Glowing, radiant, clear — those are the words you want to use to describe your skin, your body’s largest organ. But what do you do when the words that come to mind are tired, stiff, irritated or dry?
There are plenty of foods — rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, omega-3 and zinc — that will help prevent inflammation, reduce acne breakouts and leave your skin looking its best. Unfortunately, there are also culprits in our daily diets that do the opposite. Many trigger acne, a skin disease that results from clogging of the oil glands at the base of hair follicles. Others affect collagen formation, a process that is critical to keeping your skin healthy and elastic.
If you deal with skin irritations, breakouts or other concerns, take a look at your diet. Are the following foods culprits?
Add one more strike against eating too much sugar. Studies have found that diets high in glucose or fructose affect what’s called “skin collagen crosslinking.” That sounds complicated, but it breaks down like this: Collagen is responsible for your skin’s strength and elasticity. Too much sugar can disrupt the balance in your body’s proteins, including collagen. When that happens, your skin’s softness and elasticity go downhill — leading to stiff, rigid skin and, ultimately, wrinkles.
That means white bread, white pastas and potatoes, as well as sugary drinks and snacks. Preliminary research suggests foods with a high glycemic index cause acne breakouts for many people — and keep in mind acne isn’t just a problem for adolescents. When you eat a diet rich in these foods, your body produces higher levels of insulin. Insulin spikes can set off a chain reaction associated with developing acne. On top of that, an insulin spike inevitably leads to an insulin crash — leaving your skin and the rest of you looking and feeling drained.
Salt and other forms of sodium may add flavor to your food — but too much sodium can sap the life out of your skin. This occurs in a couple of different ways. For one, too much sodium dehydrates you, which means it sucks vital moisture from your skin. Too much sodium also can cause you to retain water, resulting in “bags” under your eyes and other visible signs.
The typical Western diet includes many dairy sources that contain hormones, including certain types of steroids and growth hormones. Unfortunately, these stimulate acne, too. The same has been found for protein powder shakes that contain casein and whey, as well; if you’re using these shakes as substitutes for food, be wary. If acne is a concern for you, organic dairy products may offer an alternative.
Red meat, cheese, butter and hydrogenated oils — all are high in saturated fats. And foods that are high in saturated fat are associated with high concentrations of insulin growth factor. Unfortunately, insulin growth factor stimulates the production of the sex hormones that increase acne production. On the flipside, plant-based diets, low-fat diets, high-fiber diets and vegetarian diets reduce blood concentrations of insulin-like growth factor.
Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute volunteer Christina Fedeli contributed to this post.