Eating Your Way to Beautiful
By Christina Pasternak
From the FOOD-A-MINS Blog Series
People always told me that my struggle with acne was something I’d outgrow, and that pimples were just a part of being young and hormonal. When I would point out the fact that I’m in my twenties, people would say, “You think acne is bad? Wait until you start getting wrinkles!” Great.
There was a point in my life where my skin felt completely out of control. Every day, I’d wake up hoping my skin would just be better. I tried everything. My bedtime regimen took 30 minutes. I would scour, scrub, pick, pop, and sometimes even cry. My morning routine was even more frustrating. I hid behind layers of foundation and concealer. I was a self-professed beauty product junkie - always on the hunt for the next best skincare miracle. I desperately scoured acne and beauty product forums to find something (anything!) that would make my skin better. All I wanted was to go out in public without makeup - even if just to the grocery store. Clear skin felt so out of reach. I went to a dermatologist, who prescribed me everything from antibiotics to harsh topical retinoids, and eventually Accutane. Of course, he only did so after matter-of-factly pointing out that there is absolutely no connection between acne and diet.
“Really?” I said. “I’ve read so much about the importance of eating a clean diet.”
“Opposed to what?” He laughed. “A dirty one.”
I felt stupid.
My dermatologist promised me Accutane would work, and it did. I was so thrilled with my new complexion, I completely overlooked my stiff, aching joints and eczema that this extremely dangerous and toxic drug caused. Not only that, I started getting acne again, though mild, after just a couple years.
By this time, I had already begun my journey of healing my interstitial cystitis with alkalinizing plant foods and green smoothies. It was through my research of treating chronic inflammation that I continued to learn more and more about our skin, which happens to be our largest organ and our true outer reflection of internal health. The truth is literally written all over our faces - every line, wrinkle, pimple, dark spot, mole, and crease is connected to the internal functions (or malfunctions) of our body. Our bodies aren't compartmentalized. Everything is connected and working together to create equilibrium. Beauty products and prescription skincare do not create true beauty. Just like medication, they sledgehammer symptoms, and often irritate our skin more, rather than making us connect our external symptoms with internal abnormalities. The key to beautiful skin is internal balance, which can be achieved through the food you eat. When you give your body the nutrients it needs for optimal organ and systemic functioning, your body will literally glow with gratitude.
Super Beautifying Foods
David Wolfe, a natural health guru and raw foodist, shares his extensive research of the connection between the food we eat and our skin in his book Eating for Beauty, stating, “Look for foods that create beauty from the inside out. Instead of coating yourself in chemical laden beauty products, why not try to get healthy skin from the foods you eat?” Imagine that.
According to Wolfe, the foundation of beauty nutrition is to eat more raw plant foods, which will shift our body’s pH balance to a more alkaline state, alleviate underlying inflammation, and improve our overall complexion. Additionally, a diet consisting of phytonutrients, oxygen, enzymes, and antioxidants will fight against free radicals found in the Standard American Diet and environment, which inevitably lead to skin problems and aging.
Wolfe explains that true beauty foods contain high concentrations of the minerals sulfur, iron, zinc, silicon, and magnesium. Sulfur has an especially significant relationship with our complexion. Foods rich in sulfur increase the elasticity and flexibility of the skin, drive nutrients into our cells, repair tissue, and boost our immune system -- all the functions required to have healthy, glowing skin.
Some of the most beautifying foods recommended by Wolfe include the following:
- Aloe Vera: The gel of raw aloe vera contains concentrated amounts of sulfur, magnesium, and zinc, as well as antioxidants, enzymes, and the extra special polysaccharides. Polysaccharides have a lubricating effect on our body, which is excellent for our skin and boosts our immune system, allowing our body to fight against chronic viral, bacterial, and fungal infections. I wish I would have known that before taking long-term antibiotics for my acne, which ended up being terrible for my body. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, right? I prefer to eat aloe gel right out of the leaf, when it’s extra fresh and ass-kicking. I throw the gel right in my blender with smoothies, or I juice the leaves when I make green juices. If you don’t have an aloe vera plant, you can purchase big, beautiful leaves at most health food stores and even at some farmer’s markets. I’ve even seen them at large grocery stores. You can also purchase bottled aloe vera gel. Just make sure it’s in a dark, glass jar. Aloe vera is a true superfood and is incredibly beautifying. When I started using it regularly, people told me my skin was literally glowing and wanted to know my secret.
“You must be in love."
“Maybe you’re pregnant!"
“Did you get that new airbrush makeup?”
Get the idea? Try it and see for yourself the beautifying effects of aloe vera.
- Coconut Oil: The natural healing system of Ayurveda encourages the use of coconut oil for food and medicine, advocating its therapeutic and cosmetic benefits. Though coconut oil has a bad reputation due to being high in saturated fat, when eaten raw, the body can metabolize these medium-chain fatty acids more efficiently. Coconut oil is high in antioxidants, improves digestion, builds our immune system, and has antiviral, antifungal, and antimicrobial properties. Coconut oil can be eaten by itself, blended into smoothies, and also used topically. Coconut oil is the only moisturizer I use on my body; I use it to remove my makeup and clean my face, and I mix it with my night cream. I also add it to my smoothies or eat a tablespoon of it to help fight sugar cravings - the worst offender when it comes to the health of our skin.
- Hempseed: Considered a nutritional powerhouse, hempseed is 35% protein and contains all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids needed to sustain life. It contains the minerals magnesium, sulfur, iron, zinc, and silicon -- the beauty minerals required for healthy skin. Raw, shelled hempseed are delicious sprinkled on salads, blended into smoothies, or eaten on their own as a snack. Raw hemp protein powder is also a great way to enjoy this beautifying food. Try it in a plant-based protein smoothie.
- Cucumbers: The skins of cucumbers have concentrated amounts of silicon in them, as well as beautifying enzymes. It’s important to ensure that you are purchasing organic due to the pesticides and waxy coating used on conventional cucumbers.
- Macadamia Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds: These contain fatty acids and zinc, both of which are important for healthy skin. Can be eaten in salads or snack mixes. Roasted and salted varieties should be avoided. Choose raw!
- Turmeric: This warming spice is known in Ayurveda as a blood purifier and anti-inflammatory, both of which are essential for clear, bright skin. It is high in antioxidants and has anti-microbial properties. Try it in an Immune Boosting Tea, stirred into soups and stews, in homemade salad dressings, or mixed with warm almond milk and cinnamon for a warming, sweet drink.
Keep It Simple
In addition to adding these beautifying foods to your diet, it’s equally important to avoid acid-forming (specifically dairy), highly processed, and sugary foods. The closer to nature you’re eating, the more health and beauty benefits you’re going to enjoy. That means more phytonutrient-packed plant foods and more alkalinizing green drinks. The more raw plant foods I ate, the less expensive skincare products I needed. In retrospect, I now realize those hundreds of dollars in beauty products I spent were actually a big part of my skin problems! I now know to keep things simple, appreciate the healing foods found in nature, and, of course, their beautifying bonuses.
Wolfe, D. (2009). Superfoods. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.