You’ve heard it before: “You are what you eat.” When it comes to your skin, the quality of your appearance in many ways reflects the quality of your diet. According to Ashley Koff, RD, who has worked with Hollywood actresses and Olympic athletes, explains, “Your food across the board will affect your skin, positively or negatively.” We asked her and other experts to tell us what foods can have the most adverse effects on your skin’s healthy glow. Here are the foods that they said were the 10 worst offenders.
1. Poor-Quality, Packaged And Processed Foods
Koff says processed and packaged foods should be avoided because there is little life-force. In other words, during processing, living enzymes and nutrients are broken down and lost. “Diets high in such foods almost always demonstrate nutritional deficiencies, and such deficiencies always show up in the skin,” Koff says. “In general, the better the quality of your food, the better your health and skin.” Additionally, boxed foods frequently have low water content. All foods, and especially fruits and vegetables in their natural/raw state, are higher in water content and add hydration to the body necessary to proper organ function. This hydration is essential to healthy skin because it assists in skin detoxification and helps to regulate oil production.
2. Non-Organic Foods
Non-organic foods can contain hormones, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and waxes. Yum. When it comes to our health, these toxic intruders can pack a detrimental punch in a myriad of ways. Certain hormones and pesticides have been found to disrupt motor skills and have been linked to a variety of diseases and health conditions. Our bodies don’t recognize these chemicals and they often create an inflammatory response. Even more, studies show that organically grown food has two to three times the vitamins, minerals and trace elements of commercially grown food. The more nutrients – which are the building blocks of a healthy complexion – that our body gets, the better our skin will look and perform.
3. Mystery Meat
With industrial farming methods, animals are frequently fed a cocktail of steroids, growth hormones and antibiotics. Additionally, they aren’t fed their natural herbivore diet, but rather are stuffed with foods to make them fatter faster, not healthier. When we eat these animals, by default, we get a dose of their diet –and this chemical cocktail. These compounds can create hormonal imbalances in our bodies, which can lead to acne and inflammation. Additionally, animal meats in general are more difficult on our digestive systems, and if we aren’t getting enough water and fiber in our diets, meats can get stuck in our digestive system, where they putrefy and contribute to toxicity.
The same goes for dairy. Many dairy cows are fed hormones to keep them lactating year round, which doubles their milk production. When we drink that milk (or eat their yogurt, ice cream, cheese, etc.) we get a dose of those hormones too. Dairy consumption has been linked to acne, and excess estrogen, often found in dairy products, can cause a cascade of health issues in both men and women. Finally, dairy is known to be mucus-forming in our bodies, which contributes to inflammation and the ‘sticking’ of bad bacteria. Koff recommends significantly reducing dairy consumption, and choosing hormone-free dairy products, in their natural full fat forms.
5. Fried Foods and Hydrogenated Fats
“When oil is at a very high heat, the oils and fats oxidize,” Koff explains. “We are then putting oxidized fats into our bodies. And we all know that oxidants are bad and antioxidants are good.” Oils that sit and are used over again, like the vat your French fries are cooked in, are really bad, because these fats are thicker and don’t detox from the body. They can contribute to heart disease, poor circulation of the blood and a weakened metabolic process. Since healthy skin requires healthy circulation and metabolism, weak systems can lead to a lack of oxygen in the skin, slowing the collagen and elastin syntheses necessary for youthful radiance.
6. Artificial Sweeteners, Coloring and Flavorings
Substances like aspartame, Red #5 and ‘artificial flavors’ are all too common in the standard American diet, but according to Koff, “at best, these additives are a science experiment. They are basically a chemistry set that should not go into our bodies.” They contain no nutritional value, and at worst, they can irritate our bodies and create inflammation and histamine reactions. Worse still, our bodies tend to store chemicals like these in our tissues.
7. Poor Quality Supplements
Many people take supplements on a regular basis, but most of us don’t really know the origin of those supplements –or what’s really in them. “Most of time these super inexpensive, bulk supplements aren’t made from whole food sources,” Koff says. “They often contain allergens, fillers or hidden ingredients that you don’t know about.” And the thing about supplements, she adds, is that “every day you are exposing yourself to them.” It’s important to look for supplements that say whole food on the label, have a lot number on the bottle, and an expiration date. And don’t overdose. Taking too much Vitamin A or Zinc, for example, can dehydrate the skin.
8. Excess Sugar
Sugar can weaken our immune system, and when our immune systems are suppressed, our bodies aren’t as effective at fighting off bacteria –a leading cause of acne and other inflammatory skin conditions. Sugar also can contribute to constipation in our bowels, which can lead to congestion in our skin. Koff explains, “It’s been proven that too much sugar will negatively impact the skin. Sugar in the body is acidic, creating issues in our digestive tract, which establishes a more hospitable environment for the proliferation of bad bacteria in the gut.” Translation: More bacteria, more toxins, worse skin.
9. Excess Caffeine
Studies have shown that 2-3 cups of caffeinated beverages stimulate pituitary-adrenocortical response, which leads to increased cortisol levels in our bodies. Excess cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) has been proven to accelerate the aging process and damage our skin, including thinning the skin. The thinner your skin, the more prone it is to fine lines, wrinkles, dehydration and a lackluster appearance. Coffee is also a diuretic and can dehydrate the body. The better hydrated the body, the healthier the skin appears.
10. Gluten-Heavy Grains
Gluten is a protein in wheat and other grains that are staples of the US diet. But ironically, studies show that up to 40% of adults have some form of gluten or wheat sensitivity or intolerance. “When we have inflammation in our bodies, it often shows up in our skin,” Koff says, “and when my clients reduce their gluten intake, there is almost always a marked improvement in their complexion and overall health.” One can be tested for gluten allergies by most doctors, or try an elimination diet to see if symptoms improve. Some foods that should be avoided include pasta, breads, crackers, pastries, cakes, oats, pizza, beer, barley, rye and spelt.