Nutrients for a Healthy Complexion

One of my friends (a friend with a very pretty face, I might add) asked me to write about nutrition for the skin. I know I touch on this every once in a while, but a refresher never hurts!

There are many aspects of our lifestyle that affect our complexion: diet & supplements, stress, and smoking, to name a few. Since the skin is the largest organ of our body, it is very important to protect it and nourish it each day. It functions as a protective covering, a sense organ, an oil producer, and a detoxifier. The skin is constantly using evaporation and perspiration to maintain internal balance by clearing toxins. In school, we often discuss the skin and the fact that it is an outward reflection of someone’s internal health and balance.

Of course the most important nutrient for healthy skin is water. We are unable to detoxify if we do not have enough water. It keeps our skin clean and pure by transporting nutrients throughout the body and flushing out toxins. Some other good ways to clear and detoxify the skin include using natural beauty products, especially those that contain things like aloe vera, herbs or honey. Egg white facials, dry-brush massage, saunas, and steam rooms are also good ways to open the pores and help eliminate toxins.

A diet that supports a healthy complexion includes nutrient-dense and high-water-content foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. In addition, essential fatty acids are necessary for healthy skin. These can be found in foods such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, and flaxseed oil. Fresh fish also contains many healthy oils for the skin.

Some supplements that can benefit the skin include a fish oil supplement, a multivitamin and mineral supplement, and antioxidants. Vitamin A and beta-carotene are important for treating acne, preventing blemishes, and treating dry skin. Someone with a vitamin A deficiency may get sick easily, have tiny red bumps on the backs of their arms, night blindness, and slowly healing wounds or infections.

Vitamin C helps supply antioxidants to the skin, which can slow aging and reduce some of the effects of smoke and chemicals on the skin. Zinc is another important skin supplement. Zinc is necessary for cell repair, DNA and enzyme production, and to keep immunity strong and healthy. Silica, which is highly concentrated in the skins of most fruits and vegetables, helps to strengthen the skin, hair and nails. So, keep that skin on your kids’ fruits and vegetables – they need it!

All of the B-vitamins are essential for healthy skin, and B-vitamin deficiencies are associated with some types of skin disorders. They are needed for cell division, to support tissue health and repair, and to reduce inflammation. Good sources of B-vitamins include wheat germ, beans, peas, nuts, leafy greens, liver, and lean meats.

As you can see, there are many components to obtaining a healthy, glowing complexion. It all comes back to eating as close to a whole-foods diet as possible. Everything you put into your body must come out, and our skin is one means of elimination. Excess sugar, alcohol, sodium, additives or preservatives can cause an unhealthy internal environment and therefore unwelcomed skin problems such as dryness, oily skin, acne, blemishes, rashes, and other skin conditions. Sugar is a great way to really hurt your skin. Not only does it cause skin conditions, but it also depletes our body of many important nutrients, leading to further skin issues.

Have a great weekend!


Iron vs. Calcium

Yesterday in class we talked about iron and calcium, and how the two nutrients interact. Sometimes we are so focused on getting all of our nutrients – whether it be from three meals or from a multivitamin – that we forget about the effect that certain nutrients have on one another and on our ability to absorb and utilize them.

It is important to understand the relationship between iron and calcium. Iron actually blocks the absorption of some minerals, especially calcium. So, if you’re taking a daily multivitamin with both iron and calcium, you are probably not really getting the full calcium amount listed on the bottle.

In addition to iron blocking calcium absorption, too much calcium can interfere with iron absorption. Other things that can inhibit iron absorption include tea, coffee, wheat bran, egg yolks, and even antacids. Vitamin C, on the other hand, actually enhances iron absorption.

If you are iron deficient, I recommend taking your iron supplement at a different time of day than when you take your multivitamin. And if you are worried about having enough calcium, you may want to take a separate calcium supplement, or find a multivitamin that contains calcium but no iron. Iron can also interfere with magnesium and zinc absorption, which is something to keep in mind.

I guess the lesson here is that we cannot just buy a multivitamin and expect it to correct all of our nutrient deficiencies. Supplementing with vitamins can be really beneficial, but it is so important to eat a varied diet as well to ensure we are getting everything we need.

We also touched on pregnancy and the importance of the mother getting enough calcium, especially during the 2nd trimester when the baby's bones are becoming ossified. Even though calcium is found in the prenatal vitamins that most pregnant mothers take, they may not be absorbing all of it. Some doctors or naturopaths recommend they actually take a separate calcium & magnesium supplement during the 2nd trimester, to ensure they have enough. The baby needs that calcium no matter what, so the person who ends up suffering from a deficiency is the mother, in the form of leg cramps, twitches, muscle aches, and even tooth decay.

