How to eat for great skin - Digestion

Low-fat diets, nutrient deficiencies and low levels of probiotics can all have a negative impact on our skin. Nutrition therapist Ian Marber explains how looking after our digestive systems can help...

Woman with good skin eating apple

The digestive system isn't always the first thing that comes to mind when we think about great skin, but in many ways, it should be. Many skin problems emanate from the digestive system and so, if you have ongoing issues, then it makes sense to start there.

Dry skin and digestion

Healthy digestion
Dry skin is often associated with a low-fat diet but what if you are eating good fats in the form of omega-3 found in fish, nuts, seeds and their oils, yet still have dry skin? Another cause can be low levels of the protein lipase. This protein or enzyme is released by the pancreas and helps the body to absorb and break down fat. Check with your GP whether you may need to take a digestive enzyme capsule, which will support this process.

Nutrient deficiencies

Aside from dry skin, poor digestion can also manifest itself in the skin as a result of low levels of fat-soluble nutrients - vitamins D, A, K and E and carotenoids

Low levels of vitamin K are linked to easy bruising. Vitamin A deficiency is a contributing factor to acne and vitamin E helps to give skin a dewy look, most probably as it is always found in fats.   

Foods with healthy fats including salmon, avocado and seeds
Make sure you're getting enough of these vital vitamins with the right foods. Vitamin A is found in liver, eggs, sweet potato, avocado and squash while vitamin K can be found in yogurt, egg yolks, fish oils, dairy produce and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin E is most prevalent in wheat germ, sunflower seeds, spinach and Swiss chard but is also found in almonds, avocado and sun-dried tomatos. 

Carotenoids consist of the pigments that give both fruits and vegetables their yellow, red and orange colours. There are more than 600 in total, although the most familiar is beta-carotene, found in carrots and peppers, although carotenoids are found in one form or another in every brightly coloured fruit and vegetable you can think of.  

The benefits of probiotics

Probiotic drinks
Probiotics, the beneficial bacteria, are a really important player in digestive health. Levels can be affected by diarrhoea, infection or just plain bad luck. Good bacteria has many roles, including helping conjugate vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, zinc and some B vitamins as well as combatting unwanted bacteria and yeasts. Skin problems linked to low levels of beneficial bacteria include rosacea, easy burning when exposed to the sun, inflammation and slow wound healing.   

Probiotics are found in plain yogurt, miso soup and sauerkraut. I find that many of my clients notice an improvement in their skin after including probiotics in their diet for at least a month, although the effects are likely to be noticed more rapidly if you take a probiotic capsule or shot twice a day for a couple of weeks. You should look for brands that contain strains of Lactobacillus and Bifido bacterium. Some may also contain fructo-oligosaccharides, listed as FOS, which can cause bloating and flatulence in some people. FOS is also found in Jerusalem artichokes, onion, blue agave, garlic and wheat. 

More tips for skin health

How to eat for great skin - Dietary fats
Eat your way to fabulous skin

Have you overcome a skin problem or find certain foods give you a glowing complexion? We'd love to hear your thoughts below...

This article was updated on 26th September 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.

A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).

All health content on is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact  your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

Comments, questions and tips

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Life Of Diva
1st Dec, 2014
The food we eat plays an important role in keeping our skin healthy. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always good for our health and give us a glowing skin too. Studies conducted on people shows that those people who consumed proper amount of vitamins and minerals in their diet have healthier skin and hair than those who did not. Protein rich foods, vitamins and carbohydrates help to nourish the cells in our body and promote growth and development. When our body lacks proper nourishment, it reflects on our skin as it gets dry and dehydrated. Here are some fabulous foods for dry skin you need to check out below:
shikiraclare's picture
8th Jul, 2014
I suffer with bouts of adult acne at 41, and my skin is terrifically oily - I look at least 12 years younger than my age and do not eat a probiotic diet. I absolutely have to disagree with the article where it states that, 'vitamin-deficiency' a contributory factor to acne - certainly not in my case - my daily diet consists of plenty immune boosting foods that are balanced in conjunction with some refined nourishments, yet does nothing to decrease the oil production levels in the sebaceous glands. I find that, it is only through rigorous excercise, when sweating - the excessive oilyness of the skin, begins to balance itself out - along with drinking plenty of water to rid underlying toxins trapped within the pores themselves. Saying this however, no amount of eating healthily and adequate excercise actually stops adult acne in its tracks. All you can do in my situation, is keep skin gently clean with non-abrasive face wipes; expose yourself to more fresh-air, and if wear any kind of make-up - ensure that it is oil-free powder and stay away from pore-clogging foundation creams - simply aggreviate sensitive skin.
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