There are many reasons why ‘eating for your skin’ is so important and why you need to pay attention to your eating habits right now.
Through this section, I’ll reveal some of the most startling truths I’ve uncovered on my journey to discover the real secret to losing those puffy ‘panda’ eyes, and keeping them away for life.
To begin with…
What is ‘Skin Nutrition’?
According to Georgiana Donadio, PhD, DC, MSc, founder and director of the National Institute of Whole Health in Boston, “Your skin is the fingerprint of what’s going on inside your body, and almost every skin condition is the manifestation of your body’s internal needs, including nutritional needs.”
The key to maintaining a flawless complexion, and firm facial structure, is to feed your skin in plenty – both from the outside and from within. And the real secret to feeding you skin is to maintain a balanced diet.
What is a balanced diet?
A balanced diet is one which is comprised of a healthy combination of the three basic food groups: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
To better understand each food group, let’s explore them one at a time:
- Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are energy-foods which should make up the bulk of a balanced diet. Carbohydrates are of two kinds:
- Starchy Carbohydrates: these include cereal, grains, bread, pasta, oats and starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams and beans.
Starchy vegetables are further divided into two categories based on the amount of fiber they contain:
- Complex carbohydrates which contain more dietary fiber. These include whole grains, whole-wheat pasta, bread and oats
- Simple Carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are processed, refined forms of complex carbohydrates. During processing, these foods are stripped of virtually all the dietary fiber they contain, which also depletes them of their nutritional value. Some of the most common simple carbohydrates include white flour, white sugar and white bread and pasta.
- Fibrous Carbohydrates: these include plant foods like pulses, green vegetables and certain fruit.
In recent years, most of us have moved away from natural home-cooked meals and have gravitated towards processed and refined foods, which are packed with simple carbohydrates. Simple, refined carbohydrates are undoubtedly your worst enemies in your battle against puffy eyes, wrinkles and dark circles.
This is because these foods are nutritionally hollow, and provide your body with nothing more than unnecessary calories. What’s more, these foods absorb whatever nutrients your body already contains, leaving you more nutritionally starved than ever before. As a result, you put on weight, you’re constantly hungry and are depriving your skin and muscles of the nutrition they need.
When focusing on meeting your body’s carbohydrate requirements, don’t merely binge on starchy carbohydrates; instead, try to consume as many fibrous carbohydrates as you can to stay within your prescribed calorific requirements, without depriving your skin and muscles of essential nutrients and micro-nutrients.
Contrary to what most popular diets advocate, I’m not going to suggest going very low on your carbohydrate intake. This is because your body needs a certain amount of energy in order to function healthily, fiber in order to flush out any harmful toxins and a generous dose of vitamins and minerals… all of these requirements are met only when you include a reasonable amount of carbohydrates in your daily diet.
There’s a good reason why proteins are called the ‘building blocks of your body’. Muscle tissue is almost entirely made up of proteins, a lack of which causes your facial muscles to age and sag.
Protein foods are both plant-based and animal-based. Some of the most nutrition-packed protein foods include lean chicken breast, turkey, egg whites, legumes and dairy. The downside with protein foods is that if you don’t watch what you’re eating, you could very well be packing your body with less protein and more saturated fats.
For instance, skim milk is a good example of lean protein, while whole milk is a rich source of saturated fats. Similarly, fatty cuts of beef, mutton and pork do have some amount of healthy protein, but the health benefits are concealed under a thick layer of saturated fats.
When meeting your body’s protein requirements, try to stick to lean proteins and steer away from their fatty counterparts.
Fats are every fitness enthusiast’s pet peeve – after all, are any and all kinds of fat responsible for those flabby tires around your waist, hips and thighs?
Wrong again! Fats, like any other food group, are an integral part of a balanced diet. And just like carbohydrates and proteins, there are ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’.
- Unsaturated fats: These fats are found in plant-based oils, seeds, nuts and some types of fatty fish.
- Saturated fats: These animal-based fats are found in butter, fatty cuts of meat, cream and whole milk.
- Trans-fats: Trans-fats – or hydrogenated fats – are essentially plant fats with all the goodness processed out of them. These fats, which include margarine and shortening, undergo a long and cumbersome process, during which extra atoms are pumped into them, to increase their shelf-life.
