Is my favourite pasta giving me acne? 10 kitchen staples that will give you great skin

pancakes banana maple syrup (Food story)
Your food affects your skin health. Find out how… Image Credit: Stock image/Image for illustrative purposes

Shopping online for that expensive serum to make your skin glow? Close the internet browser, the answer might be in your kitchen. We often think skincare is all about what we apply to our face, but nutritionists and dermatologists across the world say that what you eat, significantly matters.

“You are what you eat,” is a commonly used phrase for weight gain, but it is equally true for your skin. From premature wrinkles to acne, your skin could be giving you hints about whether or not your diet is skin-friendly. Well, stop worrying about wrinkles it actually makes them worse, instead take a look at what you could change in your diet. We spoke to three UAE-based nutritionists to find how these 10 commonly eaten foods impact our skin, and which foods we need to include in our diets.

1. Breakfast cereal

Is your morning cereal healthy for your skin?
Is your morning cereal healthy for your skin? Image Credit: Stock image

Love your morning bowl of cornflakes? “Beware, as most breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar and refined grains,” warns Dubai-based nutritionist, Saumya Mishra.

“High sugar in processed breakfast cereal leads to over secretion of insulin hormone, which can, in turn, cause an imbalance in the secretion of other hormones, including IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor-1) and IGFBP-3 (insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3) that are involved in the pathogenesis (origin and development) of acne. It can also lead to over-formation of a skin pigment called melatonin, which causes patches of pigmentation on the skin on your face and the nape of the neck,” she explained.

Though your cereal box might say they are made of “whole grains”, did you know that these grains are processed at high temperatures to make different shapes and then sprayed with coating oil and sugar to keep them crispy? During this process, a lot of nutrients from the grains get destroyed. Vitamins and minerals added to these cereals are often useless as they are synthetic and the body doesn’t utilise them properly.

“But, you don’t have to give up cereal entirely. Healthy cereals like steel-cut oats, gluten-free granola with seeds, unsweetened rice cereal, amaranth, and flaked millets promote better gut health, in turn, give you great skin,” Mishra added.

2. Sodas and sweetened beverages

drink soda juice mocktail
Sodas and sweetened cause an insulin spike and affect skin health. Image Credit: Stock image

“Sodas, sweetened juices, and shakes have become a common part of our diet. But, excess consumption may lead to pigmentation, acne, and uneven skin. As in the case of sugar-loaded cereal, it causes an insulin spike and a boost in sebum production, which clogs skin pores and causes acne,” said Mishra.

Proof enough that it’s time to switch to whole fruits or juices without added sugar. “Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C and other nutrients which help to keep the skin smooth. Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes present a plethora of flavonoids and a huge amount of vitamin C, that help keep the wrinkles at bay,” explained Zenia Menon, a nutritionist and wellness coach based in Dubai.

3. White-flour pasta, noodles, white rice

noodles work food
Love instant noodles, or white-flour pasta? Here is what it could mean for your skin… Image Credit: Stock image

Are instant noodles your go-to midnight snack? Can’t resist a plateful of creamy pasta? Be careful, they can cause acne-related inflammation. It’s not just pasta and noodles, there’s a link between inflammation and any refined carb — we’re talking white rice, bread, bagels, all of which rate high on the glycemic index.

“Refined carbohydrates increase blood sugar levels and insulin levels. Insulin makes the androgen hormone more active, contributing to acne development,” said Menon.

Research shows that sugar is tied to inflammation. To minimise inflammation, you need to manage your glycemic index. The easiest way to do this is to eat a plant-based, whole food diet as much as possible. Carb lovers can switch to brown rice, whole grain bread, and whole wheat pasta and enjoy their food along with a higher protein food like chicken, beans, or peanut butter to delay digestion time.

4. Burgers and fried fast food

burger and fries
Burgers and fries are a fast-food lover’s go-to favourite. But, too many can mean bad news for your skin. Image Credit: Stock image

Love a good burger with some juicy red-meat patty? While it makes a lovely cheat meal when you are on a diet, if you eat burgers too often, that’s not good news for your skin. Let’s break it down for you.

“Most burgers have white bread, mayonnaise, cheese slices or processed dairy-based spreads, processed sauces, frozen meat, patties. Not only does the bun cause a spike in insulin production, but the other ingredients mentioned also have excess omega-6 fatty acids.”

