All foods are made up of a combination of macronutrients and micronutrients. As food passes through our body — from mouth, to stomach, to gut — it is used for fuel or for nutrition. Macronutrients are broken down to use as energy and fuel, the building blocks of our cells and essential fatty acids. Micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, are the functional nutrients used to keep cells healthy. Nutrition plays a huge role in managing skin and skin health.
It is important to understand how functional micronutrients affect your skin, but this doesn’t make supplements, pills and potions your gateway to the perfect complexion. Your secret weapon is in the recipe section of my book, The Healthy Skin Diet, which has been formulated to incorporate into your diet all the micronutrients that promote healthy and radiant skin.
VITAMIN A: A IS FOR ANTIOXIDANT
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin, important for producing healthy skin cells. It is an antioxidant that supports the production of collagen and elastin fibres, and helps protect against redness and pigmentation from sun damage. Not getting enough vitamin A can lead to dry skin and slower healing of wounds. Betacarotene is the red–orange pigment, found in plenty of fruit and vegetables, which then converts to vitamin A in the body. Some excellent sources of betacarotene are sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and dark leafy greens such as kale and spinach.
VITAMIN B7: HEALTHY SKIN COENZYME
Biotin, also known as B7, is one of the eight B vitamins that help us metabolise food for energy. Biotin is water soluble, so can’t be stored in the body; instead, it has to be consumed every day. It’s important for skin, hair and nail health and, although it is fairly uncommon to have a biotin deficiency, not getting enough vitamin B7 is associated with brittle nails, hair loss, and red, itchy, scaly rashes on the scalp. Biotin is found in abundance in many different foods, including yeast, brown rice, organ meats (liver and kidney), eggs and nuts.
CALCIUM: THERE’S A GLASS AND A HALF IN EVERY ONE OF US!
Calcium is not only vital for strong, healthy bones, it also helps the outermost layer of our skin to grow and repair, by regulating the production of sebum to hydrate and maintain moisture in the skin. In addition to milk and yoghurt, you can also get calcium from chia seeds, almonds, tinned sardines and salmon (with bones), beans and lentils.
VITAMIN C: FROM THE INSIDE OUT
It is quite well known that vitamin C plays a crucial role in collagen synthesis and protection against sun damage from UV rays. In recent times, topical skin treatments with vitamin C have become very popular; however, in my opinion, it is better to focus on getting adequate nutritional vitamin C so it can work its magic from within. Ingredients rich in vitamin C include capsicum (pepper), broccoli, tomato, parsley, guava, acerola (Barbados cherry) and blackcurrants.
COPPER: CRAFTING COLLAGEN
Copper is another antioxidant that protects skin from sun damage. This mineral is known to stimulate collagen maturation, therefore maintaining the skin’s thickness and elasticity. Copper helps control melanin synthesis, which gives our skin and hair their natural pigments. A severe copper deficiency can cause premature greyness. To get a good hit of copper, include liver, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate and chickpeas in your diet.
VITAMIN D: THE WARRIOR FOOD
An adequate vitamin D level is important for wound healing and for soothing inflammation, but it’s also an important player in healthy immunity. We all now know the importance of limiting time in the sun to avoid damage to our skin from harmful UV rays; however, we do need regular small doses of sunshine because sun exposure is also our primary source of vitamin D. Although we get most of our vitamin D from sun exposure, we can also obtain small amounts from foods such as mushrooms, tuna, salmon, egg yolks and liver.
VITAMIN E: YOUR NATURAL SKIN BOOSTER
Our skin delivers vitamin E from the blood to the surface through sebum, which it uses as a sort of transport mechanism. Those people with oily skin — or even just one part of the body, such as the face, that produces more oil — have higher concentrations of vitamin E in their dermis and epidermis. Vitamin E’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties support immune function and skin health, and protect against UV damage; however, hormonal teenage overproduction of sebum can also lead to clogged pores and acne, so you may need to regulate your insulin levels to help with hormone production. Foods that are naturally high in vitamin E are sunflower seeds, avocado and nuts, such as almonds and peanuts.
IRON: BODY ARMOUR AGAINST STRESS
In terms of skin health, iron is important for wound healing, combating oxidative stress and preventing damage from UV rays. When we don’t have enough iron, our skin can appear paler and bruise more easily, nails might be brittle and dry, and hair may lack shine or even begin to fall out. The best and most efficient dietary sources of iron are animal products, namely red meat (which gives us haem iron); however, plant foods such as spinach, broccoli, lentils, beans, dried fruit, nuts and seeds are good sources of non-haem iron. Nonhaem iron is harder for our bodies to digest because the fibre in the food prohibits its absorption. Thus we need to consume a far greater volume of the food to get the same nutrition; for example, two cups of boiled spinach contain the same amount of iron as 100g of lean red meat. We can improve iron absorption, especially of non-haem iron, by eating these foods with vitamin C– rich foods. It’s also important to note that some foods, such as coffee, tea, wine and calcium-rich foods, can reduce iron absorption. So, if increasing iron is your goal, be sure to drink those separately, rather than at mealtimes.
OMEGA-3: NOT JUST FOR BRAIN HEALTH
Omega-3 fatty acids — including DHA and EPA — are inflammation busters, keeping the skin hydrated by controlling oil production, fighting early signs of ageing and, again, protecting skin from sun damage. Oily fish is your best source, including salmon, tuna and swordfish; however, foods such as chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds are also great dietary sources of omega-3.
SELENIUM: A POWERFUL MINERAL
Although we don’t need much selenium, this essential mineral helps skin to fight against infection, reduces inflammation and prevents oxidative stress from sun exposure. Get selenium into your diet with seafood, brown rice and brazil nuts — just a single brazil nut contains more than the recommended daily intake.
SILICA: THE MASTER BUILDER
Silica — the building block of skin, hair and nails — is important for wound healing and keeping the skin firm by helping with collagen production. Not having enough silica can lead to weak nails and dull, brittle hair, which is why it’s used in so many herbal ‘skin, hair and nail’ formulations. Silica-rich foods include leeks, green beans, strawberries, cucumbers, celery, mango and asparagus.
ZINC: MORE THAN JUST SUN PROTECTION
Zinc is one of the most touted skin-health minerals and for good reason: it is anti-inflammatory, protects from sun damage and exhibits antimicrobial action. There is some evidence that taking zinc supplements can help with acne (likely due to its wound healing and antimicrobial properties). Zinc is present in many foods, such as oysters, legumes, seeds, nuts, eggs and wholegrains.
This extract is from Geraldine Georgeou's book The Healthy Skin Diet: Recipes and 4-week eating plan to support skin health and healing at any age (£14.99). It is available to buy now.