also high in vitamin C. The best vitamin C supplements are from plant sources like berries, not synthetic.
Did you notice that the plant foods that are the healthiest, most colorful, and highest in antioxidants are also naturally low in sugar and high in fiber? They’re the healthy carbohydrates! Refined carbs and starches, on the other hand, are usually beige in color and have no nutritional value – think bagels, pasta, cereal, donuts, chips, etc. They are high-glycemic and cause blood sugar dysregulation, which is a major player in weight issues, chronic diseases, and in the aging of the skin.
3. Fat-Soluble Vitamins
The fat-soluble vitamins include the vitamins A, D, E and K, which are found in the lipid components of both plant and animal foods. They are all antioxidants, too, and can be stored in the body’s tissues for future use.
Vitamin A stimulates the growth and integrity of your skin cells. Rough, dry skin is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency. Preformed vitamin A (the active form) comes from animal sources. It is found in liver, fish liver oil, kidney, egg yolks, and full-fat milk products like butter. Beta-carotene is the precursor of vitamin A found mostly in yellow, orange, and green vegetables. It is considered less preferable because it needs to be converted to vitamin A.
Vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin” because it is manufactured in your skin when in direct contact with the sun’s ultraviolet rays. It acts like a hormone in your body. There are numerous benefits to vitamin D, including making strong bones and teeth, strengthening the immune system, plus decreasing cancer, heart disease, the flu, infections, seasonal affective disorder, depression, lethargy, and aches and pains. While the sun is the best source of vitamin D, it occurs naturally in some foods including salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, egg yolks, butter, and liver. Plant foods like mushrooms and dark leafy greens have lesser amounts.
A quality cod liver oil supplement is considered a food, which provides a natural balance of vitamin A and vitamin D. It is also a good way to get in more anti-inflammatory Omega-3 fats.
Vitamin K2 tells the body to put calcium where it belongs, like into your bones and teeth instead of your arteries. It also prevents calcium from being deposited in your skin’s elastin fibers; keeping them from hardening and causing saggy wrinkles. Butter and other high-fat dairy products from grass-fed cows are the best sources of vitamin K2.
Vitamin E is the most abundant fat-soluble antioxidant found in the skin. It is a light yellow oil that keeps your body youthful by stabilizing the cell membranes and protecting the tissues most sensitive to oxidation, including your skin. It’s secreted on the skin’s surface through the sebum, an oily substance that coats the epidermis. Vitamin E is most plentiful from plant sources, especially in the oil from grains, seeds, and nuts (and fortunately where high levels of oxidative fats are found.) Whole food sources of vitamin E include spinach, turnip greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collards, kale, broccoli, and brussels sprouts.
4. Complete Proteins
Protein is what makes up the structural components of your body, including the cells, blood, muscles, organs, skin, and even bone. The protein you eat gets broken down during digestion into individual amino acids. The amino acids are then reassembled as parts of a new protein structure in your body. Once again, here’s a great example of how “you are what you eat”. So, the quality of your protein matters. The most nutrient-rich sources of protein are eggs, meats, nuts and seeds, seafood, legumes, and grass-fed dairy.
There are 22 amino acids, but 8 are considered “essential” (your body cannot make these on its own). Animal sources contain all 8. Plant sources contain some, but must be combined strategically to obtain all 8 essential amino acids. So, contrary to popular belief, beans as a protein source are second-rate. Having a healthy body and robust skin is dependent on eating complete proteins from animal products. Older adults with low protein intakes and vegetarians have more fragile skin and more wrinkles.
Meats from healthy, grass-fed animals are high in many nutrients, including easily absorbable iron, essential and non-essential fats, zinc, calcium, selenium, vitamin A, and many B vitamins – especially B12. But, as well as eating the muscle meats, you should consider adding in more organ meats into your diet, like liver, heart, and kidney. Organ meats are the most concentrated, densely packed food source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Ideally, you should enjoy them twice a week. If you can’t stomach liver, it comes in a desiccated (dried) form in capsules.