While omegas 3 and 6 are backed by science to contain age-fighting properties and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, acne, and skin damage, Mishra explained that excess consumption of burgers can cause an imbalance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in the body, leading to increased inflammation in skin and gut.

The same goes for fried food like fried nuggets, fritters, and samosas.

A good alternative is to opt for a lettuce wrap, ask for a mayonnaise-free or cheese-free burger.

5. Pizzas

Are you a pizza lover? This is what too much pizza does to your skin… Image Credit: Stock image

We don’t want pizzas on this list either. However, Mishra explained that high consumption of pizzas can trigger acne too. She said: “Since the flour used to make the pizza base is often high in glycemic index causing insulin secretion, in turn activating the sebaceous gland, clogging the pores or causing hypersecretion of sebum. This is observed more in people with oily skin rather than dry skin,” said Mishra.

She added: “Also the adverse effects of excessive pizza consumption are more pronounced during adolescence when growth hormones are surging. Additionally, the cheese in pizza can cause blocked pores, blackheads, and acne too.”

Pizzas with cauliflower or almond-flour base, and less cheese, are a more skin-friendly option.

6. Pancakes

sugar-dusted pancakes
Pancakes are packed with refined sugar. Image Credit: Stock image

A stack of warm, fluffy pancakes coated with melted butter, topped with some light cream and drizzled with some maple syrup. Isn’t it the kind of breakfast that you would want to wake up to every day if it didn’t mean diabetes and weight gain? But, that’s not all that’s wrong with having pancakes too often. “Pancakes are usually made up of refined flour, again, high glycemic index, more insulin, so acne,” said Mishra.

“The chain of reaction would lead to the breakdown of skin collagen which makes the skin firm and retains its elasticity. This may lead to loose, slackened skin and premature ageing of the skin,” she added.

An option is to switch to oatmeal pancakes, use some low-fat greek yogurt or banana to make the batter. Make the stack smaller and add more fruits to your plate instead.

7. Coffee

Excessive caffeine can dehydrate skin, magnifying the appearance of fine lines. Image Credit: Stock image

While a moderate intake of coffee has not shown an adverse impact on the skin, excessive consumption opens the door for potential skin problems. Excessive caffeine can dehydrate skin, magnifying the appearance of fine lines. And, if you are a hard-core java drinker, too much caffeine can interrupt or delay sleep, and the effects will show on your skin. While coffee does contain antioxidants, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

And, if you take your coffee with an abundance of milk, cream and sugar, then you are in for some bad news. Zenia Menon said: “The combination of coffee with dairy would potentially be a problem as dairy increases inflammation in the body. High consumption of coffee could also potentially affect certain hormones such as cortisol (the stress hormone) and can increase their levels. Higher levels of cortisol can affect other health problems such as weight gain, digestive problems and, eventually, could cause the skin to be more prone to acne.”

8. Processed meats

hot dog (food story)
Eat hot dogs very often? First, read this… Image Credit: Stock image

Are you a hot dog lover? Can’t resist cold-cuts in a breakfast buffet? Eating lots of high-fat and high-sodium processed meats like salami and hot dogs won’t do your skin any favors. All meat that has been smoked, salted, cured, dried, or canned is considered processed. This includes sausages, hot dogs, salami, ham, and cured meats.

“Consuming processed meats is generally unhealthy as they contain many harmful chemical compounds that could lead to chronic diseases such as heart diseases, cancer, and diabetes. They are also high in sodium or sugar that disrupt the gut microbiota balance and increasing inflammation in the body. It also can encourage the degradation of collagen and elastin in your skin,”

9. Salted chips

Salted chips (Food story)
Salted chips Image Credit: Stock image

High consumption of processed foods with refined sodium and added chemicals has a dehydrating effect on the body. Zenia Menon said: “High salt intake can have health issues such as hypertension, edema, bloating, dehydration. It also causes your body to retain more water and can cause puffiness around the eyes. Skin can also become dry causing overproduction of oil through the skin pores and that can lead to breakouts.”

10. Dairy and whey protein

Experts estimate that about 68 percent of the world's population has lactose malabsorption.
Experts estimate that about 68 percent of the world’s population has lactose malabsorption. Image Credit: Gulf News archives

Dairy is a common skin trigger for more than one reason. Diet experts say it’s a pro-inflammatory food, which means it can aggravate or worsen existing inflammatory skin conditions, such as acne, rashes, and eczema.

