When functioning properly, your immune system attacks anything in your body that it recognizes as a foreign contaminant, whether it’s invading microbes, plant pollen, or chemicals. This process is called inflammation. Occasional inflammatory episodes directed at truly threatening invaders help fight off infection, protecting your health, including your skin.
Sometimes inflammation can persist, day in and day out, even when your body isn’t threatened by an invader. This is when inflammation can become the enemy, rather than the protector. Many major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s, psoriasis, and chronic fatigue syndrome, have been linked to chronic inflammation.
Since the beginning of my career, I’ve worked with my clients in an effort to maintain their youthful glow and healthy skin through diet. When I began my practice, I quickly noticed the connection between gut health, diet, and radiant skin. What you eat absolutely shows up on your skin. That’s why more and more doctors are recognizing and shifting their focus to the influential role of what we put in our bodies, rather than on them. Our most valuable remedies, it turns out, may not come from the pharmacy, but from the farm!
Recently, a client asked me if dairy contributes to acne. She said that every time she eats dairy, she breaks out. Dairy’s combination of growth hormones and inflammatory substances that clog pores can, and can absolutely are contribute to acne. Other skin ailments, such as rosacea, are revved up by certain foods, such as mint, alcohol, and spicy foods. These are just a few examples of the intimate relationship between food and skin well-being. Remember: Your skin is an organ.
The anti-inflammatory diet—less of a diet, actually, than a lifestyle—is growing in popularity among doctors and health-care specialists for its benefits to your overall health. This dietary regimen can not only reduce your inflammation but also help to maintain youthful, beautiful skin. A more natural, less processed diet can also have a positive influence on both your physical and emotional health. The following foods and guidelines can be modified to fit almost any diet you adhere to.
- Avoid processed foods—eat whole foods.
- Drink lots of water.
- Eat a variety of foods each day and at every meal.
- Eat foods that are organic/fresh as much as possible.
- Eat whole grains, and vary them.
- Try to avoid canned foods.
- Include a wide variety of beans.
- Include winter squash, sweet potatoes, and avocados.
- Eat the rainbow every day.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, not just the ones listed.
Avoid Inflammatory Foods
Not surprisingly, many of the foods that contribute to inflammation are generally considered bad for our health. (If you have a medical condition that prohibits any of the following foods, do not alter your diet without your doctor’s consent.) These include:
- White sugar
- Bad fats (saturated, trans)
- Refined carbohydrates
- Sugar substitutes
- Gluten and casein
- Excessive omega-6 fatty acids (in oils such as corn, safflower, grapeseed, peanut)
- Fried foods
- Dairy (unsweetened yogurt or kefir in moderation is OK)
- Artificial additives
- Processed foods
- Conventional meats and processed meats
- Fast foods
Add Foods That Combat Inflammation
- Wild-caught fish high in omega-3, such as mackerel, tuna, salmon, and herring (note that mercury and radiation issues are now a factor in how much fish should be consumed)
- Extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, coconut oil
- Fruits such as cherries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, apples, pineapple, and citrus
- Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale, collard greens, bok choy, turnips, rutabaga, radish, and watercress
- Alliums such as garlic, onions, leeks, chives, scallions, and shallots
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter and summer squashes, beets, carrots, tomatoes, and cucumbers
- Green tea
- Beans and legumes (best if soaked) such as black, navy, white, pinto, chickpeas, lentils, and split peas
- Nuts and seeds such as the following are best if sprouted: walnuts, almonds, cashews, macadamia, pecan, hazelnuts, and pistachio; sesame, pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and chia seeds Whole grains such as oats, buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth;some say to avoid all grains…I say listen to your body
- Dark, leafy greens
- Bone broth, freshly made (I do not eat meat, but I use this often with my clients who are meat eaters)
- Burdock root
- Bee pollen
Add Probiotics and Probiotic-Rich Foods to Your Diet
Probiotics (good bacteria) are instrumental in maintaining intestinal health. They are beneficial bacteria that keep your intestinal system healthy and help your colon get rid of toxic chemicals and pathogens. Foods high in probiotics include:
- Pickles in their own brine
- Kefir and coconut kefir
Add Prebiotic and Prebiotic-Rich Foods
Prebiotics nourish and feed the good bacteria that is in your colon. Both prebiotics and probiotics are imperative to a healthy gut. Foods containing prebiotics include:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Raw garlic, leeks, chives, scallions
- Raw and cooked onion
- Raw wheat bran
- Wheat germ
- Wheat berries
- Apple cider vinegar
These lists and guidelines provide a base for you to start shifting to a healthier lifestyle. But as always, I maintain that life is too short to abolish everything you love. I live what I call the 85–15 percent lifestyle: 85 percent of the time I eat a healthy diet, use healthy products, and think healthy thoughts, and 15 percent of the time I have my vitamin J (junk). I will indulge in an occasional cocktail, slice of pizza, or scoop of ice cream and highlight my hair. Occasionally having what you love increases the success rate of any new protocol. Whatever your vitamin J is, whatever deal breakers you can’t live without, relax, enjoy, and indulge every now and then.