There is a strong link between the apperance of skin and what we eat. While fats are often shunned because of their high calorie content (9kcal per gram compared to 4kcal in carbohydrate and protein) they are in fact one of the most important elements in skin health. So, which fats should we be including in the diet and why?
How skin cells are formed
The skin you show to the world has long been created deeper in the dermis (the dense inner layer of the skin). These skin cells are pushed up, layer by layer, until they reach the surface. This process takes around four weeks and so changes in the diet that may affect skin quality (for better or worse) might take a while to show themselves.
Each skin cell is surrounded by two layers of fat that make up the cell walls and is known as the phospholipid bilayer. This layer incorporates dietary fats and is key for giving the apperance of plump, healthy skin.
The benefits of omega-3
The most important of these fats are omega-3, not only as they form part of the structure but also because they have anti-inflammatory properties, unlike omega-6 fats that can actually cause inflammation. The typical British diet conatins more omega-6 fats as they are found in vegetable and seed oils. Traditionally these have been used in home cooking as well as in processed foods. The ideal ratio between omega-3 and -6 should be 1:2, but it is estimated that the western diet delivers more like 1:10.
As omega-6 fats can crowd out omega-3 we can tip the balance by focusing on omega-3 foods as well as consuming less omega-6 where possible. High levels of omega-3 have been shown to plump up the look of the skin as well as the quality, by reducing inflammation as well as supplying the building blocks for healthy skin cells. In addition, omega-3 suppresses a hormone produced by the liver called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which can in turn reduce spots and blemishes.
Which dietary fats should I eat?
The foods to focus on are fresh fish, especially those that are found in cold water. Wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, cod, anchovies, trout, tuna and halibut are rich sources, but it isn’t all about fish. Good vegetarian sources of omega-3 can be found (albeit in a slightly different form to that in fish) in walnuts, linseeds, pumpkin, chia and hemp. They can also be found in grass-fed beef.
Another good option, but harder to come by is purslane. Officially a weed, purslane has the highest amount of omega-3 fats of any edible plant. Purslane has a slight lemony flavour, with plump leaves, that can be used in salads and soups, or chopped into fresh vegetables and stews. It can be grown very easily in any garden or window box.
The importance of biotin
There is another nutrient that should be included in the diet to help fat metabolism in the skin, and this is biotin. It is found in good amounts in fish, soy products, egg yolk, almonds, Swiss Chard, tomato, avocado and sweet potatoes. In practical terms, this means getting enough omega-3 into your diet could be as simple as having guacamole alongside grilled tuna, or a baked sweet potato (topped with purslane) with sardines or grass-fed beef.
More tips for skin health
Have you overcome a skin problem or find certain foods give you a glowing complexion? We’d love to hear your thoughts below…
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