A Nutritional Approach to Summer Skin and Heat
Summer is a wonderful season - the daylight hours are long, there is renewed energy to make the most of the day, enjoy the weather and feel the warm sun on our skin. As soon as the sun shines, the parks are full of people enjoying the outdoors, lying on the grass relaxing in groups and the pubs spill out onto the streets with jovial punters. The weather can most definitely impact on our mood, energy levels and overall sense of wellbeing.
It is also important to remember that our health relies on our activity levels, our support groups (friends), our outlook on life and what we eat and drink. Summer gives us a wonderful advantage to focus on these things and in return improve our health and wellbeing. So what could we focus on for the next few months?
Try Eating Seasonally
Summer brings us an opportunity to eat some wonderful seasonal fruit and vegetables. Some studies show that fruit and vegetables, that are in season, have a higher nutrient content. This may be due to them not being stored for long periods. If you’re also eating local produce you are cutting down on both transportation and storage time from the farm to the shelf, where nutrients are usually lost. As we all know, buying locally is also better for the environment. There is a lovely ‘At Its Best’ seasonality table on www.bbcgoodfood.com where you can see what you can focus on eating while it is in season.
I personally love asparagus season which unfortunately is only from June and July, but you can eat an abundance of beautifully fresh and reasonably priced asparagus during those months. Asparagus has nearly 100 phytonutrients compounds and contains a good source of over 20 vitamins and minerals. Asparagus also contains many anti-inflammatory compounds that can be beneficial to the body. It is simple to include in meals - pop into warm salads, add to omelettes or lightly steam and use the spears with your favourite dip. Summer harvest also offers fresh courgettes, peas, beans, artichokes and salad vegetables like lettuce, rocket, cucumber and tomatoes. The variety on offer during summer gives you plenty of choice every day and brings with it a varied source of nutrients.
Stone fruit such as nectarines and apricots are good options this season, as well as watermelon and berries. Berries are great as they are low in fructose (fruit sugar) and are little powerhouses filled with antioxidants and vitamins such as vitamin C. They can easily be included into your daily diet for quick snacks, dessert and smoothies. You can also freeze berries and grapes on skewers and serve on a hot summer’s day as a frozen fruit kebab which is simple to make and has the benefit of being both tasty and refreshing. Use fresh fruit to make homemade sorbets or ice cream. There are lots of healthy recipes on the net - just be mindful of the recipes adding in extra sugar, because the fruit should add enough sweetness. You can also feast on mouthwatering pieces of fresh watermelon. That rich red colour is from the nutrient beta-carotene. This has many functions in the body and interestingly may also provide natural protection from the sun, as it neutralises free radicals from sun exposure and prevents them from damaging your skin. So over the summer months, eating a good source of fruit and vegetables not only increases your nutrient consumption but also offers hydration due to the generally high water content of these foods.
Hydrating In The Heat
During these warmer months it is incredibly important to keep our bodies hydrated. A healthy person should be drinking on average 1.5-2 litres daily and if exercising or working in the heat then it needs to increase again. Our body mass contains approximately 60% of water and is crucial for the function of every cell and system in our body including the brain, heart and muscles. Water also carries nutrients to every cell in your body and helps to flush bacteria from your bladder as well as maintaining a healthy bowel function. Low water intake can cause headaches, constipation, lack of energy and dry skin. During the warmer months we are likely to perspire more and therefore lose water through our skin. Sweating is our bodies’ reaction to heat - by sweating our body is cooling our skin down and reducing body temperature. So how do we keep hydrated? Simple question, but in reality many of us find ourselves rushing about and only finding the time to drink when we become thirsty. If you get thirsty your body is already dehydrated. Have a water bottle to hand and regularly take sips, replace your Frappuccino with a fresh pressed juice, piece of fruit, vegetable- fruit smoothie or herbal tea.Your body and skin will thank you for it!
Tip: Try keeping a large jug of water on your desk at work or kitchen table at home and flavour with fresh basil or mint, slices of ginger root, cucumber slices, lemon slices, grapes or strawberries to add a refreshing flavour to the water. This may encourage you to drink more as it is constantly visible and also appealing.
Summer sun provides the most natural way to get vitamin D by exposing bare skin to the sunlight ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. These UVB rays also cause burning which is damaging to skin, so being sensible about sun exposure is vital for your skin’s health. The more parts of your body you expose, the more vitamin D is produced and then stored in fat cells in your body to be mobilised when there is a need. The Vitamin D Council UK recommend sun exposure for half the time it will take to get burned - so different for everyone depending on where you live, time of day and colour of your skin. A fair skinned person will manufacture Vitamin D much faster than someone with olive or dark skin. As we know, many of us in the UK are vitamin D deficient due to a lack of UVB sunlight during the year, as well as overuse of sun protection creams. Being deficient is a concern, as it can be a factor in many health problems. Deficiency can cause fatigue, muscle and bone pain, increased risk of infections and low mood. Vitamin D plays a major role in our overall health and is vital in maintaining a healthy musculoskeletal system, cardiovascular system and immune system, as well as our skin’s health.
Healthy, well-balanced skin relies on vitamins such as D, E, A, and C as well as minerals such as zinc, essential fats, water and antioxidants, which are abundant in fresh fruit and vegetables. Summer heat and sun can be taxing on the skins resources, as well as a diet deficient in nutrients. If the body is lacking certain vitamins and minerals, the skin will be the last priority as the body will use what it has on vital cellular functions. That is when we see compromised skin health with conditions such as dry, flaky, scaly and itchy skin, as well as wrinkles.
Avoid the wrinkle monster - sugar! When glucose levels become high for too long it binds to chains of proteins and forms advanced glycosylation end products (AGEs). These cause cell damage and trigger increased free radicals and inflammation. Glucose binds to the skin’s collagen and becomes rigid creating wrinkles as well as saggy and baggy bits on your face. So for your skin’s sake... give up the sugar!
So how do we avoid premature ageing and get lovely refreshed summer skin?
Focus on fresh unprocessed foods such as seasonal fruit and vegetables. These are high in nutrients and antioxidants
Get a good source of EFA’s through natural unprocessed nuts and seeds as well as oily fish
Avoid or minimise refined foods, sugar, high temperature cooked foods, trans fats, caffeine and alcohol
Look at labels and don’t be fooled by hidden sugars (high fructose corn syrup, glucose etc)
Drink plenty of pure water, coconut water and herbal teas to hydrate your skin. Avoid drinking soft drinks -even the no sugar variety!
Consider the creams you are putting on your skin - what chemicals are in them?
Summer Skin Face Mask
I remember as a child seeing my best friend’s mother walking around the house with a face smeared in avocado and oats every Saturday morning. We used to find it extremely weird and funny, but actually she was giving her skin a fantastic nourishing treatment without all the chemicals you often find in beauty products. So if you fancy giving ‘face food’ a go, here’s a lovely recipe to try:
In a bowl, mash up half an avocado, 2 tablespoons of raw organic honey, one to two tablespoons of raw oats and one tablespoon of plain sugar. Mix ingredients together. The avocado and honey are moisturising, the oats are cleansing and may help reduce redness in the skin, and the sugar acts as an exfoliant. Smear all over your face and leave for 10-15 minutes. If lying down you could add cucumber slices to your eyes and relax. Finally rinse off with warm water and put a little coconut oil over the face for further moisturising.
Food can nourish you from both the inside and outside, keeping you at optimal health and wellness with the added benefit of clear glowing skin. Bring on summer and all it has to offer your health and vitality!