Until recently, I had really bad skin. As far as socially debilitating genes go, it ranked right up there with my alcoholism and old-bag-lady-at-Sunday-Bingo narcolepsy.
I'm talking about a complexion so acne-philic that just when a pimple would start to clear up, two more would come to its funeral. The kind that necessitated the highest legal concentrations of salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide, and required constant re-basting with the stuff every few hours—like a Thanksgiving turkey—just to keep it temporarily dormant.
What I didn’t know then is that these chemicals, touted as the golden standard for extinguishing festering facial Mt. Vesuviuses, don't do jack without good nutrition.
You see gals, when you eat foods with a high glycemic index—meaning they cause your blood sugar to spike—your body brings the extra blood sugar down with a surge of insulin. The increase in insulin causes oil-producing androgen levels to rise, creating pimples.
And that was my problem. Although I was meticulously taking care of my face, I was in college, and food was about convenience.
It was a menial fuel that allowed me to get through my Shakespeare course without conking out and pulling a Hamlet on my essay.
So even as I was throwing down wads of Ben Franklins on visits with top dermatologists, I was engulfing extra-large Frosties, double doubles animal style, and anything triple-frosted or triple-fried at the check-out stand I could grab before darting off to class.
I tried every combination of cream, gel, and serum known to Western medicine—plus a few extracts of eel and shark's fin that are best left on a sashimi menu for the inquisitive gastronome—but nothing worked. Until I started eating right.
When I graduated, my face cleared up within a month. This was curiously right about the same time when I no longer counted Caramel Apple Pops as a serving of fruit, or thought of beef as simply a fun medium for whittling edible figurines.
Today I have more energy—and fewer pimples—than I’ve ever had in my entire life.
And now I'm sharing my IChing of happy skin with you.
The following ten superfoods will revolutionize the way you look in the mirror, putting childhood taunts and singed out yearbook photos to shame as your haloed complexion dapples the dark alleyways of spurious skin savants.
You ready for your grocery list?
This Persian gem is one of the littlest known dairy drinks out there, which is sad because it does a kick-ass job of vigilantly defending your body’s fortress from the Mons Meg bombards of your own bad food habits.
The probiotics in kefir aid digestion by cleansing the digestive tract. And when your insides are freshly polished and sealed with the Midas touch, your skin glows.
Kefir and its cousin, yogurt, also possess large amounts of vitamin A, which reduce keratin buildup (keratin is a skin protein that clogs pores when made in abundance) and sebum.
Note: If you completely effed up your metabolism like I did in college, the calcium in yogurt has been proven to speed up weight loss by hindering fat storage.
Is it just me, or do health food crazes tend to embrace unpronounceable foods that sound like something Zulu warriors would cry out as they plunge into battle? First there was açaí (ah-see) and now quinoa (keen-wa). Either way, these earth muffin faves are coddled for good reason—açaí is antioxidant-rich, while the selenium in quinoa strengthens skin’s defenses against the sun.
As a whole grain, quinoa also scores major antioxidant points with B-complex vitamins that decrease skin discoloration (a plus for those with post-acne scarring) and hydrate hair.
Tastier than broccoli and healthier than booze, kale is one vegetable that refuses to be beat. The leafy green taste explosion is anti-inflammatory and has nuclear levels of vitamin C, A, and K, which smite hyperpigmentation and wrinkles with the fist of a an angry skin god.
Kale is abundant in lutein, a nutrient that makes eyes whiter (hey, might as well go for the whole gorgeous package while you’re at it, right?).
4. Wild Salmon
Acne-ridden sisters, meet your new BFF (sorry, other girlfriends). Salmon is the Terminator of pizza face and one of the best sources of anti-inflammatory Omega-3s, which strengthen the skin’s lipid membrane, ensuring moisture stays in and irritants stay out.
A six-ounce serving provides you with a staggering 36 grams of protein. And since high protein diets have been proven to eliminate acne more effectively than carb-heavy diets (yup, if you want clear skin you have to ditch the Ding Dongs), this is one food you can’t OD on.
The Science: Gals with pimples have elevated levels of the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, which converts testosterone (a producer of sebum and keratin) into a more potent form called dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an acne-producing powerhouse.
But by consuming lots of protein, you convert less testosterone to DHT. And less DHT = fewer pimples.
5. Sweet Potatoes
The Thanksgiving standby is yummy with marshmallows but an even better treat for your skin. Sweet potatoes are phenomenal sources of vitamin A, a nutrient better known by its skincare moniker, retinol.
Prescribed by master skin shamans as the panacea for acne and sagging profiles, retinol—a derivative of vitamin A—revs up cell renewal, molting sun-beaten leather to reveal a bright, scaleless new you.
However, skin only absorbs about 40-60% of what you put on it, so to wreak the full benefits of vitamin A, eat it.
6. Organic Green Tea
In Japanese watercolor paintings of ye days of olde, diaphanous sky deities and kings would drink green tea on the terrace of a pagoda, built high in the clouds above Tokyo and untouchable by things product licensed.
Though the healthful importance of green tea is not lost today, the great esteem the culture had for the beverage has been robbed as celebs like Kate Hudson proclaim to US Weekly that the Starbucks Green Tea Latte is, like, her most favorite drink ever when she’s on a diet for a movie role.
Green tea has definitely made its rounds in circles of stars with 3% body fat, and though I’m not an advocate of emulating celeb behavior, this is one fad that you should focus your goggles on.
Green tea is also one of the most powerful antioxidants around, boasting catechins that combat free radicals.
You know how your skin glows after a fast? That’s because a fast forces your body to cleanse itself of toxic chemical buildup. And when your insides are happy, your outside shows it.
Eating a diet high in fiber generates a similar effect.
A serving of artichokes contains 25% of your daily waste-ridding fiber, giving you radiant skin. Artichokes also contain rutin, an antioxidant that plumps skin and reduces redness.
Ever since spoiled rich kid Violet transformed into a giant blueberry after eating an experimental piece of Three-Course-Dinner Gum in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, blueberries have been in a serious PR crisis.
Despite Violet’s massive weight gain, the squishy blue orbs actually counteract fat and boost immunity. Serving up to 25% of your daily vitamin C, blueberries stimulate collagen production and protect skin from sun damage.
Vitamin C makes quick work of free radicals, while phytochemicals tear the jugular vein out of inflamed skin.
It’s not always a bad thing to have crabs—on your plate, they’re little pieces of meat that know what they’re made of.
Lobster, shellfish, and crabmeat are loaded with zinc, which decreases the conversion of testosterone to DHT.
Almonds are edible SPF. As warehouses of vitamin E, almonds lay down the law to rogue armies of free radicals that try to penetrate your skin’s defenses, stopping these hoodlums by the hilt of their swords.
Rife with monosaturated fats—AKA “good fats”—they strengthen skin’s outer membrane.
Still thinking about going it topically (whether alone or in conjunction with raw foods)? Watch Elle's take on the highly controversial drug Accutane below, which includes info on how she got rid of her own acne.