Let’s discuss some harsh nutritional realities. Taking stock of our current nutritional intakes, the excesses and deficiencies, will help us understand where the voids are and how we can make changes for our skin. Currently, the North American diet is in a sorry state of affairs. Despite the abundance of calories, we are in many ways malnourished. The skin-aging process takes place in this dietary context.
People may be trying to eat healthy. They may look for products with “whole grains” on the label, because fiber-rich whole grains are associated with sugar and insulin balance and greater satiety, as well as lower inflammatory, chemicals in the body. Whole grains also contain antioxidant components within the fiber. Alas, the notion that the phrase “made with whole grains” on a box translates into a fiber-rich, low-sugar grain product isn’t always true. You can find “made with whole grains” stamped on high-sugar cereals, for example. The molecular levels of whole grains used in these candy-like cereals may qualify for the self-designed corporate “made with whole grain” logo, yet it translates into a bowl full of 15 grams of sugar and only a single gram of fiber.
There is also a big difference between “100 percent whole grain,” what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers “whole grain,” and what “made with whole grains” all mean in real terms. