this too shall passAll nutrients are important, that’s why they are called “essential nutrients.” A deficiency of any nutrient will cause changes in the skin, hair, nails, and even the underlying “scaffolding” of bones that hold tissues up and keep skin from sagging and wrinkling as well as the circulation that supplies nutrients to the skin and removes toxic waste products. The almost 1 million phytonutrients in colorful fruits/vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, etc also are now recognized to help protect skin from UV damage associated with premature aging and wrinkling. For example,

1. DHA: The omega-3 fats make hair shiny, protect skin from sagging and wrinkling, speed healing, slow aging, and reduce skin cancer risk. People who eat lots of unprocessed foods, including omega-3-rich seafood or foods fortified with an algal-based DHA, antioxidant-packed produce, nuts, and olive oil are also the ones with the fewest wrinkles. Aim for at least 220mg/day of DHA.

2. Antioxidants: The number one enemy of skin is the sun. Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight generate oxygen fragments called free radicals. These highly-reactive compounds pierce delicate cell membranes and attack the genetic code within skin cells, damaging underlying structures such as collagen and elastic fibers. UVA light penetrates the outer layers of the skin, causing sunburn, sun spots, rough texture, and skin cancer. UBA light penetrates deeper skin layers, resulting in wrinkles. Don’t think you’re off the hook because it’s winter! Those UV rays can get you on the ski slopes and through cloud cover just as easy as the beach on clear days!

Fortunately, the skin has an anti-free radical system comprised of antioxidants that protect the skin from free-radical damage. Frequent sun exposure and smog both deplete the skin’s antioxidants, such as beta carotene and vitamins C and E. It also takes up to three months to accumulate antioxidants in skin. Aim for no less than 9 servings of colorful fruits/vegetables every day. (Iceberg lettuce and potatoes don’t count!)

3. Zinc: This trace mineral helps maintain collagen and elastin fibers that give skin its firmness and help prevent sagging and wrinkles. Zinc is important in healing cuts and scrapes, while a deficiency causes dry, rough skin.

4. B vitamins: Poor intake of almost any B vitamin, including vitamin B2, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, or biotin, can cause dermatitis-like symptoms, such as dry or scaly skin, itching, or a burning sensation. Vitamins B2 and B6 also are important in maintaining the oil-producing glands (the sebaceous glands), which keep the skin moist and smooth.

5. Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for the maintenance of epithelial tissues, with skin being the largest epithelial tissue you’ve got. Skimp on this vitamin and your skin might be dry, scaly, and rough. Excessive intake of vitamin A can cause skin itching, hair loss, and cracked lips.

Achieving the elusive glowing complexion is the bane of many a woman’s existence, as evidenced by the amount we spend on creams, serums and scrubs. But what should we be eating on a regular basis to help improve skin’s appearance?

At least 9 colorful fruits and vegetables/day

5+ servings of 100% whole grains, preferably chewy ones, such as whole grain pasta cooked al dente, brown rice, old fashioned oatmeal, etc.

3 servings of calcium-rich foods, such as nonfat milk, low-fat fortified soymilk or OJ, or mission life balance tortillas

2 servings of iron/zinc-rich foods, such as extra-lean red meat (no more than 7% fat by weight), chicken breast, seafood, legumes

8+ glasses of water

Then use sunscreen, keep your skin clean and moisturized, and exercise every day!  Photo credit: Creative Commons License Bùi Linh Ngân via Compfight