The Fridge Files: Which Foods to Keep and Toss for Healthier Skin

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We spend so much time considering which products to use on our skin and in what order, it’s a wonder we have any additional time to consider other important factors that affect our skin, like nutrition and sleep. When it comes to what we put in our mouths every day, experts say choosing the right foods to eat (or drink) and which ones to avoid can do more for us than a new bottle of serum. Here, nutritionists lay out which foods help keep our skin clear, plump and youthful, and which ones do more harm than good. 

We Are What We Eat

Why is the food factor so important? Nutritionist Jennifer Hanaway says, “Every single cell in your body is made from the component parts of our diet so if we eat an unhealthy diet, that shows in our skin.”

If you’re managing external issues like acne, skin laxity or even scalp sensitivity, which is an extension of your facial skin, you’re going to want to examine what you’re eating on a regular basis to find out what nutrients your body is getting in order to power through some of those concerns. “Your internal health shows on the outside, so if you are suffering from inflammation, I can see that as redness and breakouts on the skin, poor gut health often manifests as acne, eczema or rosacea, and a diet high in sugar can show up as premature aging,” adds Hanaway.

The “Yes” List

If you’re not already reaching for foods rich in these ingredients, now is the perfect time to start. 

Vitamin-Rich Foods: Vitamins are often called “essential” because they are not synthesized in the body (except for vitamin D) and must come from food. “I recommend foods rich in vitamin A, which includes sweet potato, carrots and spinach,” explains nutritionist and Dose & Co. founder Libby Matthews. “Also, foods rich in vitamins B and C such as leafy green vegetables, eggs and legumes, plus foods rich in zinc, like lentils, oatmeal and mushrooms, are also essential.”

Dark Leafy Green Veggies: The darker the greens, the better! “This usually indicates higher levels of antioxidants,” says nutritionist Sydney Spiewak. “Incorporating leafy greens into your daily meals will help your skin shine! Examples of dark leafy green vegetables are spinach and kale.”

Protein: “This is key for healthy skin as our skin needs adequate amino acids, the building blocks of protein, for growth and repair,” adds Hanaway. 

Healthy Fats: “These—think wild caught fish and avocado—are essential for plump, glowing skin, and a diet high in antioxidants and phytonutrients,” Hanaway says. “They help minimize free radical damage and promote collagen formation.”

Omega-3s: “While Omega-3 fatty acids are not antioxidants, but they can act as antioxidants in the body,” adds Spiewak.  “Omega-3s help keep the outer layer of our skin strong so that external toxins are kept out.”

Manuka Honey: According to registered dietitian Sandy Younan Bourko, manuka honey reduces inflammation, which aids in anti-aging by reducing inflammatory cytokine formation. “Some of my favorite ways to enjoy it is adding 1-2 teaspoons of manuka honey to my iced coffee with vanilla and nonfat milk or almond milk. I like PRI Manuka Honey because it’s high in methylglyoxal (MGO), an antibacterial compound found in manuka honey that is used to heal wounds.” 

Collagen Support: Daily servings of a collagen supplement can also help improve skin health. Matthews, whose Dose & Co. collagen products are made using type 1 and 3 collagens, says she never misses her dosage. Hanaway also recommends adding 10g of collagen powder to your morning routine. “It contains specific amino acids for skin repair and renewal,” she notes.

Foods to Socially Distance From 

To hit the reset button from the inside out, the nutritionists we spoke to agree on this short list of no-nos. 

High Glycemic and Gluten: “These make it difficult for the body fight off acne,” says Matthews. “Fried food leads to excess oil production within the skin which can cause breakouts. They also induce inflammation in the body which means more problems if you are trying to maintain clear skin.”

Sugar: Refined sugar can exacerbate many common skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis. “A high-sugar diet causes premature aging of the skin via a chemical reaction called glycation,” explains Hanaway. “This is when sugar in the bloodstream binds to the collagen and elastin proteins in the skin leaving it less elastic and not as resilient, resulting in fine lines, wrinkles and dull and sagging skin.”

Inflammatory Fats: These fats, found in things like vegetable and seed oils, can change the chemical structure of our skin’s cellular wall. “A diet high in healthy fats will result in a plump and soft cell wall, making our skin look young and glowing,” notes Hanaway.

Because glowy skin is always the menu, this bullet list is essential for the next trip to the grocery store. “A unhealthy diet will make the cell wall more rigid and less plump, resulting in thin, sallow skin that looks older than it is,” says Hanaway. To that we say, say less!

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