Monday, October 31, 2016

Nutrition Tips for Glowing Skin

In our modern culture of health and fitness, we increasingly seek natural solutions to our beauty problems. Rather than being prescribed an anti-acne pill by a dermatologist or getting a face-lift to reverse the signs of aging, we pursue beauty from the inside out, sucking up green smoothies and massaging oatmeal and honey masks onto our skin like our lives depend on it.

These "natural" approaches to skin care are a healthy start, but no all-natural, all-organic juice or mask will cure the problems instilled by an unhealthy diet. I am no nutritionist, but like many of you, I've experienced the innumerable skin care woes caused by eating a diet laden with processed chemicals and unhealthy fats.

The simple fact is that one green juice won't fix a lifetime of eating greasy pizza and sugary cupcakes day and night. That isn't to say we can't eat these things ever - but good nutrition requires that we have them in moderation, not in excess.

As a college girl, I know how hard it can be to balance your desire for healthy, glowing skin with your need to navigate the dining hall with minimal effort. Chances are, if you're a working millennial woman, you also know how hard it can be to eat healthy when you're pressed for time.

I pulled these nutrition tips out of the realms of the Internet with you guys in mind: the busy, stressed, overworked women who want beautiful skin, but don't know if they have the time to get it. These tips encourage a common sense approach to healthy eating that will help your skin glow from the inside out - without you having to spend hours stressing over what to eat for dinner.

1. Drink more water.

The average adult's body comprises 50-65% water, so it's no wonder that dehydration can have such terrible effects on our general health. Water activates our organ function every morning, keeps our digestive tract running smoothly, and flushes dangerous toxins and waste out of our bodies. If we don't drink enough water, our skin might show the signs by losing its elasticity, developing flaky dry patches, or even breaking out if bacteria isn't being flushed out of your pores properly.

Staying well-hydrated helps to give our skin that healthy glow we're all craving. If you're like me and you're guilty of not drinking enough water, you can try many tips and tricks to make drinking water more appealing. For example, you might have caught word of the "detox water" trend that's been making waves online for awhile now. Simply infuse your water with healthy ingredients like lemon slices, frozen berries, cucumber, and/or mint to add a delicious taste that will motivate you to drink more. 

Alternatively. you could try setting goals for how much water you'll drink every day, and rewarding yourself when you reach them. Maybe by noon you want to have finished half a bottle of water. If the clock strikes 12 and you've reached your goal, you can reward yourself with a small treat, such as a dark chocolate square. (See #4 for the reasons why you should be eating dark chocolate!)

2. Eat more probiotics.

It's been said that digestive health is intricately linked to the well-being of every other system in our body - in other words, when our gut is healthy and happy, we're healthy and happy, too! When our gut health is poor, however, an imbalance of bacteria in our stomachs can set off a whirlwind of skin problems, from acne to eczema. 

You've probably heard about probiotics in their supplement form, whether because your doctor turned you onto them like mine did, or because you read about the latest celebrity nutritionist to praise them. But what you might not know is that you can get probiotics in your diet naturally, too. The most obvious source of probiotics in any girl's diet is fermented foods. 

When you think of the word "fermented," your mind probably goes to one of two places: either straight to wine (which, yes, becomes alcoholic through the process of fermentation), or to some weird health food with a strange name, like kimchi or kombucha. You might not realize that a lot of ordinary foods are fermented, too! Pickles, yogurt, and sauerkraut are all fermented foods that contain probiotics, just to name a few. 

However, if the thought of eating any of these foods sets your stomach the wrong way, you can always take a probiotic supplement separately from your meal. Brands like Culturelle offer simple capsules containing millions of healthy, gut-boosting bacteria (but in all honesty, CVS brand works just as well).

3. Swap coffee for tea.

Giving up coffee is the furthest thing from my mind on an average day - and many studies suggest that coffee has its own unique health benefits as well. But as far as healthy, hydrated skin goes, you might benefit from swapping tea for your afternoon pick-me-up.

Many people believe that coffee dehydrates the body, which, as we learned earlier, can have negative effects on your skin. Tea, on the other hand, hydrates your skin - and each variety has its own unique properties that can be used to target your specific skin issues. And, as a bonus, many different varieties of tea have been linked to weight loss, craving suppression, healing PMS symptoms, and more!

