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The Best Foods for Healthy Skin, According to a Nutritionist

How to eat your way to younger-looking skin, according to certified nutritionist Emma Sgourakis.

Last week's article on how polyunsaturated oils contribute to skin aging totally hit a nerve. Some of you are already on board. Some you are aren't convinced yet or think I'm being extreme. Some of you think I have no business writing about food without a science degree behind my name.

I'm hearing you. But I'm also hearing, based on all the responses, that we need to keep talking about this. I've always been in the camp that believes beauty starts from the inside out. Wouldn't it be great to know which foods really ward off aging skin? That's my goal with this series of articles, and today, I offer up the perspective of a certified nutritionist.

I mentioned her last week, but want to more formally introduce you to Emma Sgourakis, who runs and is based in Melbourne, Australia. Say hi to Emma:

Here's a little blurb about her 10-year-old practice (she works with clients across Australia, and internationally via Skype):

Unconventional in her approach, opposed to commercialised western “diet” principles and the industry-driven food pyramid, she is always researching further and digging deeper to uncover the truths and debunk common myths about human nutrition. She will have you questioning mainstream health “beliefs” that have been holding you back. Emma’s nutrition philosophy is based on the premise that we should eat the foods we are biologically designed to eat, based on our physiology and backed by unbiased independent research, but always person-specific. She will move you away from processed, degenerative, inflammatory and inefficient foods, towards natural, nutrient-dense, functional, supremely digestible, pro-metabolic foods. Emma believes that we should not underestimate the consequences of our food choices and that we need to be more thoughtful in our purchasing and eating habits, better informed about our bodies, and armed with skills to make it all taste good.

Last month, I contributed to an article Emma wrote for her blog, which I want to share with you today. It's all about eating for anti-aging, and it is FULL of incredible information. Over to Emma...

Age Sweetly

By Emma Sgourakis, Certified Clinical Nutritionist, ACNM, Dip Hlth Sc (Nut)

You might’ve noticed headlines popping up in magazine articles lately stating that sugar is “aging” and the cause of glycation which leads to skin wrinkling and sagging. These articles generally conclude with recommendations for ‘anti-glycation’ topical skin products and (sigh) a “no-sugar” diet. This post is just a small collection of information to get you thinking and hopefully have you see that sugar* is actually not the bad guy here.

Firstly, I want to say that I don’t think wrinkles are necessarily bad. I’m proud of my 37-year-old laugh lines. Wrinkles are indeed inevitable but the thing is, they needn’t develop prematurely, and if you’d rather not accelerate aging of the skin, know that sugar is not the culprit, but rather the oxidative breakdown of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA).

“Many people are concerned about the spontaneous glycation that supposedly happens in the body when sugars react with proteins, though they are really mostly the result of PUFA degradation.” – Ray Peat PhD


“The fragments of deteriorating PUFA combine with proteins and other cell materials, producing immunogenic substances. The so-called “advanced glycation end products” that have been blamed on glucose excess, are mostly derived from the peroxidation of the “Essential Fatty Acids.” The term ‘glycation’ indicates the addition of sugar groups to proteins, such as occurs in diabetes and old age, but when tested in a controlled experiment, lipid peroxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acids produces the protein damage about 23 times faster than the simple sugars do.” (Fu, et al., 1996). – Ray Peat PhD

In fact, sugar actually helps to prevent tissue breakdown (seen in the skin with sagging and loss of muscle tone), by ‘sparing’ protein:

“Sugars* (fruits etc) are far more effective than protein in preventing protein degradation in the muscle.” – Ivy & Portman PhD

The stress of a low-carb / low-sugar diet, and stress in general, decreases our production of carbon dioxide (putting us in a low metabolic state), and actually increases the glycation of proteins. So too does fasting and under-eating, as stored PUFA are released into the bloodstream.

*Sugar, specifically “sucrose”, a simpler carbohydrate found in high amounts in ripe fruits, orange juice, real honey and white cane sugar (pure sucrose), is essential for lowering stress, increasing thyroid (T3) production, supporting metabolism and energising the liver; all factors in lowering catabolic stress hormones, slowing general degeneration, supporting youthful energy production, and a more youthful appearance too.

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From The Skincare Edit Archives

For more on sugar and exactly what I am referring to when I talk about the healthful, pro-metabolic kind, see here.

Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) include all liquid vegetable oils (the fats found in most processed foods which include canola oil, soy oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, fish oil, flax oil etc, with the exception of extra virgin olive oil) and the fats present in things like grains, seeds, nuts, legumes and conventional poultry (see more here). These fats are unstable to oxygen, light and heat and oxidise (spoil) easily resulting in free radical damage (inside and out). Saturated fats on the other hand, such as coconut oil and butter, are protective. You can read more about recent research regarding how we need to rethink fats here and the anti-aging properties of saturated fats here.

