The skin can be thought of as a window into our body. We keep this window clean and disease free the same way we keep our gastrointestinal system healthy, by adhering to a whole-food, plant-based diet. Not only is it important to consume unrefined plant foods, but it is also encouraged to limit meat intake and avoid consumption of dairy products and eggs. Evidence-based medicine suggests that the more whole plant foods we eat, the better—both to reap their nutritional benefits and to have healthier skin.
A well-balanced plant-based diet consists of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, herbs, spices, nuts, and seeds. We not only get the full spectrum of nutrients we need from eating plant-based, but these foods also offer protective properties that prevent and reverse disease.
We have all heard of the proverbial “golden glow” appearance that is often equated with health and vitality. When subjects were instructed to use digital photographs of African, Asian, and Caucasian men and women to manipulate their skin tone, both men and women preferred the yellow “golden glow.” Instead of using a tanning bed to achieve a more golden hue, you can do it with the pigments you eat. Just as certain bird species tend to prefer carotenoid-rich caterpillars to make their breast plumage brighter yellow, a similar phenomenon is found in humans. By eating the yellow and red pigments in fruits and vegetables, like beta-carotene in sweet potatoes and lycopene in tomatoes, it is possible to naturally acquire a more golden and rosy glow.
What about wrinkles? A study from Japan used a scale to rate the extent of crow’s-feet wrinkles around the eyes of more than 700 women, with a score of one being the least severe and a score of six being the most severe. Researchers found that “a higher intake of green and yellow vegetables was associated with decreased facial wrinkling.” A more recent study looked at a cohort of 2,753 elderly Dutch women and found that fruit-dominant eating habits were associated with fewer wrinkles. Also, red meat was associated with more facial wrinkles.
Our ability to look and age better by eating plant-based is a direct result of the healing properties these foods contain. Whole grains, beans, nuts, and seeds are not only rich in fiber that protects our gut as a prebiotic, but also contain natural compounds called phytates. In Petri-dish studies, phytates have been shown to target and halt the growth of human skin cancer cells by utilizing a combination of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-enhancing activities. Consuming citrus fruit also appears to have a protective role against cancer. Within two hours of consuming citrus, your DNA becomes significantly more resistant to damage. This may help explain why citrus consumption is associated with lower risk of skin and breast cancer. Specifically, people who eat at least some citrus peel appear to have lower skin cancer rates than those who don’t.
By getting your nutrients from a whole food plant-based diet, you will maximize your intake of nearly every required nutrient: vitamin A carotenoids; vitamin C; vitamin E; the B vitamins; as well as magnesium, potassium, iron, fiber, and probiotics. Stick with whole fruits and vegetables, because supplements do not appear to boost DNA repair and often have limited bioavailability. There are exceptions, as vitamin B12 and vitamin D supplements may be necessary if levels are low. And no, you do not need to drink milk to get adequate levels of vitamin D! Excess hormones such as estrogen in cow’s milk may play a role in hormone-related conditions, including acne.
By consistently consuming foods rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory mediators and immune-enhancing agents, it is possible to stop wrinkles in their tracks and have naturally glowing skin. It is also possible to reduce or eliminate many skin conditions that manifest as a result of inflammation and an overly-active immune system. If you think it is too late to change your diet for the better, think again. Substances such as curcumin (bright-yellow pigment in turmeric), cardamom, phytonutrients, and fiber have been shown to prevent and even halt cancer progression. Eating a plant-based diet has been shown to keep skin looking healthy, slow down the aging process, and fight disease.