Published 4 months ago, by Roeland Pater

The old saying “you are what you eat” rings truer than ever when it comes to your skin's health. Your skin in a reflection of your lifestyle — from what you eat to how often you exercise. Certain foods and substances can be especially damaging to the skin, while others can keep it youthful and glowing. That’s why it’s important to know what to avoid and what to get more of. Read on for foods you should, or should not consume when it comes to your skin.

What to avoid:

Sugar

The problem lies in inflammation. Sugar rapidly breaks down into glucose in our bodies causing insulin levels to spike and plummet, a process that causes something called glycation to occur. During glycation, sugar bonds with proteins in our body and produces AGE molecules. These molecules are known to damage the important skin proteins, elastin and collagen, responsible for keeping skin firm and elastic. When these proteins are damaged, skin becomes brittle and dry, two factors which promote the appearance of aging. 

Dairy

There are many studies that illustrate the correlation between dairy consumption and acne. According to Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 47,355 women found a positive association with acne for intake of total milk and skim milk. The issue appears to be the hormones present in milk that trigger oil production in our skin. While it can be difficult to resist a morning latte, many people who cut dairy from their diet report clearer skin.

Fried foods

While some fats can be beneficial to our skin, fried fats are damaging. This is because when oils are heated to high temperatures, they oxidize, which causes free radicals to form. Free radicals are molecules that damage our cells and can lead to premature aging and, in some cases, disease. So as a general rule, it’s a good idea to stay away from deep fried foods of all kinds and seek out good fats instead (more on that below).

Alcohol

Alcohol is damaging to the skin because it is a natural diuretic, which means that it is very dehydrating. Moisture is essential for keeping skin healthy and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. That’s why after a long night of drinking, you may experience dry, sallow looking skin. In small doses, alcohol can be beneficial to our health, but for healthier and clearer skin, it’s important to drink in moderation.

High glycemic index foods

The glycemic index is a measure of how carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels. Foods that are high on the glycemic index cause a large spike in blood sugar levels, which causes inflammation in the body and triggers the production of sebum, the oil responsible for clogging our pores. Foods on the low end of the glycemic index do not cause a large spike in blood sugar levels, which means they cause less inflammation and are easier for our body to break down steadily over time. This is why many dermatologists and dieticians advocate for a low-glycemic diet. Or, in other words, a diet rich in vegetables and low in processed, sugary foods.

What to get more of:

Fermented foods

A low-glycemic diet is one part of the picture but new research is also tapping into our gut health and its role in how we break down and process sugars. The microbes in our gut, mostly residing in our colons, live off the fiber in the foods we digest. It’s estimated that we all have approximately 100 trillion of these bacteria in our colon and that they are responsible for how well our bodies break down and absorb the nutrients in our food. Their makeup can also be cultivated and changed by the way we eat. Evidence suggests that eating fermented foods containing probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can promote so-called “good” bacteria in our gut that helps ease our digestion. And when our digestion is working properly our body doesn’t need to eliminate toxins in other ways, including through our skin.

Vegetables

Vegetables are low on the glycemic index and contain vital fiber and vitamins that we need for healthy skin. Kale, dark green leafy vegetables, red and yellow peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots are especially good for our skin. Howard Murad, MD, celebrity dermatologist explains that vitamin A present in dark green vegetables and orange produce evens our skin tone by helping regulate how our skin sheds dead cells.

Fruits

While fruits often score higher on the glycemic index, they are also rich in vitamins and minerals that can contribute to radiant skin. Most berries contain tons of vitamin A and C that help our skin fight UV aging. Vitamin C is an especially powerful antioxidant that prevents free radical damage. Other fruits like kiwi, oranges, grapes and grapefruit also contain valuable doses of Vitamin C and other nutrients, and, not to mention, make for a good morning snack.

Good fats

As mentioned above, certain fats can promote the appearance of non-greasy, lustrous skin, as counterintuitive as it may sound. Unsaturated and monounsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids that are found in many fish such as salmon and seeds such as chia and flax seeds, have anti-inflammatory properties and help rebuild skin cells, resulting in less skin dryness and irritation. Olive oil, walnuts and avocado are other great sources of nourishing “good fats”.