Beauty does come from the inside…
Glossy hair, strong nails and glowing skin may be signs of a great beauty regime, but the importance of a great diet shouldn’t be underestimated. Food contains lots of beauty nutrients and it can also decrease your risk of disease, improve your immune system, increase your energy levels and even affect your sleeping habits. Read on to find out which nutrients will give your hair and nails extra luster, strength and shine.
The building blocks of Protein
Skin, hair and nails are mostly protein. Keratin, collagen and elastin ward off wrinkles and provide strength and elasticity. There is a plenty of protein in food like meat, chicken, fish, legumes, eggs and dairy foods.
The body needs extra protein to repair the damage like wounds or burns. And athletes in heavy training have higher protein requirements. But huge steaks and protein shakes don’t build bigger muscles or better skin. If we eat more protein than we need, our body converts it to fat and stores it – usually where we don’t want it.
The essential fat: Omega-3
The body needs fat. Not the greasy pastry and pie type, but the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats. If you have a dry, itchy scalp or skin, you may not be eating enough of these. They are called ‘essential’ fats because the body can’t make them; you have to eat them.
Eating some fish each week, especially oily fish such as salmon, sardines and tuna, increases omega-3s for a better balance. Oily fish provide the long-chain omega-3s, EPA, DHA and DPA.
If you can’t eat fish, try flaxseed. Flaxseed (linseed) oil is the richest source of α-linolenic acid (ALA) – another omega-3 fat. Some ALA can be converted to the long-chain omega-3s, but it provides less than fish.
Do you feel tired and lacking in energy? This may be a symptom of low iron. Hair, nails and skin can also suffer if you’re lacking in iron. Skin may be very pale, become itchy, or there could be cracking at the side of the mouth. Nails can become brittle and develop vertical stripes, or even become spoon-shaped. You could shed more hair and it will be noticeably more dry, brittle and dull.
Swapping your croissant and cornies to oats and muesli will boost your intake of essential fats, B vitamins and the potent antioxidant, vitamin E. B vitamins could easily be called the ‘skin vitamins’ because a deficiency often shows up as itchy, dry skin. Whole grains have all three parts of the grain – the bran, endosperm and germ. Refined, white-flour based foods miss out on the bran and germ, which is where all these goodies are.
Nuts are little nutrition nuggets – packed with essential fats, vitamin E and B vitamins. It’s likely that, after years on low-fat diets, the peanuts give you much needed essential fats, which results in shiny hair and nails..
Vitamin C is essential to make collagen, the structural cement of the body. Under the skin, collagen is the fibrous tissue that plumps it up giving support and shape. As skin ages it loses collagen.
When we breathe car fumes, cigarette smoke and lie in the sun, harmful oxidation reactions happen in our skin and body. Vitamin C, E and beta-carotene are potent antioxidants that mop up the harmful by-products of oxidation and slow down damage to the skin. Large doses of vitamins C, E and beta-carotene help protect the skin from sunburn and improve its resilience to things that could irritate it. But when taken as supplements, sometimes the antioxidant activity shifts to harmful pro-oxidant activity. So skip the pills and eat lots and lots of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables.
Tea and water
Both carotenoids and flavonoids (found in teas) help protect skin against UV damage and can improve skin hydration and condition. For well hydrated skin, hair and nails, drink plenty of water. The fluids and flavonoids aid blood circulation and the delivery of nutrients, so give yourself a daily flavonoid dose with a few cups of black, green or white tea and, depending on your mood, a glass of red wine, a cup of hot cocoa or a few squares of dark chocolate.
Save your skin: remember the S’s
- Smoking – don’t do it
- Stress – not good for skin
- Sleep – is good for skin
- Sunshine – limit exposure when it’s strongest
Does diet affect acne?
Some say yes, others say no. A recent study found an improvement in acne when the men studied ate a low glycaemic load diet. This means they ate a reasonable amount of protein and less high GI carbohydrate. The carbs they did eat were lower GI, so included more whole grains, pasta and fruit. The theory is that eating lots of white bread, cakes, refined cereal and other high GI foods increases insulin levels, which increases androgen (a male hormone) availability, which stimulates sebum production. So if you want the best skin you can, ditch the refined cereals and choose more whole grains, and fill up on vegetables and fruits rather than cake.