Fodder for Great Skin

A diet rich in soy and whey protein, found in ...Image via Wikipedia
By Syida Lizta Amirul Ihsan
THE real secret to great skin may be in the wet market and not in a department store's beauty floor, writes SYIDA LIZTA AMIRUL IHSAN.

COSMETICS companies would like you to believe that what you use on your face determines the condition of your skin. But in reality, it's what you eat that has an even greater effect on your skin.

"A healthy diet leads to healthy skin. Some people may be 40 and look 30. Expensive facial products can help to a certain extent, but a healthy diet is paramount to achieving good skin," says Imperial Medical Centre cosmetic doctor Dr Abrizah Ousman.

The golden rule is to eat a balanced diet - this means complex carbohydrates (whole grains like brown rice), vegetables and fruits (lots of them), fish (and lean meat) and nuts and legumes.

But fresh produce in the wet market don't come with clinical trials to convince you that they work.

"We are what we eat. This applies, most of all, to our skin, the biggest organ in our body that protects us from the environment and gives us our looks or appearances. Eating well and keeping our skin hydrated is important because skin needs moisture and plenty of good nutrition and antioxidants," explains Dr Abrizah.

Here's some food for great skin.


"Our skin rejoices when it's hydrated well. When we are properly hydrated, we all sweat more efficiently and this makes our skin clean and clear as well," adds Dr Abrizah.

"The amount of water an adult needs varies according to climate and amount of exercise one gets.

"General dietary recommendations suggest that men drink about three litres of liquids a day and women about 2.2 litres daily. But plain water is the best beverage - it's cheap and has zero calories," she says.

On the contrary, soda gives you empty calories with water. Also, alcohol and coffee are diuretics - they strip skin of moisture.

Berries, vegetables and fruits

The top five scores of antioxidant properties in food go to acai berries, prunes, pomegranates, raisins or dark grapes and blueberries. But what does that mean?

Dr Abrizah explains that foods enriched with antioxidants are best for the skin as they can slow down the ageing process, which shows up as skin laxity, wrinkles and dark circles.

"Antioxidants are substances that can protect skin cells from damage caused by unstable molecules called free radicals and harmful effect of UV lights.

"Powerful antioxidants are vitamin A, C and E. Vitamin A help in cell turnover and renewal so your skin stays smooth and less wrinkly. Carotenoids help make skin less sensitive to sun. Vitamin C helps build collagen and elastin," she adds.

Green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, squash and tomato supply enough amounts of antioxidants.

acai berries
Colourful fruits such as mangoes, melons, berries and apricots are great too.

"Avocado, asparagus, almond, hazelnut, sunflower seed, egg and milk are good sources of vitamin E. The top layers of skin contain high levels of this vitamin which support the guard cells that protect skin."

Dark chocolate

Dr Abrizah reminds us that when chocolate is referred to for its benefits, it applies only to dark chocolate.

"A study carried out in Italy's National Institute for Food and Nutrition Research in Rome showed that eating dark chocolate - but not milk chocolate or dark chocolate eaten with milk - can lower blood pressure and protect the skin from harmful UV effects," she says.

Dark chocolate comes from the cacao plant, rich in flavanols, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The amount of flavonoids varies from one type of chocolate to another, but here's a guide you can follow: The more non-fat cocoa solids in a chocolate product, the more antioxidants it likely contains.

So which type of chocolate has the most flavonoids?

"The highest levels are in natural cocoa powder (not Dutch cocoa, though, because it is alkalised cocoa).

"The second highest in flavonoids is unsweetened baking chocolate. Dark chocolate and semisweet chocolate chips rank third, with milk chocolate and chocolate syrup at the bottom of the list," she adds.


This and other oily fishes like sardines, tuna, herring, mackerel, black cod and bluefish; and even walnuts, canola oil, and flax seed deliver essential fatty acids - omega 3.

Essential fatty acids are responsible for healthy cell membranes because cell membranes hold water in, Dr Abrizah says.

"So the stronger that barrier becomes, the better your cells can hold moisture. And that means plumper, younger-looking skin," she stresses.

Green tea

According to a medical website, green tea "deserves a category all its own in any article about foods for healthy skin because the skin-health properties in this beneficial drink just can't be beaten."

Dr Abrizah agrees. "Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties as research shows that it can reduce risk of skin cancer and protect against UV rays. The best is herbal green tea. When milk is added, then the benefits are reduced."

Whole wheat bread

Whole wheat bread, oatmeal, cereals, turkey, tuna and Brazil nuts all have selenium, essential food for healthy skin.

Dr Abrizah says studies have shown that selenium plays a key role in the health of skin cells.

"Selenium has anti-inflammatory properties. Even sun damaged skin may suffer fewer consequences if selenium levels are high," she says.

Low-fat dairy products

Low-fat yoghurt, for example, is not only high in vitamin A, but also acidophilus, the "live" bacteria that is good for intestinal health and has an impact on the skin.

"One of the most important components of skin health is vitamin A. One of the best sources to get it is from low-fat dairy products. In fact, experts say that the health of our skin cells is dependent on dietary vitamin A," adds Dr Abrizah.


* If you want fewer wrinkles, eat more oily fish like salmon, nuts, and eggs fortified with omega-3.

* If you want clearer skin and better complexion, eat more whole wheat and whole grains that prevent constipation and stabilise your blood sugar. This in turn helps to lower androgen production, which helps minimise acne.

* If you want hydrated skin, drink just plain water. It provides internal hydration to skin and a cream would lock that moisture in.

* If you want healthy, glowing skin, zinc and iron from lean meat, fortified cereal and poultry (skinned) help in cell production and oxygenation.

* Combining good nutrition with a sensible exercise programme and plenty of rest can make an enormous difference in your overall skin health.


Q: What are some of the foods that one must totally avoid or eat sparingly?

A: Junk food and food with high content of trans fatty acids. The former, due to its high sodium content, and the latter, due to its harmful effect on our cardiovascular system.

Q: Why is processed food bad for the skin?

A: They have high salt content and omega-6 polyunsaturated oils and trans fats with little or no nutritional value.

Too much of these oils provoke and stimulate inflammation, accelerate ageing and cause all sorts of skin problems including greasy or large pores, acne, dry, flaky skin, dehydration or premature ageing.

Q: Are there other effects on the skin caused by excessive salt intake?

A: The high salt content has a counter-effect to drinking water leading to dehydration. Dehydrated skin is weak and fragile, the end result being wrinkly skin and coarse texture.

Also, most processed foods are filled with sugars, additives, preservatives, colourings and artificial flavours.

All these are converted into sugar which lead to surge of insulin and the stress hormone, cortisol.

A high level of insulin pushes your cellular metabolism into producing all sorts of inflammatory chemicals.

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