The main connective tissue protein in your body is collagen (there are at least 16 different types). In addition to your skin, collagen is in your eyes, heart, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. A healthy way to improve collagen status in your body is to add gelatin into your diet in the form of gelatin-rich bone broth used in soups, stews, and sauces. Beyond improving skin quality, it is well known for improving digestion and arthritis. Gelatin/collagen also comes in powdered supplement form.
Minerals are elements that come from the earth’s soil and water. They are often overlooked, however, minerals are absolutely necessary for a healthy body and to maintain youthful, vibrant skin. They are needed for both pH and electrolyte balance, proper nerve conduction, the movement of muscles, and enzyme function.
Magnesium is a mineral that’s necessary for over 300 biochemical reactions in your body. Unfortunately, most Americans are deficient in it. And you can’t be healthy (or very pretty) without it. Magnesium is particularly crucial for maintaining normal muscle and nerve functions; it keeps your heart rhythm steady and promotes normal blood pressure. Magnesium also supports a healthy immune system, keeps bones and teeth strong, helps to regulate blood sugar levels, and is involved in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. It promotes restful sleep, muscle relaxation, and helps calm anxiety. Magnesium is also required to make hundreds of your enzymes work. If farm soils are well-mineralized, then leafy green vegetables, seeds, tree nuts, and whole grains are fairly good sources of magnesium. Real, unrefined sea salt is a nice source of magnesium and many other trace minerals. Kelp and sea vegetables are great sources, too. Magnesium supplements are often needed for adequate levels. Magnesium glycinate is highly absorbable in pill form. Epsom salt baths and magnesium oils for the skin are excellent options, too.
Zinc is necessary for the body to use vitamin A. It is also necessary for DNA repair. In the skin, it improves wound healing. Organ meats and muscle meats have the highest amounts. Pumpkin seeds and other nuts can also be high in zinc as well.
Selenium works in synergy with vitamin E to forestall aging by helping to retain youthful elasticity in body tissues. Brazil nuts are especially high in selenium. Animal sources of selenium include liver, butter, eggs, most fish (especially salmon, snapper, and halibut), seafood, and lamb.
Silica is a trace mineral that is necessary for collagen health. It also helps produce the water-containing components of the skin that keep it plump, such as hyaluronic acid. Food sources of silica include leeks, green beans, garbanzo beans, strawberries, cucumber, mango, celery, asparagus, and rhubarb.
Sulfur also significantly affects the production of collagen in the skin. It is also required for the synthesis of glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants your body produces for itself. Sulfur is found in animal foods such as egg yolks, meat, poultry, and fish. Plant foods include garlic, onions, brussels sprouts, and asparagus. Sulforaphane is a sulfur compound found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, garden cress, cauliflower, and some dark leafy greens.
A food known to be high in minerals is maca root (a vegetable similar to a radish). This nutritional dynamo contains the minerals iron, magnesium, iodine, copper, zinc, sodium, potassium, and calcium. It also has vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, and D, 20 free fatty acids, and unique compounds called macaenes and macamides. It is 13-16% protein (including 19 amino acids) and 8.5% fiber. Maca is one of only a handful of foods considered to be an “adaptogen” and is able to support and rejuvenate overwhelmed, tired adrenal glands and other aspects of the hormonal system. Maca has maintained a reputation for boosting energy, supporting athletic performance, increasing libido, balancing hormones, elevating mood and mental clarity, improving blood circulation, stimulating thyroid function, and enhancing skin tone. Maca is usually taken as a supplement in dried, powdered form.
Water isn’t a nutrient in itself, but it deserves special recognition because it’s the most healing substance on the planet. Water is the primary component in all the bodily fluids and involved in nearly every bodily function, so it’s absolutely necessary for good health and natural beauty. It allows nutrients and electrolytes to flow throughout your body and promotes proper elimination of toxins. It’s needed for energy and clear thinking. Hydration is vital to have supple, plump skin. Lack of adequate hydration has been linked to many chronic diseases, too.
On average, an adult requires about 12 cups worth of water per day, some of which can come from the food you consume. Physical activity level, body size, diet, climate, and diuretics all impact the amount of water needed. Paragraph
Clean water, directly from a spring or well, can be rich in many lovely minerals. Unfortunately, tap water is commonly contaminated with harmful chemicals such as chlorine and fluoride. It’s best to treat it with a carbon filter.