The sun isn’t actually the ‘cause’ of skin aging either, it only contributes to skin damage with overexposure and when a person has accumulated too many PUFAs in their tissue:

“In the l960s, Hartroft and Porta gave an elegant argument for decreasing the ratio of unsaturated oil to saturated oil in the diet (and thus in the tissues). They showed that the “age pigment” is produced in proportion to the ratio of oxidants to antioxidants, multiplied by the ratio of unsaturated oils to saturated oils. More recently, a variety of studies have demonstrated that ultraviolet light induces peroxidation in unsaturated fats, but not saturated fats, and that this occurs in the skin as well as in vitro. Rabbit experiments, and studies of humans, showed that the amount of unsaturated oil in the diet strongly affects the rate at which aged, wrinkled skin develops. The unsaturated fat in the skin is a major target for the aging and carcinogenic effects of ultraviolet light” – Ray Peat PhD

and this:

“While it is important to avoid overexposure to ultraviolet light, the skin damage that we identify with aging is largely a product of our diet.” – Ray Peat PhD

20 minutes of sun exposure at a time on a sunny day is probably enough (build up to this gradually and always avoid burning), however until you’ve significantly lowered your PUFA consumption and the stored PUFA in your tissue, you might be best to shield your face from full sun (ie; wear a hat). Sunlight on the rest of the body is necessary for Vitamin D synthesis.

For further quotes and a full round up of research links regarding polyunsaturated fats and age pigment, see this great post here by Rob Turner.

Important to note: These visible signs of aging on the skin (wrinkling, sagging, brown spots, loss of muscle tone) are just minor and superficial signs of aging within. So addressing skin aging through diet and lifestyle changes is very important to improve the health of the entire body. After all, what keeps the skin healthy also keeps the body healthy.

Consider the foods eaten by the beauties of the past, before Botox, surgical facelifts and sugar phobia:

“Eat the old fashioned way, dairy, eggs, in-season fruits and do not be afraid of sucrose (cane sugar) added to your coffee and milkshakes. Film actresses in the thirties and forties did not need all the facelifts and touch ups that actresses need today due to a healthier diet filled with sucrose, animal protein and saturated fat. Take a look at some movies form the olden days. Remember that sucrose is used for energy and allows proteins to be used for repair work on your skin. A low carb diet will very quickly cause cells to suffer due to wastage of repair material. No sucrose in the diet means that proteins are turned to sugar for energy.” – Dodie Anderson, Nutritionist and Ray Peat’s ‘Queen Bee’! – see more of her work here

How best to eat sugar? Eat enough of it, sucrose, from ripe fruits, fresh orange juice, pure honey (if tolerated) and white cane sugar (in addition to a mineral rich diet), balanced with adequate protein and saturated fat, and eaten as frequently as needed to keep body temperatures healthy**

** A healthy body temperature sits above 36.6 C / 97.8 F a sign that cell metabolism is being supported. You should see a rise in temperature after eating, with a resting pulse ideally between 75-90. More on this here.

A few other skin-protective nutritional tactics, apart from avoiding PUFA:

  • Saturated fats such as coconut oil and butter
  • Vitamin E (although your needs decrease as your PUFA intake decreases)
  • Preformed vitamin A (your best source by far is fresh liver).
  • Support healthy thyroid hormone conversion (this is also supported by sugar and blocked by PUFA).
  • Support pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA synthesis; three youth-associated hormones. It takes cholesterol (LDL), Vitamin A and Thyroid to make Pregnenolone, which then (in a well nourished, unstressed and efficiently functioning body) is converted to the other steroid hormones … further reading here.
  • Get adequate animal protein (80g daily minimum, and up to 200g for active males) particularly the non-inflammatory kind, including gelatin. Protein is also important for supporting the liver in detoxifying estrogen, and elevated estrogen is related to the formation of age pigment on the skin as well as hypothyroidism.
  • Keep your calcium to phosphate ratio high. Excess dietary phosphate is one of the factors involved in aging (of many parts of the body). Emphasise dairy over meats, grains and seeds. More here and a great interview to listen to here.
  • Keep inflammatory endotoxin down with a daily carrot salad, daily bowel movements, and digestible foods. And sugar helps stop endotoxin entering bloodstream too.
  • Reduce stress in all forms. Stress increases our need for sugar and calories in general and cortisol (a major stress hormone) eats up the skin, literally.
  • Maintain blood sugar and avoid hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) with, yes, sugar! (in the form of sucrose as previously mentioned, balanced with protein and eaten frequently). Low blood sugar is a stress in itself increasing cortisol (cortisol is released during glucose deprivation). More on this here.
  • Get plenty of deep, restorative sleep (the best ‘facelift’).

Practical ideas: Foods to prevent premature aging of the skin (and the entire body for that matter)

  • Milk and honey (with the type of milk that you digest best)
  • A milkshake made with homemade ice cream with egg yolk like this
  • Homemade custard with stewed fruits
  • Homemade crustless cheesecake with cherries
  • Homemade jelly (or jello) and cream
  • Ripe fruits and high quality cheese (a post coming about cheese very soon!)
  • Homemade marshmallows in hot chocolate
  • Homemade fruit gummy sweets (recipe for these and other ideas at The Nutrition Coach on Instagram)
  • Homemade Pâté and a fruit platter
  • An egg (from a pasture-fed hen) very gently cooked in coconut oil or butter with a large glass of fresh orange juice (I like to cook eggs like this)

Visit Emma's blog to read the rest of the article, including my thoughts on PUFA-free topical skincare. And you can read more about Emma's services here.

Find more from Emma at, on Facebook and on Instagram.

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