But that’s not all. Many conventional dairy products have growth hormones and antibiotics, which may interfere with your body’s natural hormonal balance, in turn affecting skin health.

Dairy is also a common food sensitivity. Experts estimate that about 68 percent of the world’s population has lactose malabsorption. Lactose is the sugar found in dairy. However, many do not know that they have lactose intolerance.

Not only does eating food you can’t digest lead to digestive conditions, food sensitivities trigger an inflammatory response throughout your body. And by now, you have probably figured that inflammation triggers skin conditions.

What, whey protein too? No whey! Whey, another type of milk protein, can be just as problematic for skin, especially because it’s a pure and concentrated form. It’s also a rich source of two amino acids: leucine and glutamine. These acids make skin cells grow and divide quickly and can signal to the body to produce higher levels of insulin.

Zenia Menon added: “Amino acids have been known to stimulate the body to produce high levels of insulin that leads to acne development.”

Foods good for skin

So, is there a solution? “There certainly is!” according to Saumya Mishra. The rule of thumb is eating food that is rich in fiber and probiotics. Not only will this keep our gut healthy, but will also keep skin clearer.

And, water is of prime importance. She added: “For supple and well-nourished skin it’s important to keep it hydrated, which allows absorption and assimilation of nutrients such as vitamin E and C. Drink at least three litres of water per day, or 35 ml/kg of body weight to be precise.”

Zenia Menon added: “To have glowing skin, strong nails, shining lustrous hair, give the right nutrients to your body so it can thrive. This is what we tend to neglect quite often when we are trying to be the best version of ourselves. Include fruits and vegetables that provide an array of vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, in your diet abundantly.”

10 healthy foods for fabulous skin

Dubai-based nutrition expert, Zenia Menon, recommends including these nutrients in your diet for healthy glowing skin.

1. Healthy fats (Essential fatty acids)

Good amounts of healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish, help to retain moisture and elasticity in the skin. They help create an effective barrier to keep out different microbes and bacteria.

2. Proteins

Proteins contain amino acids that help in making other proteins like collagen and keratin, which are essential for healthy skin. Amino acids protect skin cells against ultraviolet rays.

3. Vitamin A

An essential nutrient that protects collagen protection, supports keratin production, and helps keep skin strong.

4. Vitamin C

It is a powerful antioxidant that is essential for wound healing, supports collagen production and protects your body against free radicals.

5. Vitamin E

Works with vitamin C to strengthen cell walls.

6. Zinc

It acts like an antioxidant, helps the skin heal after an injury and regulates sebum. Too little zinc in your body can look like eczema.

Foods that will help you achieve great skin

Déborah Vitorino, a Dubai-based Holistic Nutrition Expert, Wellness Coach and Consultant is a firm believer that the skin is often a reflection of what is happening internally within the body, more specifically to the gut. Here are her three top tips of things to include in your diet, followed by a list of seven foods that Zenia Menon recommends.

1. Bone Broths

Bone broth
Bone broth Image Credit: Stock image

“If I were to recommend one delicious food that contributes to amazing skin and boosts our health on a cellular level, it would be bone broth,” said Vitorino.

“While bone broths might seem to be a trend for some popular diet-makers, this dish has been around for thousands of years and it was created out of pure necessity.

“Considering that successful hunts were really rare, every part of the animal was precious to our hunter-gatherer ancestors and nothing would go to waste,” she explained.

Explaining the journey of the humble bone broth over centuries, she added: “Things started out pretty basic back then – put together some water, bones, available vegetables and a whole lot of cooking time and there you go, you have a rustic bone broth. This delicious and nutritious dish managed to cross borders and became a staple in many different cultures, especially in traditional Asian cuisine. In Chinese culture meals often feature a light soup made from bone broth and vegetables to cleanse the palate and help with digestion. In Hong Kong, bone broth is part of their postpartum recovery regimen.”

Vitorino further said: “In Greece, beaten eggs mixed with lemon are commonly added to the chicken broth as a traditional remedy for colds and digestive upset. Chicken soup in Hungary usually included organ meats, like chicken liver and heart, while in Vietnam and the Philippines, beef bone marrow was used as the base for making beef bone broth.”

