How Becoming Vegan Changed My Skin

If the old adage is true and you are indeed what you eat, then I used to be a juicy combo meal of soy protein isolate, animal fat, dry milk solids, high fructose corn syrup and Red No. 3. Tasty, I know.

What that means is that like any reasonable adult, I ate vegetables on a regular basis, but they were by no means the cornerstones of my diet. A side salad was a "responsible" addition to my 8-ounce steak and a banana nut muffin was considered a serving of fruit in my book. I ate processed foods regularly and didn't think much of it. Basically, the choice to become a Vegan wasn’t obvious for me. In fact, the idea of cutting out all animal products and basing my diet solely on a whole foods, plant-based intake was, well, kind of out of the question.

However, that’s what I did. I gave up chicken and beef and fish and butter and milk and cheese and all things pretty delicious in this life and started filling my plate with kale and quinoa and lentils and yams and spinach and soybeans. Why? Vanity. It's a powerful motivator.

As a beauty editor, I know that my diet has a direct effect on the health and appearance of my skin and hair. Sure, there is always a cream to clear up acne and a shampoo that can make my hair instantly shiny, but why not take a direct shortcut to glowing skin and glistening hair by changing the way that I eat?

Whole foods, plant-based diets are typically low in fat, high in water-content and evade the pore-clogging saturated fats found in meat and dairy. Also, fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, minerals and phytonutrients, which are the building blocks for radiant skin and strong hair. 

Also informing my decision to cut out meat and dairy is the evidence that suggests that diets loaded with saturated animal fat and hormone-laced dairy can lead to inflammation of the skin and acne. "There are a lot of hormones in our dairy supply," says Encinitas, CA, dermatologist Heidi Gilchrist, MD, a fellow vegan. "And today, we have access to dairy at unprecedented levels so we are consuming a lot of it. All these hormones don't belong in us and they can really exasperate acne," she says. Not only that, "dairy has a lot of saturated fat and that can cause cholesterol deposits on the walls of your arteries which leads to inflammation and remember, acne is an inflammation disease."

Another great benefit of a plant-based diet is all the fiber you intake and all the toxins you cut out. You see, when your body intakes toxins from processed foods, your skin has to work overtime. Tampa, FL pro athlete and celebrity wellness doctor Tim Bain is the medical director of the Saddlebrook Athlete's Compound and has studied nutrition extensively. As a big proponent of the vegan diet, he says that when the toxins in processed foods overrun the body, organs like the liver, bowel and kidneys are overwhelmed by the intake and therefore the skin has to work overtime in detoxifying the body. "When the skin tries to take on such a significant role in detoxifying, the process can manifest as skin conditions like hives, acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis. From a science/testing perspective, we can see this result in blood tests like IgG, ESR and RA factors. A person moving from a processed food diet to a vegan diet drastically reduces their toxin intake, facilitates the detoxifying process, and increases vitamin intake and absorption," he says, which is great news for the health and look of your skin. Need more proof? Just look at the glowing complexion of vegans like Anne Hathaway and Olivia Wilde, heck, even Brad Pitt.

Of course, not only is a plant-based diet good for the skin, it's good for you body. Dr. Bain says there is a definite correlation between the vegan diet and decreased inflammation and inflammatory disease. "Cross-sectional studies of vegetarians and vegans have shown that, on average, they have a relatively low BMI and a low plasma cholesterol concentration; recent studies have also shown higher plasma homocysteine concentrations than in non-vegetarians," he says.

Now of course, it's important to know that when switching to a whole foods, plant-based diet, you have to do it responsibly. "You can't just eat white pasta and fake cheese, you have to do it right. You have to eat whole foods like greens, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, legumes and plant-based saturated fat like coconut oil, as well as take a multi-vitamin and try to incorporate nutritional yeast," says Dr. Gilchrist. If you are eating all these things, you are getting loaded with vitamins and nutrients as well as reaching the proper protein intake you need for beautiful skin, she says.

Lack of protein is what many people worry about when discussing the pros and cons of cutting out meat from the diet. However, through many studies we have seen that protein should only be about "nine to 11 percent of total diet calories. This has long been established as the Recommended Dietary Allowance, which exceeds the minimum protein requirements for virtually everyone," says Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and WHOLE: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition. Backed by the most extensive study of nutrition ever conducted and bolstered by dozens of additional studies and cases, The China Study found that a diet based on whole, plant-based food dramatically reduces your risk of a broad spectrum of diseases, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.

So I bet your wondering how my skin has changed since cutting out meat and dairy? Well, it has changed immensely. I no longer suffer from hormonal breakouts and my skin has become extremely radiant. More people have complimented me on my skin than ever before. I was blown away by the improvement, however Dr. Gilchrist was not surprised. "I have been vegetarian for four years and a vegan for three. I have seen in my own skin, as well as patients who make the switch, what a tremendous transformation it can bring."

What do you think? Would you ever consider a whole foods, plant-based diet to save your skin? 

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