Clean eating is an important concept, but the term itself has created some confusion over the years. The human body is complex and very specific about how it interacts with stimuli — so are the foods we eat. Combining the two takes an understanding of the role food plays in health and, yes, beauty.
What is clean eating?
Clean eating is a concept based on eating more simply and organically. Like the reemerging keto and paleo diets, the idea is to replace processed items with whole, nutrient-rich foods. These are the foods the body evolved to get the most benefits from, long before modern diets became the norm.
Of course, modern diets aren’t just built around what food to eat. Food carries a lot of social value for us too. This is why diets often have a cultural element to them, and this one is no different.
Clean eating is also a response to the toll processed foods take on our bodies. Our skin isn’t immune to that toll, either. We see this best in the gut–skin axis —- the relationship between the digestive system and skin health. So how does clean eating support skincare?
Modern diets and skin health
The saying goes that beauty isn’t skin deep, but neither is skin health. Even topicals — beauty products applied on the skin surface – add nutrients like Vitamin C to support healthy cell functions.
Fruits like pomegranates, berries, and citrus are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, which damage skin cells and create signs of premature aging.
Some foods can have an equal impact the other way. Diets with high levels of fat, sugar, and alcohol lead to more free radical production. We know that high-sodium foods can trick the body into retaining more water and restricting blood vessels.
These are just some of the main causes of inflammation in the skin, which is what gives the face a puffy appearance. Sugary drinks also impact our metabolisms and insulin production. This has a knock-on effect on oil production on the skin and the likelihood of acne.
Stimuli like coffee also restrict our sleep, which is when the skin does most of its repair work, including:
- Rebalancing antioxidant and free radical levels
- Regenerating collagen supply
- Repairing damaged skin cells
What clean eating isn’t
Before we dive deeper into how clean eating can combat the consequences of modern diets, we need to dispel some myths. The word “clean” implies that all processed foods are bad for us. The truth is that processed doesn’t always mean “dirty” and “clean” doesn’t always mean healthy.
For example, any food with additives in it is usually labeled as processed. Additives can be growth hormones in cows' milk that affect our hormonal balance. They can also be vitamin D added to that same milk to fortify bones and the immune system.
On the other hand, while whole foods are generally the best foods, diets are about how we structure the intake. A diet without enough variation, eating at irregular times and portion sizes can be just as harmful to our health.
So what’s the best way to approach clean eating for skin health?
Clean eating supports natural health functions
The Harvard School of Public Health defines a clean, balanced diet as:
- Colorful and varied fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains like wheat, oats, and brown rice
- Protein from lean meat sources, beans, and nuts
- Healthy plant-based oils like olive, sunflower, and canola
- Plenty of water, very little sugary drinks and dairy products
The body knows how to take care of itself better than we do. The role of a diet is to supply the right fuel, at the right time, in the right quantity.
Clean eating gives us a great foundation by advocating for food that’s as close to its natural state as possible. Done right, a clean eating diet supplements the natural functions responsible for our health – even on the skin.
Skin health and the vital role it plays
Good skin care isn’t just about aesthetics or appearance, It’s important to keep in mind that, at the end of the day, the skin is an organ – the largest one in the body. It has a purpose in maintaining overall health and protecting the entire body.
When we treat it like the crucial organ it is, the role our diets play becomes clearer. Clean eating is key to skin health for two reasons here. First, it adds more macro and micronutrients to our diet – essential for cell functions. Second, it removes the foods that inhibit those same functions.
Processed foods aren’t just taxing on our health because of what they contain. Sometimes, the real danger is in what they don’t have. They’re often calorie-dense, but lack the fiber, nutrients, and vitamins needed for good health.
Restrict only what restricts your health
That said, most diets need to be tailored to personal and practical needs. Where you live can significantly restrict access to whole foods. Allergies and intolerances do the same thing to which foods you can ingest. Budget, physical activity, and culture are often considerations too.
You don’t need to replace everything in your pantry to reap the benefits of clean eating. Instead, focus on the whole foods that fit your lifestyle best. Clean eating principles are excellent guidelines, but you don’t need to follow them to the letter to make informed decisions.
Clean eating the right way
Many trendy diets come and go. They often try to introduce new food concepts that may not always last. The best diets are based on the fundamentals of healthy eating – the things we already know can help.
Clean eating follows many of the concepts the beauty industry has been teaching for years regarding skin health. Nutrient-rich whole foods in. Problematic ingredients out. Youthful, glowing skin starts with what we eat and how we support healthy cellular functions.
When it comes to health and skincare, clean eating teaches us how to meet our bodies halfway.