“In the health world, bone broths are considered the cornerstone for a healthy gut. The gut-skin axis explains how by improving digestion and gut health, you can affect skin health,” she added.

Bone broth is also a hero that tackles the villain. It reduces system-wide inflammation, which is crucial for skin health since inflammation can accelerate the breakdown of collagen.

Bone broth is also rich in gelatin (which is basically cooked collagen), which plays an important role in supporting healthy skin, nails, and hair, Vitorino explained.

2. Manuka Honey

Manuka honey
Manuka honey Image Credit: Stock image

If you are not allergic to bees or honey, you must try this tip that ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Chinese, Greeks, and Romans employed to treat wounds and diseases of the gut.

Vitorino said: “Apart from being praised as one of nature’s gifts to mankind, in traditional Ayurvedic books, honey is considered medicine to those with weak digestion.”

A healthy digestive system and gut promote healthy skin.

Manuka honey is not just for ingesting, it is highly recommended for skin disorders such as acne and wounds.

You can apply a thin layer of manuka honey to your face. Manuka honey contains methylglyoxal, an antibacterial compound that can fight MRSA (antibiotic-resistant staph). It heals wounds, reduces inflammation, and moisturizes the skin.

All these properties are incredibly beneficial for those with acne-prone skin.

Tip: Leave the manuka honey on for up to 10 minutes before rinsing it off.

3. Fermented foods

Add sauerkraut to your salads Image Credit: Shutterstock

Vitorino said: “Fermented foods have been an integral part of communities across the globe and they play an important role in gut health and growth of good bacteria.

“Due to their innate probiotic qualities, fermented foods help to increase your population of friendly bacteria, which play starring roles in the process of digestion.”

Vitorino said that fermented foods help us digest and assimilate nutrients better. “they make vitamins, such as vitamins B12 and K, that your body can’t make on its own, fight inflammation and more!” she exclaimed.

Explaining further, she said: “You can easily incorporate these delicious foods to your diet by adding sauerkraut to your salads, drinking kombucha during your happy hour (which is a great substitute to alcohol by the way), or having a bowl of kefir with a mix of nuts and seeds for breakfast.”

4. Avocados

Avocados are rich in healthy fats and are excellent for your skin and hair. Image Credit: Stock image

Mainly known for their healthy fats that protect the heart and brain, they are excellent for your skin and hair, too. The healthy fats, mono, and polyunsaturated fats add moisture to keep your skin soft and supple, and the vitamin E fights off inflammation.

5. Kale, spinach, and other leafy vegetables

Spinach contains antioxidants that fight against all types of skin problems.
Spinach contains antioxidants that fight against all types of skin problems. Image Credit: Stock image

Kale and spinach are packed with nutrients that are great for overall health and your skin and hair too. They contain antioxidants like beta-carotene, polyphenols, vitamin C, iron, and B-vitamins which promote skin and hair health, helps fight wrinkles. They also protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

6. Citrus fruits

citrus, grapefruit, orange
Citrus fruits are packed with nutrients that help to keep the skin smooth. Image Credit: Stock image

Citrus fruits are packed with vitamin C and other nutrients that help to keep the skin smooth. Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes present a plethora of flavonoids and a huge amount of vitamin C, that help keep the wrinkles at bay.

7. Cucumbers

Cucumber, lime and mint Image Credit: Shutterstock

Cucumbers contain the mineral silica, which promotes beautiful hair, skin, and nails. It improves collagen in the body and is full of water that helps in hydrating your body and skin.

8. Acai berries

Acai berries are a good source of B-vitamins, protein and antioxidants. Image Credit: Stock image

Did you know Acai berries are rich in omega-3 fatty acids? They are also a good source of B-vitamins, protein and antioxidants. Protein provides collagen which is excellent for skin and hair health. Omega 3 fatty acids help keep your hair and skin moist to prevent breakage and dryness.

9. Walnuts

Want glowing, hydrated skin? Snack on walnuts! Image Credit: Stock image

Walnuts are action-packed with vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids that help in retaining moisture to your skin and keep it smooth.

10. Carrots

Carrots are a great source of Vitamin K Image Credit: Stock image

They are full of Vitamin C, both of which are antioxidants that make the skin healthier by restoring collagen and helps with anti-aging and cell repair. The potassium content in carrots helps to skin hydrated.