The trouble with trans-fats begins during processing itself, when these fats are processed using toxic solvents, which in turn creates highly toxic, radical-filled oils. Once consumed, these trans-fats directly make their way to your cell membranes, where they become a part of your cell, replacing the healthy fats your body really needs. And by doing so, these fats – which your body fails to recognize – obstruct the passage of nutrients and oxygenated blood into your cells.
The free radicals these fats release cause havoc in your body, bringing about a process called oxidation. During this process, the free radicals ‘steal electrons’ from the cells of your body, damaging them and bringing about premature aging. Trans-fats are an integral component of virtually every packaged and processed foods – including cookies, crisps, white bread and pastries – because of their long shelf-life. Once used, these fats don’t turn rancid very easily, as would be the case with other ‘traditional’ fats.
While nutritionists are still divided about the effect of saturated fats on the human body, commonsense dictates that you keep your consumption of these fats to a bare minimum, simply because they contain very few nutrients and far too many unhelpful calories.
Unsaturated fatty foods like whole nuts and seeds, and vegetable and seed oils and butters contain a substantial amount of dietary fiber, a number of skin-nourishing vitamins like Vitamin A, D, E and K and possess anti-oxidizing properties to neutralize the effect of free-radicals.
Another group of fats worth mentioning is fatty acids, which is found in fatty fish like salmon and halibut, flax seeds, walnuts and tofu. These fatty acids have remarkable anti-oxidizing properties, and when consumed over a period of time, can radically turnaround the ageing caused by free-radicals.
Striking the ‘Right’ Balance:
The simplest and most effective way to balance your body’s nutritional needs without going overboard on your calorific intake, is to maintain a 3:2:1 ratio, where if your meal were to be divided into six equal parts, three of those would be a combination of fibrous and complex starchy carbohydrates, two parts would be lean protein and one portion would be healthy unsaturated fats.
When implementing this ‘golden mean’, pay attention to these basic guidelines:
- Try to restrict your starchy carbohydrates to the first half of the day, when your metabolic rate is at its highest.
- Restrict the fat portion of your meals to healthy sources like nuts, seeds, fatty fish and unsaturated vegetable and plant-based oils.
- Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever give in to the temptation of cheating yourself with an ‘instant meal’ or a ‘sneaky sweet treat’. If you do have a very persistent sweet tooth, try to bake a large stock of some of the healthy dessert recipes listed in my 30-Day Plan and freeze them to meet those sudden sugar cravings.
- It also helps to plan your weeks at least a week in advance, so that you can stock up accordingly at the grocery store. To help make this easier, my 30-Day Plan has built-in grocery lists which you can carry with you to the supermarket.
- Instead of loading up with two or three huge meals, spread your meals into 5-6 mini-meals with an interval of about 3 hours between meals. Eating smaller, more frequent meals makes it a lot easier for your body to absorb nutrients, which in turn, keeps your skin nourished and youthful.
- Power up your diet with anti-oxidant rich foods like flax seeds, walnuts, fatty fish and tofu to rejuvenate and replenish your skin and facial muscles.
- Don’t separate your proteins and carbohydrates. This helps your body to receive the energy it needs, while also repairing the damage your tissues suffer, over the course of the day.
- Avoid fad and crash diets at all costs – these diets only starve your body of essential nutrients and micro-nutrients, causing your body a lot more harm than good.
- Avoid sodium-rich foods – a diet which is high in sodium increases your body’s tendency to hold on to excessive fluids, which makes your face look bloated and out of shape. Most modern-day convenience foods contain absurd amounts of sodium, in addition to a generous dose of unhealthy trans-fats.
- Bulk up your meals with generous doses of dietary fiber, in the form of fibrous carbohydrates and good fats. Dietary fiber absorbs the excessive fluid from around your cell membranes, which in turn, goes a long way in protecting your facial skin and muscles from the harmful effects of water retention.
Does this mean you have to give up on your ‘caffeine kick’, ‘chocolate addiction’ and ‘recreational drinks’ altogether?
In a perfect world, yes… it would help to give up on these habits which do nothing but damage to your body, facial skin and muscles. However, trying to go cold turkey on so many different habits all at once, can be very intimidating, even to the most dedicated health enthusiast.
And in all honesty, I’m not quite the health maniac most people crack me up as… I have my addictions, my cravings and my ‘guilty pleasures’.
The only difference is, I know exactly what effect these habits have on my body, and how I can minimize the damage done with a little self-control.
A few years ago, I couldn’t imagine beginning my day without a minimum of three steaming lattes. However, as I began to understand the effect caffeine was bringing about on my facial skin and muscles, I began to look around for an effective ‘swap’.