Green tea is often touted as the gold standard by the fitness industry. but depending on your goals, another tea might be a better choice to help you achieve healthy, glowing skin. For example, mint tea can help cure greasy skin, while lemon or chamomile might help you wind down and prevent stress-related breakouts. If your goal is to reduce inflammation and redness, you might want to try black or cinnamon teas, which both have anti-inflammatory properties. 

4. Munch on dark chocolate.

It's time to bust that old myth that chocolate causes acne: it doesn't. Any junk food in excess could contribute to poor skin quality, but chocolate won't universally provoke a breakout in anyone who eats it. In actuality, dark chocolate in particular offers many beneficial properties for both your skin and overall health.

For one thing, dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants, a fancy word for nutrients that enrich your skin as well as the rest of your body. Chocolate also reduces stress, which - depending on the cause of your breakouts - might actually help you prevent rather than provoke acne. Finally, dark chocolate can improve your circulation, helping to give your skin a rosy appearance. Taking all of that into consideration, I see no reason why I shouldn't be reaching for a bag of Ghiradelli chocolate squares right now...

Of course, nothing as sugary and sweet as chocolate is good for you in enormous quantities, but treating yourself to a small square of dark chocolate everyday will help you get your sweet fix and maintain a healthy glow.

5. Go full fat.

A couple decades ago, the government declared that fat was the root of all nutritional evil. As a result, low-fat and fat-free options exploded in the processed food industry. What a lot of Americans didn't realize, however, was that these seemingly better-for-you food options actually came with their own nutritional woes. To compensate for the loss of texture and flavor that the absence of fat produced in these foods, companies started adding extra sugars and preservatives to restore the prior taste. 

Today, we know that chemical additives and sugar have worse effects on our bodies than fat ever could, yet low-fat and fat-free options still populate the grocery aisle. When it comes to our skin, the sugars and chemicals in these low-fat and fat-free options can cause a host of problems. Omega-3 fatty acids, on the other hand - a.k.a. "healthy fats" - reduce inflammation, hydrate and protect the skin from sun damage, and even support strong nails and shiny hair. 

Some of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish and eggs - but if you're a vegetarian (like me!) or vegan, or allergic to either, there are many plant-based sources of Omega-3s as well. Flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and avocados all supplement your body with Omega-3s. If fish, seeds, or eggs just aren't your thing, Omega-3s are also sold in a convenient capsule form that you can take as a supplement. Just hit up your local Whole Foods or other health store and venture into the vitamin aisle for your fatty acid fix.

6. Get your protein.

If you're an avid follower of all things beauty, you've probably heard of collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body. Collagen keeps your skin strong and smooth, and its production declines with age - hence its presence in many anti-aging serums and procedures. 

While cosmetic procedures like laser treatment can stimulate collagen production, some consider these procedures expensive, vain, or unnatural. Luckily, supplementing your diet with plenty of protein can help your body build collagen naturally, keeping your skin supple and wrinkle-free.

Though meat is an obvious source of protein, your consumption of animal products should be kept to a minimum to reduce inflammation in your body. Thankfully, plant-based protein has equally beneficial effects on the body. Regardless of what you might have heard, it's also easy to find and generally affordable. Beans, lentils, whole grains, and soy products can all be purchased at an ordinary grocery store, won't break the bank, and are the perfect foods to eat on Meatless Mondays (or every day if you're a veg like me).  

7. Eat the rainbow.

Brightly colored fruits and veggies tend to be rich in vitamins that give them their vibrant hues. Every vitamin in the body serves a different purpose toward producing healthy skin, so it's essential to include as many of them as possible in your diet. A great way to eat as many vitamins as possible is to try to eat the full rainbow of fruits and vegetables.

For example, a form of Vitamin A called beta-carotene gives carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins their orange shade, while Vitamin E can be found in leafy greens. Both of these vitamins perform essential functions in your body's skin health. Vitamin E protects the skin from harmful free radicals, which have been linked to aging, while beta-carotene promotes the development of skin cells, allowing your skin to repair itself after significant damage.

