Why Your Skin Needs Fat

by Monica Reinagle

Cutting back on high-fat foods like potato chips, French fries, and ice cream is a good strategy for staying slim, but there’s no need to be fat-phobic. Your skin needs healthy fats to look its best. You wouldn’t dream of depriving your skin of a good external moisturizer and you don’t want to skimp on the internal ones, either. The fat you eat helps your skin hold onto moisture, smoothing and plumping the surface. Dietary fats also provide essential fatty acids that fortify the skin cell membranes, helping to keep your skin supple, elastic, and youthful-looking. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women with a higher intake of healthy fats had fewer wrinkles and firmer skin tone.

Fats offer more than just cosmetic benefits to your skin. They also help enhance the absorption of protective antioxidants like vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lycopene. A study in the Journal of Nutrition found that adding some avocado to a salad increased the absorption of these fat-soluble nutrients up to 15 times! Once absorbed, these antioxidants help to protect your skin against UV damage that contributes to aging and skin cancer. In fact, a diet rich in healthy fats has been shown to reduce the risk of the most deadly form of skin cancer. There’s no need to worry that increasing your intake of fat could lead to blemishes, either. Contrary to some conventional wisdom, dietary fat intake is not linked to oily skin or breakouts.

Certain types of fats are more skin-friendly than others. You’ll want to avoid trans fats from deep-fried foods and hydrogenated vegetable oils, which can promote free radical damage and aging. Instead, seek out monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil, almonds, and avocados, and omega-3 fats found in fish, flaxseed, and walnuts.

The Mediterranean diet, which features fish, nuts, olive oil, whole grains, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables (not to mention a daily glass of red wine!), may be the ideal diet for healthy, glowing skin. What’s more, when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off, studies have found that diets that include a moderate amount of healthy fat are more effective— and a whole lot more enjoyable— than traditional low-fat diets.

The bottom line on fats: Go ahead and indulge a little. Avoiding fat isn’t good for your face or your figure!

MONICA REINAGEL, MS, LD/N is a licensed nutritionist and author of Secrets for a Healthy Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid, and What to Stop Worrying About. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

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