“You are what you eat” is an often-quoted phrase that just sounds like it’s true, right? We like the idea of healthy eating being rewarded with healthy bodies, with glowing skin that reflects how “clean” our food habits are. However, I personally always felt a bit icky when I heard this phrase for a variety of reasons. For instance, I currently exist in a fat body, which means that most people automatically assume that my eating habits are less than stellar because “fat equals unhealthy” in today’s fatphobic society.
Simultaneously, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to diet and skin health. I remember a close friend in high school with very bad skin refusing to eat chocolate, for instance, because she was convinced it was her main “acne trigger.” Now, she was also a chain smoker and had severe insomnia, two things that I suspect played a much larger part in her skin revealing what was going on inside. And anecdotally, I had my worst bouts of adult acne while I struggled with severe anxiety and depression, while it cleared up “magically” when I moved to New Zealand and felt the happiest and most mentally stable I ever had in my life. My diet did not significantly change during this time, and I actually developed a very intense love affair with roast lamb and mint flavored chips, plus those amazing chocolate-smothered Tim Tam cookies popular in NZ!
I just think that it can get dangerous and unhealthy very fast when we tell desperate and insecure people that a restrictive eating plan will cure their skin issues. Now that being said, there are a number of foods that indeed have a positive effect on our skin health. Adding certain foods to your diet can help support skin’s natural defenses and yes, even give you that coveted natural glow. They also happen to be delicious, nutritious, and versatile cooking ingredients! I just want to reiterate that this doesn’t mean you should only eat these foods, or cut out whole food groups in your quest for “flawless” skin, which doesn’t really exist anyway.
So, here are five of my favorite “skin foods,” packed full with beautifying phytonutrients, that’ll help you get glowing skin.
There are a lot of misconceptions about diet and skin health. That being said, eating certain foods can support skin’s natural defenses and give you that coveted glow.
I learned to love sweet potatoes while living in New Zealand, where kumara, a sweet potato variety cultivated by the Maori, is a national food treasure. Not only are they delicious, they also happen to be chock full of beta carotenes, that bright orange pigment also found in a number of other vibrantly colored vegetables. Apart from being an antioxidant—substances that help combat free radicals, the number one factor in premature aging of the skin—beta carotene also boosts the natural UV defenses of our skin. That being said, you still need to use your daily sunscreen, of course!
Good news for those of you who prefer your baked sweet potato with a bit of butter: Since carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds, adding some oil or butter actually aids absorption! Other foods rich in beta carotenes are, for instance, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers, carrots, and tomatoes.
I recently developed what appears to be an avocado allergy, and I can’t even begin to tell you how devastated I am about this—basically, I am still in denial, but my itchy, red mouth likes to remind me that it’s time to accept the truth. Avocados are often used to mock millennials and their spending habits, becoming a bit of a meme for the breakdown in communication between house-owning, student debt-free Boomers and broke millennials addicted to their overpriced avo toasts.
But joke’s on those mocking Boomers, because avocados are actually one of the best skin foods out there! They contain healthy fats galore such as omega-3s, which support skin elasticity and provide the building blocks needed for smooth, plump, and youthful-looking skin. Avocados are also an excellent skincare ingredient, by the way: Avocado oil nourishes and moisturizes dry, cracked skin and can benefit itchy, troubled scalps.
See, chocolate is actually good for you and your skin—the important part is to choose the right type of chocolate! Dark chocolate, meaning chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa content, is staggeringly high in antioxidants, higher even than blueberries, often touted as the number one beauty food. The main antioxidant present in dark cocoa is called flavanol, a phytonutrient that can boost your skin’s ability to ward off air pollutants and combat stressors such as sun damage, one of the greatest causes of premature aging.
Oh, and did I mention that dark chocolate is also high in iron, magnesium, and zinc, all of which are vital minerals most people who are menstruating tend to lack? See, there is a very good reason why your body craves chocolate right before your period! Zinc also happens to contribute to the production of collagen, the most vital building block for our skin. The higher and better quality the content of the cocoa, the more potent the antioxidant properties of the dark chocolate. So, here is your chance to really go for that fancy artisanal, organic dark chocolate, because you are actually doing it for your health!
I’m obsessed with broccoli—it is probably my favorite vegetable if I had to choose one. Even if those beautiful green florets weren’t good for my body, I would eat them happily most days, but it just so happens that this is also a superfood that deserves the name. I already talked about zinc, an essential mineral that plays a vital role in wound healing, with zinc deficiency suspected to contribute to skin troubles such as eczema and even acne. Broccoli contains a high amount of zinc, plus our favorite skin protector vitamin C—those two work hand-in-hand to boost skin immunity and keep that collagen production going.
If you don’t like the slightly “cabbage-y” taste of boiled or steamed broccoli, try roasting it in the oven with a dash of olive oil and a spice mix of turmeric, smoked paprika, and garlic salt. It’s my favorite thing in the world, especially when combined with an oven-baked sweet potato. Throw half a sliced up avocado on the plate, maybe a few slices of smoked salmon or a cup of lentils for protein and presto, you have your healthy skin meal sorted.
It will surprise you that even though I am German, cabbage and I are not friends. Sure, I eat sauerkraut if it is offered to me and won’t say no to traditional German meat-filled cabbage rolls, but I just never really crave cabbage when I plan out my weekly meals. Which, honestly, is a shame, given how amazingly good it is for our bodies and for our skin in particular. Similar to broccoli, cabbage contains minerals and vitamins that support skin renewal and collagen production, among them zinc and vitamin C. Even more significantly, cabbage happens to be a rich source of vitamin K, a vital component in wound healing and the blood clotting process. You often find vitamin K in eye creams targeting dark undereye circles, with the idea behind this being that it helps dissolve discoloration caused by circulatory issues.
If you suffer from acne, cabbage might also be a good addition to your diet. Like many cruciferous vegetables, cabbage is high in sulfur, which is used in many acne remedies due to its ability to detoxify and dry out excessively oily skin. Sulfur also has an anti-inflammatory effect, meaning it can help with skin redness and sensitized skin. I’d also like to give extra bonus points to cabbage compared to other superfoods for being a very affordable vegetable when in season, so it’s great for those of us on a smaller budget. Hmm, maybe I should ask my sister for her cabbage roll recipe and finally try making my own sauerkraut.