a photo of a woman covered in vegetables

This is an article about skin.  Not “problem skin,” but skin that glows with health, and ages well.  It’s about thick, luxuriant hair, and strong teeth.

The idea here is that our outsides reflect our insides.  Lynne Lori Sullivan, who works with this and other health topics, says she has very sensitive skin and likes it this way: “I’m glad to be a canary in a coal mine.  If I take a misstep if I eat a Boston cream donut, or trans-fats the next day or two, I break out.  I know that inside the body, things are hardening, things are going wrong.  My skin keeps me on track.”


So… What to do?

1. Perhaps the most important thing to consume for beauty is fluids.  I’m not going to name an exact amount because, frankly, I don’t know.  Probably more than most people drink now.  Even better than plain water are herbal teas, which may have additional health- (and beauty-) promoting benefits.  And mineral water, too.  Look for waters that have high levels of “total dissolved solids” (meaning: minerals).  We stock two kinds where a bottle has more calcium than a big glass of milk.  I can’t prove it, but I believe that mineral-rich water is the single best thing we can consume for healthy teeth.

And while we’re on the subject of liquids, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention broths.  Any home-made broth is good, but an old-fashioned bone broth (i.e. chicken, beef) is one of the very healthiest things we can consume, period (see #4 below).

2. After fluids, seek out foods that are rich in antioxidants, which protect the skin from damage caused by too much sun, smoking, and daily life.  In fact, antioxidants are the reason dermatologist Nicholas Perricone names açai berries the #1 food for beauty.  And I agree… sort of.  Açai is great, but I don’t think I could single out any single food, because the key with antioxidants is variety.

So which antioxidant-rich foods do we look for?  As a general rule, you want foods that:  a) comes from a plant; b) are vibrantly colored; and c) can stain your clothing.  So think of blueberries and black currants and pomegranates and cranberries, and yes, all those exotic “new” fruits like açai and goji and mangosteen.  Think of spices like turmeric and saffron.  In fact, when choosing between two similar foods, always pick the stronger-colored one: black rice vs. brown, purple potatoes vs. white, dark chocolate vs. milk, red beans vs. cannellini.  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 and lavender.

3. The other week I was in the supermarket to buy peanut oil so I could pan-fry some Chinese dumplings (because I don’t always eat healthy), and all I found were about 100 brands of olive oil, and generic “vegetable” oil.  Forget beauty now: from a purely culinary standpoint, this is a tragedy.  People will have dozens of spices in their kitchen, but only cook in flavorless oil.

Personally, I use a variety of cooking oils in my kitchen.  I always have olive oil and sesame oil on hand.  Right now, I also have a jar of dazzling orange-red palm fruit oil[1] it makes rice and popcorn glow like neon!  I also have a bottle of deep, dark Austrian pumpkinseed oil, which I use to recreate Debra’s Raw Kale Salad, with also has avocadoes in it.  Speaking of which, avocado oil is another favorite.  A simple salad of chopped ripe tomatoes and cucumbers tossed with avocado oil is perfect summertime eating.  And I have a jar of wild flax oil (also called “Gold of Pleasure”), which has the omega-3 benefits of flax oil, but is packed with enough antioxidants so you can even cook with it.  Plus Gold of Pleasure tastes nicer.

So what’s the point of all this?  Generally speaking, good clean oils nourish the skin, and keep it from overdrying.  (And if they replace junk oils, that in itself is a service).

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.

4. I also want to talk about collagen.  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 to protect and refresh collagen.  What does this translate to exactly?  Well, the one area I could find actual research was actually with chocolate.  In a German study less than a year ago, healthy women were divided into two groups.  One got a drink every day equivalent to a bar of dark chocolate.  The other group got a placebo.  After 12 weeks, the women in the dark chocolate group actually looked better!  There was an improvement 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.

Not only can you support collagen, you can eat it too.  Here’s where the bone broths fit in.  I can’t cite any formal research on this one.  But I think of one of our customers, a man who has spent over a decade consuming massive amounts of home-made chicken broth to address a health condition he has.  Not only did the broth help him there, but now, approaching his 80s, he’s got the skin of a 50-year-old.

5. 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 on our Tuesday produce days 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!

[1] 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.