Part 2 next month: Supplementing for Beauty.
This is an article about skin.
Not “problem skin” – we’re not going to focus on problems like acne, eczema, or psoriasis – but supple skin that glows with health, and ages gracefully. It’s about thick, luxuriant hair, and strong nails.
It’s not about a single, miracle food that’s going to fix you. Part 2 next month: Supplementing for Beauty.
SO… where to start?
Let’s start with something fundamental. Hydration (meaning drinking enough fluids) is absolutely essential to healthy skin. Fluids help the body detoxify and can keep skin moist and pliable. (Emphasis on the word adequate. You don’t need to overdo anything). How much is adequate? I often hear 8 cups a day (half a gallon) suggested. I’m not going to name an exact amount because, frankly, I don’t know. (Probably more than most of us drink).
And there are so many ways to increase hydration.
Plain water is a great start. Even better are herbal teas, which may have additional health- (and beauty-!) promoting benefits. For example, bamboo tea, which is rich in silica. Burdock and dandelion root teas, which support liver health. Green tea, which can reduce the effects of sun on the skin. Hibiscus flower and hawthorn berries teas, which maintain healthy blood flow to soft tissues like skin
And then there are broths. A good broth is full of nutrients. A good bone broth is full of collagen. More about that later.
Look as well to mineral water. Look especially for waters that have high levels of “total dissolved solids” (meaning: minerals). I truly believe that regular consumption of high-quality mineral-rich water is the single best thing we can do for healthy teeth.
And finally, don’t forget that fresh fruits and vegetables are a great source of hydration.
After fluids, seek out foods that are rich in antioxidants,which protect the skin from damage caused by too much sun, BBQ’ed and overcooked foods, smoking, pollution, and daily life. Antioxidants maintain the integrity of vascular tissue, for healthy blood flow to the skin; and they maintain the integrity of the soft tissue in the skin itself.
What foods are rich in antioxidants? Well, you can memorize tables of antioxidant levels. Or you can memorize these three simple rules. Seek out foods that:
- come from plants
- are vibrantly colored
- can stain your clothing.
Think of blueberries and black currants and pomegranates and cranberries, and yes, all those exotic fruits like açai and goji and mangosteen. Think of spices like turmeric and saffron. In fact, when choosing between two similar foods, it’s a safe bet to pick the stronger-colored variety: black rice vs. brown, purple potatoes vs. white, dark chocolate vs. milk, red beans vs. navy beans. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between.
For antioxidants, think also of fresh herbs that are rich in aromatic resins, like rosemary, thyme, and lavender. Pound-for-pound, they’re some of the best.
Look to healthy oils. I think we’re so hung up on fats and oils being unhealthy, that we forget that many oils are actually really good for us. Let alone delicious in their own right. A healthy oil will protect the heart and nourish the skin.
Personally, I use a variety of cooking oils in my kitchen. I always have extra virgin olive oil and raw sesame oil on hand. Both are rich in flavor and in fat-soluble antioxidants. (Both are as good directly on the skin as they are in the skillet, too). Right now, I also have a jar of dazzling orange-red palm fruit oil. it makes rice and popcorn glow like neon! I could go on and on about my oil choices, but instead here are another three simple rules. 1. Oils from fruits are good for you (avocado oil, olive oil, palm fruit oil). 2. Oils from tree nuts are good for you (walnut, pistachio, coconut, etc.). 3. Oils from edible seeds are good for you (sesame, hemp, flax, etc.). And, Debra says, don’t forget dark green pumpkin-seed oil!
Again, no one oil is going to be a “miracle cure” for anything. But start making the substitutions across the board, and I’d like to believe you’ll start to see some changes.
Since this is an article about eating, I’m not going to go into borage and fish oils, which are more supplements than foods – even if they are two of the very best. Of course, you can eat fatty, cold-water fish… Nuts and seeds that have been stored in the fridge are also excellent sources of healthy oils.
Collagen (and bone broth)
I definitely want to talk about collagen (and bone broth). Collagen is the major structural component of connective tissue. It’s like a sponge: it holds in moisture, keeping the skin firm and plump. The breakdown of collagen leads not only to wrinkles and sagging skin, but also spider veins and varicose veins.
Much of what antioxidants do for the skin (especially berries, beans, and chocolate) is protect and refresh collagen. That sounds good, but what does it translate to in the real world? In 2006, a German study compared healthy women who received a chocolate drink roughly equivalent to a bar of dark chocolate) to similar women who received a placebo. After 12 weeks, the women in the dark chocolate group looked better! Measurably, there were improvements in skin density (16%), skin thickness (12%), and skin hydration (28%); versus no changes in the placebo group. The women who got the dark chocolate were also 25% less susceptible to sunburn.
These are tremendous results, to equal or surpass even the most expensive lotions.
So, we can support collagen synthesis with antioxidant-rich foods and supplements. We can also support collagen by consuming foods and supplements themselves rich in collagen. These are not vegetarian foods… Jell-O, bone broth, and certain cuts (usually tough) cuts of meat. You can use collagen pills and collagen powders. The pills are easy to take. The powders are easy to add to smoothies, soups, and baked goods. They’re flavorless, and dissolve quickly in water or juice.
There doesn’t appear to be any research out there on bone broth, but there is some on collagen – which is the major component of bone broth. A study published just last year examined the effects of 1,000 mg daily low molecular weight collagen vs. placebo in 64 middle-aged women (ages 40-60). After 12 months, the collagen group saw improvements in skin elasticity, skin roughness, and appearance of crow’s feet.
Before you jump on the bone broth bandwagon, however, make sure you’re getting the good stuff. A lot of store-bought broths are weak: full of salt, short on substance. If you want a sense of quality from looking at the label, look at how much protein it has. Or skip labels entirely and make your own broth. Beauty or not, it’s a great, thrifty, homesteading practice. Keep a bag in the freezer to save your (organic!) peelings and clippings – onion skins, mushroom stems, your half-wilted celery leaves. If you eat meat, save bones. Save shrimp shells, fish heads. Find a recipe, or simply combine them in a way that makes sense. Boil for an hour or more. Strain, and save.
Detoxification is the final cornerstone of eating for beauty. This, from Jonathan Glass, who works with food, herbs, acupuncture, and massage: “It is true that beauty comes from within, in more ways than one… In Chinese medicine it is understood that the eyes reflect the condition of the liver and the skin reflects the purity of the blood and the digestive organs. If the body is burdened by toxins, or has sluggish channels of elimination, then the skin and eyes become lusterless and unhealthy in appearance.”
Much of what I’ve already written also supports cleansing and detox. Special foods to seek out include (but are not limited to):
- garlic and onions: rich in sulfur compounds that the liver uses to detoxify various kinds of junk.
- artichokes, radishes, beets, and burdock: while the onions and garlic supply stuff the liver can use, these veggies give the order: “Detoxify!” It’s easy enough to throw a radish or two into your daily salad.
- And try using burdock as well. Burdock first appeared in the store 10 years ago as somewhat of an oddity. Since then, it has become a staple as more and more people are discovering delicious ways to use it.
- and of course, avoid foods that increase the toxic burden on the body. You don’t need me to tell you that French fries won’t make you any prettier!
 I don’t have the time or the space to counter all the negative hype surrounding this oil, so let me just say 1) palm fruit oil and palm kernel oil are entirely different; 2) palm fruit oil is rich in monounsaturates, like olive oil, and is jam-packed with tocotrienol antioxidants; and 3) oil palms yield more oil per acre than any other oil plant, and you don’t have to cut them down and replant each year. This means that palm fruit oil is good for the environment and for wildlife, too.