When I was in med school, the dermatologists I studied with scoffed at the idea that food might be related to the condition of your skin. Since I earned a Dietetics degree before going to med school, I was very interested in (obsessed with?) non-pharmaceutical ways of healing and helping the body, but when it came to skin health I learned quickly not to even bring up the possibility.
I have struggled with acne since I was a teenager, enduring round after round of antibiotics that really didn’t do much other than killing off my body’s healthy intestinal bacterial flora. No doctor thought to talk to me about all the ice cream, pop and other junk I was eating – I start feeling angry just thinking about it. I can’t really blame them though, as they probably didn’t have any idea.
As I grew older the acne still plagued me. A trip to Italy triggered a spectacular breakout, giving new meaning to the phrase “pizza face”. I didn’t make the connection, though. Later, when I moved to Mexico and again was eating lots of ice cream, fried food, and sugar, the acne recurred with a vengeance.
This time I got lucky. A friend of mine had been seeing a dermatologist, Dr. James Dantow, who she raved about. She had no idea, though, that he was one of the rare dermatologists in all of North America who believed powerfully, based on research evidence, that food and acne were linked.
He recommended I read books by Yale dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, and I was floored by all I learned about the link between food, inflammation and acne and aging. I was thrilled by the changes I experienced in my skin, and began writing about it and even dedicated a section of my book, Live a Life You Love , to what I had learned.
A few years later, I was very lucky to meet and make friends with an incredibly brilliant naturopath who has lectured at Harvard University, Alan Logan. He had just written a book called The Clear Skin Diet, which I read and have written about. Soon after, he came out with another book, Your Skin Younger, co-authored with two dermatologists, all about the surprising causes of skin aging. He sent me an advance copy and I have treasured it ever since.
My skin is so clear these days that I’m much more interested in anti-aging now than preventing acne, and have been reviewing Dr. Logan’s fabulous book in preparation for the Anti-Aging section of my upcoming Live a Life You Love All-Day Retreat for Women .
I’m going to save most of what I’ve discovered for the retreat (and future retreats or seminars), so won’t give away all the gems…but wanted to share my five favorites with you:
1) Understand that a wrinkle is not just a wrinkle
I have written and spoken for years about vanity being an incredible motivator. If someone tells me that eating badly might give me heart disease in twenty years, that doesn’t move me (or most people) very much. But, if someone tells me to look in the mirror the morning after having eating certain foods for dinner (as Dr. Perricone suggests) – and I look like a puffer fish – I am ready to change my ways, NOW.
Significant scientific research exists now that demonstrates that people who have many wrinkles and look old for their age are much more likely to have significant health problems, or emotional problems, going on inside. The way your face looks is a surprisingly accurate indicator for what’s going on deep inside your body. We’ve all had the experience of stress causing breakouts or making us look “bad” in general, yet most of us haven’t made the connection between the food we eat and the older or younger appearance of our skin.
Wanting to look young, and taking nutritional and lifestyle action that supports this, isn’t vain. Wanting to look young and taking holistic care of your skin is actually caring for your overall health in general.
2) Watch out for cooking methods that age you
One of the most interesting concepts covered in Logan’s book, Your Skin Younger is that of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs, quite an appropriate acronym!). I have previously written on the fact that high blood sugar levels cross-link collagen in the skin (using a form of AGE), causing wrinkles. For this reason, a diet which focuses on lower-glycemic foods like high fiber grains, fruits and vegetables and avoids high-glycemic choices such as sugary drinks, sweet baked goods, white flours, potatoes and the like, will slow aging and help you look younger.
But there’s more. According to Logan, we know now that different cooking methods create vast differences in the AGE content of the foods we eat, before we even put that food in our mouth. The way you prepare your foods, even really healthy foods, may have a huge impact on how quickly you age. Here are a handful of shocking facts from his book:
– Crispy rice cereal contains 220 times more AGEs per gram than boiled rice
– Fast food French fries contain 87 times more AGEs than a boiled potato
– A fried egg has 62 times more AGEs than a poached egg
Basically, any time you cook with high heat and low moisture, such as when baking or frying, you get more AGEs produced in your food.
To quote the book:
“Turning off the oven, using a steamer, and poaching, boiling, simmering, or stewing your foods can go a long way in the effort to maintain a youthful and glowing appearance.”
3) Avoid high fat dairy products
Various studies have shown a direct association between the kinds of foods we eat most commonly and the visible aging of our skin. High fat dairy products like ice cream and butter appear to be a significant offender. Lower fat dairy such as yogurt may be associated with less wrinkling.
4) Choose omega-3 fatty acid rich foods to look better and even enjoy Mother Nature’s SPF
Some of you may have heard of Udo Erasmus, the creator of the now-famous “Udo’s Oil”. When we met many years ago now, he pinched the skin on the top of my hand and said: “You need to eat more omega-3’s”. He was right. Omega-3 rich foods like salmon and other fish are associated with better looking, less aged skin. In addition, did you know that they actually increase the natural SPF of your skin? People who consume omega-3 rich foods regularly may enjoy a natural SPF of 1.15 -2. It may not seem like much (and you still need sunscreen), but this degree of protection actually decreases exposure to 50% of UVB rays and could reduce your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 30 percent!
5) Cheering yourself up will cheer up your face
People who report frequent depression or low mood, or chronic levels of stress look visibly older, wrinkle-wise, than those who don’t. This seems unfair, but the good news is that there are many things that you can do to boost your mood and manage stress that are within your control. Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, hang out with people that you love, take time to pray and meditate, get out for walks in the fresh air. These practices will also improve your health, but their ability to boost your mood will pack a double whammy for the beauty and health of your skin.
What about you? Have you noticed that certain foods or habits make a dramatic difference to the look of your skin? Would love to hear your comments below!