Food For Thought


There is an omnipresent temptation with food that surrounds us every day, especially as the holidays approach. As of late, I’ve found myself glued to the television watching The Great British Baking Show holiday edition while my mouth salivates for whatever goodies they happen to be making. At the same moment my stomach is egging me on to reach for another cookie, I can feel my skin starting to pulsate with the dull ache of a new pimple festering below the surface. For as obvious as it might seem, the connection between what we eat and how our skin responds has been glossed over for decades as a lot of doctors’ dietary knowledge is fairly elementary. Recently I’ve begun to see more and more documentation of the skin/food connection.

Sugar seems to be one dietary element that does have a bit more research behind its effects on skin, specifically aging, through years of diabetic studies. When sugars like fructose and glucose are present in the system they begin to attack important bits like proteins and lipids. Eventually, these sugars form a bond and stick like glue to these fats and proteins through the process of glycation. Over time this can produce appropriately names AGEs or advanced glycation end products that ultimately make those things that are critical for youthful looking skin, ie: collagen and elastin, stiff, inflexible and brittle. If that wasn’t bad enough when AGEs are present they’re also creating free radicals that damage healthy cells.

This doesn’t mean go try a low- or no-carb diet though. Carbs are needed to supply cells with energy in order to function normally. In fact, a study put out in 2006 reported that glycation actually doubled on these types of restricted diets. It’s a natural biological process that we can’t avoid so eat mindfully, cutting out refined sugar for more whole grains.

Low-fat diets are another beast. They are thought to be good for maintaining cardiovascular health and for losing weight. When you cut down on the essential fatty acids your skin is missing out on a huge component of its cellular structure and they become less pliable. These two studies (Skin Wrinkling: Can Food Make A Difference?, Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women) show that when levels of polyunsaturated fats are higher the skin is less wrinkled, dry, and with few marked abnormalities.

Like fats, if you practice a low-protein diet you’re starving your skin, and your entire body, of a basic building block of its composition. Depending on what you read there are variances in the amount of protein a person should ingest. One thing is certain, though, that if you aren’t getting enough it will show in your skin and hair. Skin can become red, dry, and even split. In severe cases, skin depigmentation has even been noticed. Brittle nails, thinning hair, and faded hair color can also happen.

It’s a shame that there isn’t more research available that really dives deep into specific skin ailments and their correlation with food. After reading hundreds of pages of studies from all different medical disciplines, here’s what I’ve learned: everything in moderation. If you maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet that includes all the food groups you will ultimately be doing the best you can for your skin. This is a frustratingly simple idea that so many have a hard time implementing. I guess Hippocrates had it right when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”