How diet affects skin health remains controversial, but as research progresses, certain nutrients are starting to stand out as either harmful or helpful to your skin’s "natural glow". We've put popular foods on trial to see how they stack up.
Low Glycemic Index Foods
Glycemic Index (GI) describes how quickly carbohydrate-containing foods spike blood sugar levels. Low GI foods cause a small, slow rise in blood sugar.
VERDICT: Helpful. Some small studies have shown an improvement in acne with lower GI food diets.
BOTTOM LINE: There’s little downside to choosing lower GI foods as they help control blood sugar, promote healthy weight management, and provide more consistent energy. To lower your GI intake, choose sprouted grain breads instead of white bread; sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes; and whole foods instead of fruit juice. For more info on the dangers of highly processed, high glycemic index foods click here.
Vegetables and Fruit
VERDICT: Helpful. Up to 80% of Canadians don't eat enough vegetables or whole fruit (no, fruit juice doesn't count). As a general guide you should fill up about half of your plate with veggies at lunch and dinner and include fruits and vegetables from every colour category daily (red, purple/blue, orange/yellow, green, and white). Fruits and vegetables have been shown to play a role in curbing inflammation and other factors that can impact skin health.
BOTTOM LINE: It makes sense that a diet high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals benefits our whole body - skin included. While the evidence may not pinpoint which nutrient in fruits and vegetables produce skin health benefits, the link between fruit and vegetable intake and our overall health is unsurpassed.
VERDICT: Possibly harmful. We recommend including dairy as part of a healthy, balanced diet. However, some reports have shown an association between acne and higher intakes of dairy. It could be the case that diets that are higher in dairy products tend to also be higher in other foods that negatively impact skin health. It has not been proven that consuming dairy products can cause acne, but some evidence suggests there could be a correlation.
BOTTOM LINE: Dairy is an excellent source of calcium which is an important nutrient required for bone health. If you don't eat dairy, be sure to include two to three servings of calcium-rich non-dairy foods daily (e.g. canned salmon/ sardines, tofu), and consider non-dairy milks that have added calcium. For information on non-dairy calcium sources click here.
VERDICT: Great news for chocolate lovers! There is no evidence that suggests that chocolate consumption is positively correlated to acne.
BOTTOM LINE: Cocoa powder, or dark chocolate (75% or higher) is rich in flavanols, which have been shown to serve as antioxidants, lower inflammation, reduce cholesterol, keep arteries elastic, enhance blood flow, inhibit blood clots and improve insulin sensitivity – all of which are related to better health and circulation. Dark chocolate can still be high in sugar and Calories so it's best consumed in moderation (2 - 3 small squares) per day.
Zinc & Omega-3 Fatty Acids
VERDICT: Helpful (possibly), more research is needed.
BOTTOM LINE: There is some evidence suggesting that zinc and omega 3 fatty acids can improve skin health. The important thing to remember, however, is that it's best to get these nutrients from real food vs. supplements. Good sources of zinc include meat, oysters, wheat germ, nuts and seeds. Enjoy 8oz of oily fish (e.g. salmon, sablefish, and trout) each week for a healthy dose of omega-3s. Not a fish eater? Plant-based omega-3's include walnuts, hemp hearts, ground flax and chia seeds.