My boys love to talk about the biggest bone in their body (the femur) and the largest muscle (the gluteus maximus). What is it with boys and big? I stumped them recently when I asked them to name the body’s largest organ. They debated between the large intestine and the liver. Nope, neither.
Our skin is our largest organ. It protects us from harsh temperatures, sunlight and chemicals, and also prevents infections from entering our bodies. It makes Vitamin D and has sensors that tell our brains what is happening in the world outside our bodies. Our skin also excretes toxins and waste products — pounds of them a day. And for the aged, it can often tell a story right on our faces!
Kimberly Snyder, author of “The Beauty Detox Solution,” says that skin “functions like a mirror of what is going on inside the body,” so when moms of teenagers ask me what foods their girls should eat for healthy skin, I always cheer them on for understanding that what their daughters put inside is reflected on the outside.
If you have a teenager who is struggling with skin problems, pay attention to these nutrients:
●Antioxidants. Foods such as blueberries, blackberries and tomatoes are high in antioxidants that protect against the free radicals in our environment that cause cellular damage.
● Omega 3 fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and preserve cell membranes. Cell membranes allow the good nutrients in and the wastes out, so keep skin clear and glowing. Salmon, walnuts and flax seeds are good sources of Omega 3s.
● Vitamin A is an antioxidant and important for the regeneration of new skin. Cod liver oil is a solid source of the vitamin, and orange and yellow vegetables contain beta carotene that can be converted to Vitamin A in the body.
●Zinc has been shown to reduce acne as successfully as the acne medication tetracycline. Ideal sources of zinc are organ meats, beef, lamb, oysters, scallops and pumpkin seeds.
● Water keeps skin hydrated and helps to move nutrients in and waste out, leaving skin healthier.
According to Elizabeth Lipski, the author of “Digestive Wellness,” good digestion is directly related to healthy skin. Eating raw fruits and vegetables that provide helpful digestive enzymes, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut, aids in digestion and strengthens the skin.
Snyder also says, “When our skin has to pour out so many toxins that it erupts into acne, that is a red flag.”
Like Lipski, she recommends including a probiotic supplement in the diet to help restore good bacteria to the digestive tract, and eating as many raw or fermented vegetables as possible to support digestion and thus construct clear skin. She also encourages clients to avoid sugar.
Certain foods can damage the skin by causing breakouts, inflammation or redness. These are some skin enemies, according to Snyder:
● Sugary foods trigger the body to produce a surge of the hormone insulin, helping cells to absorb the sugar. This burst of insulin has been shown to contribute to acne. Nicholas Perricone, the expert behind many books on healthy skin and a skin-care line, explains that digested sugar attaches to the collagen in skin, contributing to aging, acne and other skin problems such as rosacea.
●Processed fats and oils such as trans fats, corn oil, vegetable oil and canola oil can cause inflammation in the body and trigger skin issues. According to Perricone, inflammation generates enzymes that damage the collagen and elastin in skin, causing wrinkles and other problems.
●Food allergies: Some children with severe acne or skin afflictions may have a food allergy. Common allergens are gluten and dairy, so forgo these foods for a month to see whether there is an improvement.
●Candida-producing foods. An unhealthful bacteria called candida can grow in the digestive tract. It can contribute to acne and other skin inflammations. Candida feeds off sugar but has a harder time living in an alkaline environment, created by eating more vegetables.
I’m not sure my boys cared much about these skin facts. They are too young to have acne or to be concerned about whether a girl thinks they are cute, but they have remained fixated on the fact that skin can pump out pounds of waste a day. You can imagine the conversations they’ve had about this. Boys . . . .
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.