Some great whole food sources of iron include soybeans, lentils, spinach, sesame seeds, kidney beans, raw pumpkin seeds, garbanzo beans, blackstrap molasses, and lean beef.


The Many Functions of the Liver

As we continue to learn about the digestive system in class, I continue to be amazed at how important each of our organs actually is. But nothing amazes me more than the liver. I know I talk about the liver all the time, but I came across this list of the liver’s functions in my Anatomy & Physiology textbook and I thought it was worth sharing. Use this as a reminder of how important it is to put healthy, real foods into our bodies so that our liver doesn’t have to work too hard. When the liver is overworked, we are more susceptible to weight gain, sickness, and many other health issues.

Carbohydrate Metabolism: The liver works to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. When blood sugar is low, the liver breaks down glycogen to glucose and releases the glucose into our bloodstream. When blood sugar is high (such as right after we eat a meal), the liver converts glucose to glycogen and triglycerides and helps us store these.

Lipid (Fat) Metabolism: Liver cells store some triglycerides. They also work to break down fatty acids to create energy (ATP). The liver creates lipoproteins, which are responsible for transporting fatty acids, triglycerides and cholesterol to and from body cells. The liver also creates cholesterol (remember, over 80% of our cholesterol is made within the body and only 15-20% actually comes from diet).

Protein Metabolism: Liver cells prepare amino acids (proteins) to be used for energy production.

Processing of Drugs & Hormones: The liver can detoxify certain substances such as alcohol, and it excretes drugs. It also chemically alters or excretes thyroid hormones, estrogens and aldosterone. Any over-the-counter or prescription medications we take must be processed by the liver, as they are foreign to our body.

Synthesis of Bile Salts: The liver creates bile salts, which are transported to the small intestine. Bile salts are necessary for the emulsification and absorption of fats.

Storage: The liver is the primary storage site for vitamins A, B12, D, E, and K, and for the minerals iron and copper. The liver stores these nutrients until they are needed elsewhere in the body.

Phagocytosis: The liver is responsible for killing off aged red blood cells and white blood cells, as well as some bad bacteria in the body.

Activation of Vitamin D: The liver, along with the skin and kidneys, is crucial in the activation of vitamin D. The vitamin D absorbed from the sunshine through one’s skin is inactive, and the liver must be involved in the activation process in order for someone to receive the vitamin D’s benefits.

Are you as impressed as I am with the liver? It’s the second biggest organ we have (the skin is the first), so let’s try to take care of it by reducing things like alcohol, smoking, and medications, and by increasing our intake of fresh, whole foods and plenty of water!


Gyro Meat

I had a Greek salad last week and it was topped with shaved slices of gyro meat. It tasted delicious, but I began to wonder what exactly goes into the gyro meat to make it taste so good. It’s clearly not straight lamb.

According to Wikipedia, large pieces of meat are placed on a spit and turned in front of a heat source. If the meat is too lean, strips of fat are added to keep it moist and crispy. Then, the outside layer of meat is cooked to a crisp and sliced very thinly, and used on sandwiches, wraps and salads.

Apparently the type of meat used varies by region. In Greece, the meat is typically pork but can also be chicken or veal. Gyros are also big in Australia, and the meat there is usually lamb, chicken, beef, or (most likely) a combination of the three. And in the United States, the gyro meat is often a combination of lamb and beef.

So far, I am not too surprised at what I’ve learned.

But then I read a New York Times article that was not so glamorous. It said that gyro meat begins with raw beef and lamb trimmings. The raw meat is run through a meat grinder, and certain things are added such as bread crumbs, oregano, water and other seasonings. The mixture is then run through another machine where it is turned into a paste. It is molded into cylinders and then frozen, ready to be put on a spit and shaved off for consumption. This is likely how the majority of the gyro meat we consume in the U.S. is made.

This is a little bit gross, but I’m not surprised. I’ve always suspected that gyro meat may be highly processed, and sometimes I even wonder if they add MSG to it to give it that strong flavor. However, it seems like the quality of the meat depends on where you get it. At a nicer restaurant, they may make their own gyro meat and it may taste a little fresher. But at a kabob stand on the street, you may be getting the highly processed stuff.

I did find a recipe for making gyro meat at home, and it looked delicious! Ingredients included ground lamb, onion, garlic, rosemary, marjoram, sea salt and pepper. There was also a recipe for homemade tzatziki sauce that included plain yogurt, cucumber, garlic, sea salt, olive oil, red wine vinegar and fresh mint. Yum! Nothing bad in that recipe. So, maybe the lesson is I should try to make my own gyro meat and tzatziki sauce! If I do, I’ll let you know how it turns out…