And this was when I stumbled upon green tea. Green tea is made from the fresh tea leaves, which are immediately steamed or heated, to preserve their nutrients. These leaves are then dried and sold without any further processing.
Black tea is also derived from these very same tea leaves – the only difference is that these leaves are first fermented and then dried. Fermentation, or oxidation, destroys many of the beneficial properties of tea, including catechins and polyphenols which have powerful antioxidant properties. Green tea provides you all the ‘kick’ you need to get going, while also cleansing all the toxins, or free radicals, from your body.
Begin your day with a steaming cup of green tea, sweetened to taste with a little brown sugar. Steer away from refined, processed sugar which only adds empty calories and depletes whatever antioxidant properties your body could have gained. However, don’t down too many cups after mid-afternoon, as the caffeine content of green tea could interfere with your natural sleep rhythm.
Who doesn’t love the bitter-sweet symphony of a full-bodied piece of chocolate? The trick with chocolate is to avoid milk and white chocolate, which contain shocking amounts of trans-fats and virtually no nutrients.
Cocoa is a very concentrated source of antioxidants, which can do wonders for your skin and facial muscles, in consumed in moderation. Make the most of your ‘chocoholism’ with moderate amounts of dark, bittersweet chocolate with >70% of cocoa content. Most quality chocolates do have this recommended amount of cocoa, and very little added sugar and fats… and so, don’t be afraid to indulge in a square or two, for a perfect nutrition-packed conclusion to your meals.
Although alcohol, if consumed in excess, is certainly a very bad idea, if you must drink, indulge in a glass of full-bodied red wine which contains a sizeable amount of anti-oxidants. Avoid colored beverages like beer, which go through a long process of oxidation or fermentation, and are hence counterintuitive to your efforts at losing the puffiness, bags, wrinkles and dark circles in your under-eye area.
… the biggest secret that I discovered, which effectively explains the difference between ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’ is this:
The foods which work the best with your body are those which are as close to their natural state as possible.
The only reason why almost 80% of the world is either overweight, or constantly tired and starved of nutrients and vial energy, is because we are a culture of ‘processed and packaged foods’. When nature-made foods are forced through a variety of overly complicated and often unnecessary processes, they lose their basic nutritional structure which is inherent to them. And so, all that remains at the end of this long-winded refining and packaging process is an ‘artificial food substance’ which your body fails to recognize.
Consider this: The human body has survived through millennium of famines, floods and other natural catastrophes, on the basis of nature-made foods. Our forefathers, a few decades ago, hadn’t heard of even half the disorders and chronic diseases that are almost commonplace in the world today. And few, if any, of them were wrinkly, overweight and bloated.
Doesn’t it strike you as odd? After all, shouldn’t we, with our tons of medical advancements and scientific research, be healthier and more disease-free than our ‘backward’ ancestors?
However, we don’t achieve the kind of good health and fitness levels our forefathers often took for granted, for the basic reason that we don’t eat the same kinds of food that our ancestors thrived on. When we stuff ourselves with packaged, refined foods which are far removed from their natural state, our body fails to recognize these foods as nutrition-packed and refuses to metabolize them at the cellular level. These radical-rich foods then flood our system and rob it of whatever nutrients our body contains, to create severe nutritional deficit, which then causes a gamut of deficiency-related disorders.
What’s more, packaged and refined foods are high in trans-fats, artificial sweeteners and simple carbohydrates, all of which expedite the ageing process, bringing about wrinkles, eye-bags and dark circles in a matter of merely a few years!
The bottom line? Go whole and natural – organic, when possible – rather than walk down the packaged, processed and unhealthy route.
If you simply cannot afford to spend the time, and effort, on making every meal from scratch, try a combination of packaged and homemade meals. Here, pay attention to food labels, actually reading the ingredient list before you swoop up the product so that you know exactly what the food contains… and aren’t tricked into abusing your body with trans-fats and preservatives. Watch out for labels which read ‘low fat’ and ‘low carbohydrate’ as manufacturers will often compensate for the loss in taste with either refined sugar, or trans-fats, as the case may be.
A simple way to transition into the ‘whole and healthy’ lifestyle, from the regular ‘packed and processed’ eating syndrome, is to make simple food swaps. The table below, lists some of my favorite foods, which taste great, but aren’t all that great for my body, and their healthier, nutrition-packed counterparts: