Next to superfoods (Kale? Please, it’s now cauliflower) and all sorts of trendy diets that reflect our increasingly wellness-obsessed society, your mother’s call to drink her painstakingly brewed tonics for beautiful skin might seem somewhat old school and superficial. There could, however, be some truth to eating one’s way to glowing skin, and it could lie in some of today’s hottest eating trends. (What this also means: It’s likely to taste a lot friendlier than, say, turtle soup with angelica root and more bitter herbs.)
Wellness and lifestyle cafe Frunatics, which opened end June at Palais Renaissance after an over three-year-long hiatus, serves “therapeutic meals” including a nine-course skin detox set that includes an antioxidant-rich salad, and a vitamin- and fibre-packed strawberry, grapefruit and baby spinach smoothie. At the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Andre on Bukit Pasoh Road, its namesake founder and Asia’s culinary golden boy Andre Chiang recently began offering fermented fruit juices as part of the establishment’s pairing menu.
It might seem like a given that eating well ought to naturally lead to better overall health, including that of your complexion, but that hasn’t stopped more and more of beauty’s most respected insiders from joining in the movement of diet care for skin care.
In April this year, American cosmetics guru Bobbi Brown released Beauty From The Inside Out, a 224-page tome filled not with makeup tips but recipes including her version of an ultra refreshing, Insta-worthy power bowl (kale, quinoa, sweet potato, lentils, avocado and watermelon radish).
Another prominent champion: Australian wellness advocate Carla Oates, who’s taken her moniker The Beauty Chef – also the name of her eight-year-old cult beauty supplement brand – into the culinary sphere with her first recipe book last December. Titled – you guessed it – The Beauty Chef, it covers over 150 dishes meant to promote radiant skin and gut health. And, yes, there’s dessert. (How does some “creamy millet porridge with honey roasted figs and almond and seed toffee” sound?)
Of Kimchi And Kale
Oates has been of one of the earliest advocates of eating fermented food – think kimchi, sauerkraut and kefir, the yogurt-like drink that’s a staple in Eastern Europe – to rejuvenate skin. “Eating these foods helps clarify and rejuvenate the skin from the inside, so it glows on the outside,” she says.
The secret lies in the rich diversity of probiotics in such foods, even if there’s still insufficient scientific research on the effect of consuming fermented food on the complexion. Bonnie Lau, a dietitian at Glycoleap, a centre that offers weight and diabetes coaching, says: “It’s been postulated that fermented foods specifically may benefit skin through their probiotics, which can colonise our gut and improve our microbiome. This can benefit skin through healthier immune and inflammatory responses within the body.”
In addition, there are other nutrients, including vitamins and antioxidants, that are naturally found in such foods or produced as part of the fermentation process. These, she says, can enhance the skin-beautifying effects.
Fermented food convert Eliyan Jahir, an early childhood educator, began drinking kombucha, the fermented tea favoured by hipsters, and kefir about three months ago. It didn’t take long before she noticed that her usually rash- and breakout-prone skin cleared up significantly. She says: “My skin is looking more radiant, clear and smooth… I do still get some skin rash from time to time, but they clear up quickly too.”
Those who aren’t into the sour, acidic taste of fermented milk and greens could opt instead for two increasingly popular diets: flexitarianism or an anti-inflammatory one. Flexitarians follow a mostly vegetarian meal plan, but consume meat ad hoc, while an anti-inflammation diet – high in fibre, phytonutrients and omega-3 fat – focuses on the likes of leafy vegetables (cue kale and mustard greens), antioxidant-rich berries, and seafood such as salmon and oysters. Both diets are, of course, not mutually exclusive.
Singer-songwriter Shirlyn Tan, a flexitarian who makes it a point to consume more vegetables with chicken, pork and fish thrown in “on occasion”, says: “The more fresh fruits and vegetables I consume, the better my skin becomes. I get way less zits now.”
Dr Georgia Lee, a GP with an interest in beauty, points out that the small amounts of meat in a flexitarian diet can make up for the lower amounts of vitamin B12, iron and omega-3 in a purely vegetarian one. “Vitamin B12 benefits skin health by reducing redness, dryness, inflammation and acne blemishes… Iron deficiency can lead to poor skin, hair and nail health, (causing them to) lose their glow and become dry, sensitive and brittle,” she says.
Balanced Lifestyle, Balanced Skin
In foodie haven Singapore, interest in the link between good grub and gorgeous skin is growing. For example, over at PanAsia Surgery, which provides nutrition counselling, dietitian Liow Min Choo reveals that there’s been a steady uptick in the number of clients seeking advice on what to eat for beautiful skin. Yet, while food plays an important role in regulating skin health, both experts and followers agree: a key part to getting a great glow lies in the combination of sensible eating, drinking sufficient water and regular exercise.
Marie Choo, a dog behaviourist and trainer who has been a flexitarian for years, puts it best:
“I feel that my skin has a natural glow, but I attribute that to not just my diet, but also exercise. I think it’s a holistic approach… mindful eating, conscious living.” Pass the kale, please.
This story first appeared in Female’s October 2017 issue.