That covers orange and green, but there are fruits and veggies in every color of the rainbow, each of them with their own unique nutritional benefits. Try eating eggplants or purple potatoes for violet, tomatoes and strawberries for red, yellow peppers and bananas for yellow, and blueberries for blue...the possibilities are endless, but the more variety you get in your diet, the more diverse nutrients your skin will absorb! 

8. Reduce your dairy consumption.

There's a strong connection between the consumption of dairy, and unhealthy skin conditions such as acne, inflammation, and aging. The key to this connection? The hormones rampant in our dairy cows. 

Hormones such as progesterone and insulin growth hormone often make their way into milk because in order to produce milk, cows have to be either pregnant or nursing. In many people, the increased levels of hormones caused by consuming dairy products can cause inflammation, breakouts, and a collection of other skin issues. 

Granted, not all breakouts are universally caused by the consumption of dairy. A quick way to tell if your breakouts are caused by a hormonal imbalance is to check where your zits appear most frequently. Pimples that cluster near the chin and mouth tend to be caused by hormones. If you're uncertain if dairy is affecting your skin negatively, try an elimination diet - i.e. a 12-week fast from dairy - and see if your acne clears up in that time frame. If you start to see an improvement after 12 weeks (the average life of a skin cell), then chances are your dairy consumption might be affecting the quality of your skin. 

If you're hesitant to cut dairy out of your diet altogether, it's probably because those "Got Milk?" ads from your childhood stressed the importance of calcium. While calcium certainly plays an essential function in your overall nutrition, strengthening your bones and protecting from osteoporosis, calcium can also be found in many non-dairy sources. Whether or not you cut dairy out of your diet completely, try incorporating more soy, beans, nuts, and leafy greens, rather than relying exclusively on milk products for calcium. Your skin will thank you for it! 

9. Eat a high-fiber diet.

In your digestive system, your colon is largely responsible for transporting waste out of the body. Eating a high-fiber diet helps keep your colon running smoothly and prevents the buildup of toxins that are contributing to your skin care issues. When your body doesn't properly eliminate toxins, these toxins can build up and cause inflammation, acne, and a whole host of other skin problems, resulting in an unhealthy and unhappy you. 

We usually think of whole grains as the best source of fiber. While white carbs are stripped of all but the innermost seed of the plant, whole grains contain the husk and all the other parts of the plant that our body cannot digest, adding bulk to our waste and clearing out our colon. However, beware of foods labeled "multi-grain," as this word allows companies to evade the strict regulation of the terms "whole wheat" and "whole grain." Multi-grain products must contain multiple grains, but do not guarantee that these grains are whole. Only foods marked "whole grain" or "whole wheat" are guaranteed to contain all the fibrous parts of the plant that we need for a healthy colon.

Whole grains are a reliable source of fiber - but are not the only source essential to a healthy, complete diet. You need fruits and vegetables in your diet just as much as (if not more than) you need complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread and pasta. Veggies such as beans, broccoli, corn, peas, and sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, while apples, bananas, berries, peaches, and pears make up some of the most fibrous fruits. 

For added benefit, be sure to eat the skin! Both fiber and nutrients are concentrated in the skins of many fruits and veggies - so when you're having that baked sweet potato or Cortland apple, think twice before peeling.

10. Put superfoods on your face.

Though no skin care product or "miracle mask" will replace a healthy diet, supplementing your skin care regime with superfoods helps you absorb added nutrients. Your skin has the unique ability to absorb additional nutrients through its pores, the tiny entryways into the body that dot your skin. That's why so many companies fortify their skin care products with helpful vitamins and minerals.

You might be wondering what exactly a "superfood" is. The term superfood is far from scientific, but loosely defined, it refers to a food that packs a whopping punch of nutrients into a small serving. Kale, matcha, honey, chia seeds, acai, and coconut oil have all been named as "superfoods" at one point in their nutrition careers, but there's a host of other fruits, veggies, and healthy fats that have earned themselves that moniker at one point or another.

Many skin care products using superfood ingredients have already hit the market. However, if you're not in the business of shelling out tons of money for your skin care products, you might try DIY-ing a superfood face mask out of ingredients you already have in your kitchen instead. A simple, dermatologist-approved recipe from Buzzfeed involves honey, lemon, and baking soda. When its ingredients are mixed together, this face mask has hydrating, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial properties and will clear your skin of excess sebum (a.k.a. oil).

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