8 essential nutrients that are better than a trip to Sephora ~ what they are, how they work, and how to get them to work for you (plus lots of recipes with beauty benefits to help you literally eat your way beautiful this year.)
The beauty world has ‘discovered’ a whole host of powerful nutrients, but truth is, they’ve always been around, right in the food we eat (hopefully) every day. These 8 nutrients that follow are known to have lots of benefits for your overall health, but today I’m focussing specifically on how they affect our appearance.
nutricosmetics and ingestible beauty
As nutritional science evolves and continues to study the powerful nutrients in foods that can affect, among so many things, how we age and the health of our skin, hair, and nails, the nutricosmetics industry has sprung up and found ways to add them to everything from serums and supplements to injections. Ingestible beauty is a term for both natural foods and beauty supplements that we take into our bodies hoping for specific beauty benefits.
can you really eat your way beautiful?
When I was a teenager suffering with acne and split ends, I was always told that the first line of defense for my beauty woes was my diet. But I never really believed it and always reached for the cure in the tube or the bottle. Looking back the products that were available to me weren’t very effective, but as the beauty industry is getting more savvy about natural ingredients and beauty from within nutrients, it seems like beauty products and diet might partner up for the best results. There’s real power in knowing how the nutrients in our food work from the inside out, whether we’re at the beauty counter or the grocery store. And it gives us a good excuse to finally get serious about eating better, too!
Hyaluronic acid is a natural compound in our bodies, found mostly in our skin and connective tissues. It’s a natural moisturizer and water retainer that’s responsible for some serious beauty benefits (hyaluronic acid can hold 1000 times its weight in water!) It helps keep our skin hydrated, elastic, and wrinkle free. As we age we lose hyaluronic acid, with the obvious results. HA can be found in beauty products like lotions, creams, and even hair care products. Studies show that hyaluronic acid supplements can be safe and beneficial.
Foods that contain hyaluronic acid:
- only animal products contain hyaluronic acid and the best source is bone broth.
Plant foods that encourage our bodies to make our own hyaluronic acid include:
- citrus fruit, berries, soy products, tofu, kale, leafy greens, starchy veggies like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and jicama.
recipes with beauty benefits: hyaluronic acid
- Edamame Salad
- Baked Orange Tofu
- Fennel and Citrus Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette
- Smoky Sweet Potato Soup
- Spicy Citrus Salad with Black Olives
- Salmon with Berry Salsa
Collagen is the most prevalent protein in our bodies and promotes skin hydration and elasticity. We naturally lose collagen as we age, and when the skin loses collagen, it wrinkles, which is why you’ll find collagen in anti-aging focused beauty products. Collagen also promotes healthy hair and nails, and it’s even thought to help with weight loss, but there aren’t any studies proving that, yet. Results are mixed as to whether collagen supplements or creams are effective.
Foods that contain collagen:
- bone broth (Cleveland Clinic recommends bone broth as the best way to get collagen,) fish with the skin on, chicken, and gelatin. White and green tea promote collagen production, too.
Hydrolyzed collagen is a common supplement that can be added to hot and cold beverages, soups, smoothies, or other foods.
recipes with beauty benefits: collagen
- Easy Slow Cooker Pho Recipe
- Lentil Bone Broth Soup
- Chicken Thighs with White Beans and Greens
- Finnish Salmon Soup
- Mediterranean Sheet Pan Salmon
- The Art of Making Tea
Biotin is a B vitamin, aka Vitamin H. It plays an important part in maintaining healthy hair and nails, and is commonly found in hair care products that promote hair strength. Evidence is weak that taking biotin supplements will help grow hair (unless someone suffers from a rare biotin deficiency.) The takeaway with biotin is that it doesn’t seem to be effective in beauty products, but is essential in your diet.
Foods that contain biotin:
- nuts, whole grains, oats, egg yolks, bananas, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and mushrooms.
Biotin deficiency is so rare that the USDA doesn’t even give a recommended daily amount. It’s almost certain you get all the biotin you need from your regular diet.
recipes with beauty benefits: biotin
- Vegan Ancient Grain Salad
- Cranberry Walnut Wild Rice Porridge
- Wheat Berry Salad With Beets and Feta
- Smoky Sweet Potato Soup
- Cooking with Mushrooms
- Guacamole Deviled Eggs
We all know we’re supposed to drink more water for our health, but did you also know that water is an essential nutrient that helps you look your best? When you get enough fluid in your diet your skin looks plumped (and younger.) Seems counter intuitive, but getting adequate liquids in your diet helps prevent bloating. Staying well hydrated can curb cravings and help you maintain a healthy weight. Helping your skin retain water is the number one goal of the multi-billion dollar moisturizer industry!
