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Nutrition and Skin Inflammation: What to Eat and What to Avoid

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The skin is the largest organ of the body and deserves just as much care and attention as your heart, kidneys, liver, and other internal organs. The skin can also acts as a “magic mirror” (as NAA Advisory Board member, Dr. Trevor Cates likes to say–watch her webinar about this in our NAA Membership’s Webinar Library) into the internal state of your being. Visible changes on the skin in the form of redness, breakouts, or discoloration often imply the need to restore balance or function to an organ or system on the inside. Skin inflammation is often considered to be the cause of these visible cues on the skin, however, this isn’t the case. Skin inflammation is just another symptom. Identifying and eliminating its root cause is the way to improve what we see on the surface.

What is skin inflammation?

Skin inflammation is often an immune system response that manifests as a rash, redness, and swelling. Different cells of your immune system react differently to various triggers. Once triggered, immune cells release substances that widen the blood vessels.

Skin inflammation may also be the result of an allergic reaction, internal disease, or infections. Your skin may react with redness and other symptoms because your immune system is weakened. One common example is people with Celiac disease, who experience skin inflammation (such as dermatitis herpetiformis) when they eat gluten. Skin inflammation also may be result of overexposure to sunlight, heat, stress, hormone imbalances, and pathogens.

Genetics are also a contributing factor. Some people are born with convenient genes that make them less susceptible to visible signs of skin inflammation. Even those people need to take care so that bad lifestyle habits don’t catch up with them later.

Many of these causes of skin inflammation, particularly those related to immunity, can be traced back to the food you eat.

But first, let’s talk a little bit about the factors that lead to skin inflammation. Habits such as living a sedentary lifestyle will lead to visible changes to your skin as a result of its adverse effects general health.

Certain foods can also trigger a negative skin reaction. For example, have you noticed that sometimes when you eat chocolate or fried food you end up with a breakout the day after? Hint: it’s not the chocolate itself that caused that breakout; it’s the presence of unhealthy fats, sugar, and dairy.

It’s always best practice to check with your licensed healthcare provider or dermatologist if you notice any new or changed dark spots, have a lesion that isn’t clearing up, or is getting worse. For minor skin rashes, breakouts, and discoloration, however, simple changes to your eating habits can make huge impact.

Foods that potentially trigger skin inflammation

Foods that potentially trigger skin inflammation
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There are some foods that are among the most common culprits for skin inflammation.

Many of them are harmful by nature, so you won’t lose anything by eliminating them from your diet.

  • Refined carbohydrates: While your body needs a certain dose of carbohydrates to produce energy, refined carbs are simply bad. Consuming them often causes inflammation, clogs the pores, and raises blood sugar levels. These “bad carbs” are found in pasta, bread, candy, cookies, sugary soft drinks, and processed foods with added sugar.
  • Artificial trans fats: These are produced by adding hydrogen to certain oils and fats. They are known to cause inflammation, not only on your skin but in your body as well. Sunflower and palm oils, in particular, trigger an inflammatory response. Foods high in trans fats include microwave popcorn, french-fries, baked goods, etc. Artificial trans fats have been officially banned by the FDA, and are supposed to be gone from the food system by January 2, 2020. In reality, it will likely take longer than that.
  • Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): These two main types of added sugar in the Western diet increase inflammation. In many people, they lead to acne breakouts, rashes, premature skin aging, and other health problems.
  • Processed meat: Cured meats, bacon, and some sausages contain high amounts of sodium, which leads to water retention. That’s why your face looks puffy the morning after indulging in these foods. Furthermore, toxic preservatives added to processed foods like these can raise body burden, increasing skin inflammation, and risk of premature skin aging. 

Dietary theories that can help reduce skin inflammation

Foods that can help reduce skin inflammation
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Many modern diets eliminate potential skin inflammation triggers. They offer a blueprint that can help you build a comprehensive plan to make your skin healthier.

  • Paleo: If you go through a paleo food recommendation list, you will see that this diet excludes the above-mentioned triggers and includes skin-healthy nutrients contained in fish, fresh vegetables, healthy oils, fresh fruits, and grass-fed meats. This is because this nutritional approach is specifically designed to fight inflammation, both internal and external.
  • Vegan or vegetarian: While it doesn’t eliminate all the inflammatory foods, a meatless diet is lower in fat and cholesterol, which helps reduce acne breakouts. Just make sure your food choices are whole, real foods, not processed or packaged food products. There are far too many vegan and vegetarian junk foods that are extremely high in sugar, sodium, bad fats, and unhealthy protein substitutes.
  • Gluten-free: Gluten is one of the most frequent triggers for skin inflammation, particularly for people with celiac disease. A gluten-free diet is highly recommended for a clear, glowing complexion. 
  • Dairy-free: Dairy products can also be linked to breakouts, so you can try living without them for some time and see if they are causing the skin redness. 

Bottom line

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There can be many factors making your skin red, puffy, and spotty. Whether alone or in combination with them, nutrition can make things better or worse.

Some foods can cause skin issues only for a few people while being generally healthy, while others are bad for your entire body. Try to eliminate the latter ones first, and you will help not only your skin, but your overall wellbeing as well. 

To identify possible causes of skin inflammation in your diet, eliminate common triggers one by one and observe how your skin reacts to each change in your diet. This will help you determine the foods that suit you well, which you can then gradually reintroduce. 

Do you want to learn more about skin inflammation and other ways nutrition affects the skin?

We take a deep dive into the connection between nutrition and skin health in our Certified Nutritional Aesthetics Practitioner® Training Program.

Click HERE to learn more and start working towards your certification today!

About the author:

Guest author Caitlin Evans

Caitlin Evans is a bookworm, writer and recreational dancer. When she is not trying to find the meaning of life and the Universe, Cate is researching and writing about various health and well-being related topics. Connect with Caitlin on Twitter

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