Salmon, Walnuts, Canola Oil, and Flaxseed
These seemingly unrelated foods all deliver essential fatty acids, and thus are key elements in a healthy skin diet.
"Essential fatty acids are responsible for healthy cell membranes, which is not only what act as barriers to harmful things but also as the passageway for nutrients to cross in and out and for waste products to get in and out of the cell," says Ann Yelmokas McDermott, PhD, a nutritionist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston.
Because it is the cell membrane that also holds water in, the stronger that barrier is, the better your cells can hold moisture. And that means plumper, younger looking skin.
Also, says Heller, the same inflammatory process that can harm our arteries and cause heart disease can harm skin cells. Essential fatty acids are important in a healthy skin diet because they can offer protection to both.
The best-known essential fatty acids are omega-3 and omega-6, which must be in balance for good health (and good skin). Though we all seem to get enough omega-6, Heller says many people lack omega-3s. Fish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil are among the best sources.
These contain more than essential fatty acids. Eating good-quality oils helps keep skin lubricated and keeps it looking and feeling healthier overall, Lipski tells WebMD.
Which oils are the right ones for healthy skin? Lipski says those labeled cold pressed, expeller processed, or extra virgin are the oils to look for in a healthy skin diet.
"When an oil is commercially processed, the first thing they do is add solvents and raise them to really high temperatures, then put it though five or six processes. Important nutrients are lost," says Lipski.
By comparison, she says when oils are prepared by the cold-press or expeller process, or, in the case of olive oil, are extra virgin, preparation involves only pressing, heating, and bottling.
"You get all the nutrients that are not only good for your skin, but good for your body," says Lipski.
Since any fat, even a healthy one, is high in calories, experts remind us that we don't need more than about 2 tablespoons a day.