The saying ‘beauty is skin deep’ is very true as what we eat reflects itself on our skin. While are there are no special foods that must be eaten for a healthy glow, certain nutrients – protein, essential fatty acids, vitamin A, vitamin C, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, vitamin E, zinc and selenium – have an important role to play in maintaining health of the skin.
Protein: The skin is made up of protein and getting adequate amount of dietary protein will help maintain the health of the skin. Good sources of protein include pulses, sprouts, nuts, seeds like sesame, niger, flax, chia, fish, low fat milk and milk products, egg, meat and poultry.
Essential Fatty acids (EFAs): Fats are made up of building blocks called fatty acids. While the body can manufacture some fatty acids, there are others that cannot be synthesised in the body and have to be obtained from food. These fatty acids are known as essential fatty acids and help to repair and moisturise skin cells thereby protecting it from dryness. Nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, fish and fish liver oils are the best dietary sources of essential fatty acids.
Vitamin E: Together with the mineral selenium, vitamin E acts as an antioxidant that helps protect the skin from dryness and damage and also retards the process of ageing. Foods rich in vitamin E include whole grain cereals and flours, wheat germ oil, cold pressed oils, nuts, peanut butter, fish and sprouts particularly sprouted wheat.
Vitamin A: Besides having a critical function in maintaining normal vision, vitamin A has a role in maintaining and repairing the cells of the skin. In foods, vitamin A is present in two forms: pre-formed vitamin A and pro-vitamin A. Retinol or pre-formed vitamin A is the active form of vitamin A and is a colourless compound that is found naturally only in foods of animal origin like milk and milk products, butter, ghee, egg yolk, liver and fish liver oils. Dark green leafy vegetables and yellow-orange coloured fruits and vegetables like papaya, mango, muskmelon (kharbuja), apricot, red sweet potato (shakarkhand), red pumpkin (bhopla or kaddu) and carrot are rich sources of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that gets converted into vitamin A within the body. Beta-carotene has an antioxidant function in the body and helps prevent premature ageing.
Vitamin C: Along with vitamin E and beta-carotene, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It enhances the absorption of iron from plant foods, and aids in wound healing and helps in building immunity. Amla, guava, cashew apple, green leafy vegetables, yellow-orange fruits and vegetables, citrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes, green chilli, capsicum and sprouts are some of the excellent sources of vitamin C.
Zinc: The skin contains about 20 per cent of the body’s zinc. This is a mineral that is very important for maintaining healthy skin, especially for people suffering from acne. Foods rich in zinc include whole grains, soya products, legumes, nuts, pumpkin seeds and wheat germ, seafood and eggs.
Selenium: It is a mineral that has an antioxidant function and also helps maintain the elasticity and firmness of the skin. Dietary sources of selenium include seafood, meats, whole grains, wheat germ, Brazil nuts and eggs.
In a nutshell, healthy and glowing skin begins from deep within. Start preventing wrinkles and get your healthy glow by eating a balanced diet and keeping the following in mind:
Besides the staple cereals like rice and wheat ensure that you include a millet or pseudo cereals such as amaranth, buckwheat or quinoa at any one of your meals. Use multigrain flour to make rotis, chapattis, puris, parathas, pancakes, etc.
Make sure you eat a protein food at every meal. For example: an egg or sprouts for breakfast, fish or pulses for lunch, and paneer or chicken or beef or mutton for dinner. Choose sesame seeds (til) chikki or laddoos, rajgira chikki or ladoos, a mixture of roasted melon and flax seeds, roasted groundnuts or almonds or pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds for snacks instead of biscuits and other processed foods.
Eat dark green leafy vegetables or yellow orange vegetables and fruits thrice a week in addition to other vegetables. Round off your meal with fruit instead of sugary desserts.
Avoid using hydrogenated fats and go back to the traditional practise of using ghee and cold-pressed coconut or sesame oil in cooking.
Limit intake of foods that are high in sugar and salt.
(Writer is a consultant nutritionist with 20 years of experience, practicing at Panaji and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org)