It’s a season of short days, dark nights and a penetrating cold that makes it all too easy to curl up under the duvet and dream of exotic climes. For many of us, the cold and low sunlight days of winter can also mean dry, itchy, pale and lumpy skin. Not only are we less inclined to subject ourselves to the same rigorous beauty regimes for fear of freezing to death if more than an inch of skin is exposed at any one time, but the weather also makes us crave comfort foods that, taken to excess, can create further havoc. When it comes to natural beauty you really are what you eat and making sure you get plenty of the right, nutrient rich foods will go a long way towards helping you feel and look your best.
So here are my five key foods for achieving natural, radiant skin this winter:
Orange citrus fruits are delicious at this time of year. Just today, a colleague of mine was raving about how ‘perfect’ the oranges he received in his organic ‘veg box’ are and my annual addiction to the humble satsuma is greater than ever. Not only are they one of the most convenient fruits to carry around, they are packed full of beauty-enhancing nutrients including vitamin C, potassium, folate, and a variety of phytochemicals, to name but a few. Pretty impressive for such a modest fruit! Vitamin C plays a vital role in skin health, as it is integral to the formation of collagen, which makes up most of our connective tissue and our skin. It is also a powerful antioxidant that scavenges for free radicals, thus protecting against their potentially damaging effects, such as cell damage and premature skin ageing. Potassium contributes to regulation of the body’s fluid balance and therefore helps maintain skin hydration. Folate is essential for cell growth and repair as well as DNA formation, which allows new healthy skin cells to be created to replace those damaged by the cold harsh weather .
Beef is a staple at this time of year whether used for making delicious, warming and hearty meals or an indulgent feast. Beef is also a good option for keeping costs low, as cheaper cuts of beef are perfect for slow roast stews, leaving you time to get out in the fresh air for an added health boost. The key beauty-enhancing element in beef is zinc. So amazing is the power of zinc that it has its own foundation, www.zinc.org! It is vital for DNA synthesis and cell replication, thus supporting healthy skin. In addition, zinc is key for a healthy immune system, as it is used by the body to create immune cells that find and destroy invading bugs. Look your best by staying healthy and germ free this winter, avoiding the red flaking nose and puffy eyes that go with a cold. Zinc has also been associated with eye health as it may prevent damage to cells in the retina. This is particularly important in the elderly who are at risk of macular degeneration .
Salmon is a rich and tasty source of essential fatty acids such as EPA. These fats are essential for maintaining the membrane fluidity of all cells and so help to keep skin soft, supple and elastic, thus reducing fine line appearance. In the correct ratios they also have powerful anti-inflammatory actions, which protect from possible skin damage, as well as a number of chronic diseases. EFAs also play an important role in preventing dry skin conditions such as eczema and can help reduce premature ageing of the skin by protecting the telomeres on the ends of DNA strands . (Echium seed oil is an excellent vegetarian and vegan option for getting all the skin health benefits of essential fatty acids.)
Seafood and liver pate are excellent sources of the super-nutrient selenium. Selenium works together with Vitamins C and E in the body to combat the potential harm of free radicals. As part of the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, it helps to protect skin against natural and potentially considerable cellular damage. Selenium deficiency has been linked with acne, as well as a number of other skin diseases. Sadly, a large majority of the population of Europe are deficient to the point that their health is at risk, as adequate selenium levels are important for cancer prevention and reducing heart disease risk, in addition to helping maintain a healthy, spot-free complexion .
Water. Well spotted – this is not a winter food but a reminder to keep drinking it! Around Christmas many people find themselves under increasing pressure to drink LOTS of alcohol and this can have a big impact on skin well into the new year. Alcohol is full of sugar and acts as a diuretic which, together, leave the skin dehydrated and in some cases covered in blemishes. Drinking lots of water throughout the winter and in particular when drinking alcohol will help keep skin hydrated, which will reduce dryness and keep skin looking ‘plump’, thus reducing the appearance of wrinkles (try alternating alcoholic drinks with something ‘softer’, to halve your alcohol consumption effortlessly). Dehydration also leads to low blood volume, which can increase the distance between the blood vessels and the skin, leaving you looking pale and tired. Try adding a splash of cranberry juice to sparkling water or warm up with some green tea, both of which are packed full of skin-nourishing nutrients, further combating the negative effects of alcohol .
So, despite the cold weather and the after-effects of festive indulgence, there are still plenty of health-enhancing nutrients hidden away in our favourite seasonal foods. Best of all, the more you eat of these, the more radiant your skin will be!
5) Juhlin L, Edqvist LE, Ekman LG, Ljunghall K, Olsson M. Blood glutathione-peroxidase levels in skin diseases: effect of selenium and vitamin E treatment. Acta Derm Venereol. 1982;62(3):211-4.
Sophie Tully has joined Igennus as Nutrition Technical Advisor. Passionate about health and fitness, she decided to build on her pharmacology and cancer research background and undertake an MSc in clinical nutrition. Sophie is now determined to show people that ‘optimal health’ is not just being disease-free. It is about living a long and happy life without reliance on medication, or suffering ongoing illness. ‘Health’ results from a delicate balance of nutrition, physical fitness and mental wellbeing, specific to each of us. Each aspect is equally important and reliant on the other two – one element alone can shift the balance and impact on health.