By this point you’re already closer to having amazing skin than you were just a few weeks ago. You’ve kept a food journal and done an elimination diet, and when you see someone eating any of your newly discovered culprit foods, you feel an urge to slap it out of their hands. You feel as if you have all of the answers to life. That’s awesome! Most of us are so in the dark about our diets and lifestyles that just stepping out into the light is a huge relief. You have information, you have better digestion, and you have better skin. So now you’re in. You know how good you can feel, and you’re more aware of the things that make you feel slightly off. (If you haven’t kept your food journal and done your elimination yet, stop right here and go back to Chapter 3. I’ve got my eye on you. . . .)
Everything you’ve done up until this point has helped you establish a baseline for a healthy lifestyle. Now we’re about to embark on a whole new phase in this journey, one in which you’re going to raise your wellness to crazy new heights. Think of it this way: you know what causes your skin to act up, now you’re not just going to avoid the breakouts/blotchiness/itchiness/redness/rashes, you’re going to start finding what makes your skin radiant and glowing and angelic.
A FEW BASIC NUTRITION FACTS
You know that your diet is strongly tied to the state of your health (and therefore the state of your skin), so you’ve eliminated the bad stuff. Or at least, most of it, right? Now it’s time to take a closer look at the good stuff. I like to wait until this stage to talk about vitamins and minerals and carbs and proteins and fats—aka, micronutrients and macronutrients—because, let’s be honest: before you start worrying about your magnesium intake, I need you to stop eating donuts. But it’s important to touch on it here, at least briefly, so you really understand how food affects your skin.
Macronutrients are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Macro-nutrients provide energy, and each has specific functions that keep you alive. Carbohydrates are our main source of energy and are needed for your brain, nervous system, kidney, and muscles. Proteins are necessary for growth, tissue repair, and a well-functioning immune system. Fats are the most energy-dense macronutrient, and they are responsible for normal growth and development, cellular health, and the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Big-picture discussions of nutrition focus on ratios of macronutrients in the diet: what percentage of our food intake should consist of carbs, fats, or proteins. Varying balances of these ratios are the premise for zillions of diet books.
Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals contained in your macronutrients: minerals like copper, zinc, sodium, and magnesium, and vitamins like A, B, C, D, E, and K. You need very small amounts of micronutrients to survive, which is where the “micro” part comes in, but if you aren’t getting enough of them, your body can’t operate as efficiently as it should. And this book mostly exists because you’re not getting enough of them.
Because they are packed with nutrients, healthy foods will contribute to clear, youthful skin while nutrient-depleted foods will do the opposite. We’re going to keep this simple and talk only about the foods that make the biggest positive impact, and then we’ll turn to some bad food habits that your food journal may have missed. Remember that even the things we discuss here must fit into the context of who you are. All nutrition science should be thought of as “mostly true”—meaning lots of studies support the general conclusions. But all science is in a constant state of evolution, and we learn new things about nutrition every day, some of which totally flies in the face of long-held truths. Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we thought it was perfectly fine to smoke while pregnant. Things change.
I don’t love highlighting specific micronutrients for my clients because it kind of misses the point; vitamins and minerals must all work together to keep you alive. Without vitamin D, calcium cannot do its job. Without enough vitamin K1, your body cannot get enough vitamin K2. You cannot have a strong immune system by just getting more vitamin C; you can’t fight free radicals by just taking some vitamin A; and you definitely can’t get better skin by consuming only one specific vitamin or mineral. But all of that aside, everyone loves a handy chart. Plus, I think seeing it all mapped out shows you how surprisingly easy it is to get your correct dose each day. Include some healthy, whole foods, and you’ll get the nutrients you need. Easy as that!
Do you know which foods contain virtually no micronutrients? That’s right—processed foods. Anything that comes in a box has a whole lot less nutrient value than something that comes from nature. I won’t bother going into too much detail about why this category of “food” is bad for you and your skin, because there is plenty of evidence out there that chemically altered and synthesized food is not as good for you as natural food—and I think you are probably already aware of this. Just remember that synthetic foods are not recognized by your body as actual food (because they aren’t). When your body struggles to process them, you become inflamed. Inflammation in the body leads to inflammation in the skin, which, as you know, is a beauty killer. Additionally, every time you miss an opportunity to eat nutrient-rich food, you are missing an opportunity to nourish and invigorate your skin.
Any time I hear about some “miraculous” new synthetic food additive, I think about Olestra. Do you remember Olestra? It was a fat-free fat substitute developed by Procter & Gamble and approved by the FDA for use in food in 1996, during the Great Fat-Free Diet Craze. It gave processed foods like potato chips that familiar greasy feel and crunch without adding any fat. It was the 1990s dieter’s dream! The only problem was that it made it harder for your body to absorb actual nutrients, like vitamins A, D, E, and K, and it caused abdominal cramping . . . and anal leakage. Minor inconveniences. My point is, at their best, synthetic foods are devoid of nutrients and are doing nothing to help your skin. At their worst, they can have devastating side effects and health consequences. I don’t even think of them as foods, and I’m not going to waste any more time on them here. You shouldn’t, either.
One more thing: remember that you are now your own diet expert. You’ve done a lot of work to discover what does and doesn’t work for you. If you uncovered a culprit in your food journal that was making you break out or giving you an itchy scalp and you see it listed in the coming pages as a recommended food that’s great for your skin, listen to your body, not to me. Now that you have the knowledge of who you are, you also have your parameters. Take my recommendations and apply the parts that make sense for you.