Foods that contain water:
- Water, not surprisingly, tops the list, along with other liquids like milk, juice, soup, and even coffee and tea. Many foods are high in water, like applesauce, cucumbers, melons, oranges and grapefruit, tomatoes, celery, and salad greens.
How much water do you need each day? The experts are divided on this: The Mayo Clinic says women need 11.5 cups a day, while Harvard Health says it’s more like 4-6 cups a day. The Cleveland Clinic says 8 cups is ideal.
omega 6 fatty acids
Omega 6 fatty acids are healthy fats essential to our bodies that we cannot make on our own, we need to get them from our food. Omega 6 fatty acids help keep the skin hydrated (moisturized,) firm, elastic, and youthful looking. Fatty acids can make your skin glow from within! You’ll find them in the form of natural oils (think argan oil, avocado oil, etc.) in all sorts of beauty products. There is good evidence showing that fatty acids have a positive effect on skin health when taken orally or applied topically.
Foods that contain omega 6 fatty acids:
- seeds, nuts, grains, vegetable oils (corn, cottonseed, safflower, sesame, soybean, sunflower), green leafy vegetables, tofu, and avocado.
recipes with beauty benefits: omega 6 fatty acids
- Avocado and Herb Salad
- Kale and Butternut Salad with Maple Spiced Pecans
- How to Roast Squash Seeds ~ five ways!
- Multi Seed Crisps ~ Homemade Vegan Crackers
- Roasted Pecan Butter
- Weeknight Mapo Tofu
omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are another group of essential healthy fats that our bodies cannot produce so we need to get from our food. You’ll find oils high in omega 3-fatty acids like avocado oil and chia seed oil in skincare products. Some studies show that omega-3s can help with hyperpigmentation, acne and other inflammatory skin conditions, including aging! Other studies show they may even help prevent UV skin damage. Natural skin care companies like Paula’s Choice claim that using these oils topically on the skin gives great results.
Foods that contain omega 3 fatty acids:
- oily fish (and fish oils) like salmon, anchovies, and tuna. Nuts like walnuts and seeds like flax and chia are also good sources for non-fish eaters. Likewise canola and soybean oil.
How much do you need? The American Heart Association recommends eating high omega-3 fish 2 times a week.
recipes with beauty benefits: omega 3 fatty acids
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad with Tuna
- Smoked Salmon Salad
- Spring Salmon Salad Platter
- Sicilian Pasta with Almonds and Anchovies
- Maple Walnut Butter
- Oat Bran Power Bowl
Zinc is a trace mineral that’s essential for several beauty related functions, including healing the skin (as in acne, which is why you sometimes find it in acne-fighting skincare products) helping to produce collagen, and preventing hair loss. Traditionally zinc has been used in sunscreens and dandruff shampoos. The body can’t make zinc on its own, so you need to get it from the food you eat.
Foods that contain zinc:
- meats and shellfish, legumes (like chickpeas) and nuts.
Because zinc is found mainly in meat and seafood vegetarians and vegans could be candidates for a zinc supplement. For omnivores, there’s no need to supplement zinc.
recipes with beauty benefits: zinc
- Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Hummus
- How to Cook Strip Steak
- Chimichurri Shrimp
- Chopped Steak with Bacon and Mushroom Gravy
- Ottolenghi’s Cod Cakes in Tomato Sauce
- Easy Whitefish with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Basil
Lycopene is an antioxidant in the carotenoid family. Carotenoids are found in brightly colored red, yellow, and orange vegetables. They help protect the skin from UV damage like wrinkles, brown spots, and sunburn. Lycopene is used in skin care products to repair sun damage and smooth rough skin.
Foods that contain lycopene:
- tomatoes, pink grapefruit, and watermelon, guava, and papaya.
recipes with beauty benefits: lycopene
- Papaya Breakfast Boats
- Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho
- Sweet Corn and Watermelon Salad
- Pan Con Tomate (Spanish tomato bread)
- Tomato and Parmesan Risotto
- Pickled Blackberries and Grapefruit Salad
the bottom line
The food we eat can be our most effective tool for aging gracefully and feeling beautiful. But the beauty industry has made incredible advancements in harnessing natural nutrients in their products to help us along the way. (The jury is still out on beauty supplements, more time is needed to study their effectiveness.) Take this as a good reminder that eating the ‘right’ foods isn’t just a chore that we have to do to stay well, it can be that magic beauty bullet we’ve been looking for all along 🙂
PS Some foods in the lists above stand out as super stars such as: Bone broth, tomatoes, citrus, sweet potatoes, eggs, mushrooms, salmon, nuts and seeds!