How a WFPB Diet Impacts Skin Health
This is a guest post by Dr. Rajani Katta, a faculty member of the 2020 Virtual Int'l Plant Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, this September 11-14, 2020.
As a dermatologist, I consider vegetables to be a vital part of your skin care routine. That may seem surprising, especially coming from a dermatologist. But we now have decades of research that support a strong and complex link between the foods you eat and the skin you wear.
Take the results of a recent population study from the Netherlands. Researchers evaluated the facial skin of close to 3,000 elderly individuals, and then asked them about their diet (and specifically about their consumption of different foods). Even after controlling for other factors that can result in skin aging (such as sun exposure), the researchers found that better adherence to healthy eating guidelines was associated with fewer wrinkles in women. Overall, women who consumed a diet heavy in red meat and snacks exhibited more wrinkling, while women with a fruit-dominant eating pattern had fewer wrinkles.
We have many other research studies that link your skin to your eating habits. For example, there are multiple interventional studies, both long-term and short-term, that have identified certain dietary patterns, foods, nutrients, and compounds that are linked to more youthful skin. We also have a wide variety of animal and laboratory studies that have identified how these compounds affect the skin on a biochemical basis.
The Main Principles of an Anti-Wrinkle Diet
There’s certainly a lot of research on the topic of skin and diet. In fact, a recent article I wrote for a medical journal on an "anti-wrinkle diet" had close to 100 references. But all of that science can be summed up in three main recommendations. The first is eat power: eat foods that are naturally rich in powerful nutrients. The second is stop sugar spikes: avoid foods and dietary patterns that result in sharp, sudden increases in blood sugar levels. Finally, stop skin sabotage. Avoid foods, cooking methods, and dietary patterns that result in collagen damage.
The Science Behind These Recommendations
Multiple research studies point to three major biochemical processes that accelerate skin aging. These three processes are oxidation, major and minor inflammation, and glycation.
In other words, OMG.
Oxidation is a process that produces free radicals, which are unstable molecules that cause damage to the proteins, lipids, and even DNA in our skin. If you were to think of your skin as a house, oxidation would be the rain and hail that starts pounding away at the roof of your home.
Chronic inflammation is, essentially, the body’s normal defense and repair system spiraling out of control. Again, if your skin were a house, this would be like hiring a repair person to fix a small leak in your roof and ending up with a giant hole instead.
The third main process is glycation. This is the process whereby sugar molecules bind to proteins in your body and create new compounds called AGEs (advanced glycation end products). AGEs are known for their collagen-damaging properties. I think of AGEs as termites: as you start to get enough of them in the walls of your home, they start to weaken and bring down the support systems of your home. In your skin, weakening the collagen that supports your skin ultimately leads to a loss of elasticity and what we call "sugar sag."
How do your eating habits affect these processes? As I tell my patients, it comes back to the power of food. The right foods can help combat the damaging effects of these forces, while the wrong foods will act to worsen them.
The Dietary Patterns, Foods, Nutrients, and Compounds That Combat These Processes
My first rule when it comes to choosing skin saving foods is to "eat power." In other words, eat foods that are naturally rich in powerful nutrients. These are the nutrients that can combat the biochemical processes that damage and age your skin. That large body of research I was referring to has identified multiple dietary patterns, foods, nutrients, and compounds that can help fight these damaging processes. From foods rich in antioxidants, to dietary patterns that limit hyperglycemia, to compounds that have demonstrated anti-glycation properties, choosing the right skin saving foods and patterns can really help promote more youthful, glowing skin.
I break down skin saving foods into six main categories. The first is foods that are naturally rich in antioxidants, especially fruits and vegetables. The second is herbs and spices. They get their own category because they are powerful, concentrated sources of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-glycation power. I also recommend power carbohydrates and power fats, which provide phytonutrients and other beneficial substances in addition to just the macronutrients of carbs and fats. Finally, I recommend prebiotic and probiotic foods to help support the beneficial microbes that reside in our gut.
Putting It All Together
There are many cuisines that can satisfy these main requirements. I am especially drawn to heritage diets: the eating patterns that have been in place for centuries across the world. The key is to focus on whole, unprocessed foods that provide a rich store of powerful nutrients.
In other words, if you want to maintain healthy, glowing skin, you really do have to eat your vegetables.
Dr. Rajani Katta is a dermatologist, an award-winning educator, and the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet.
We are excited to have Dr. Katta as a faculty member at this year’s VIRTUAL PBNHC where she will present in greater depth, the scientific connection between the dinner plate and healthy skin. Register now to for your opportunity to learn more from Dr. Katta and the other outstanding PBNHC faculty, about the transformative power of whole food, plant-based nutrition.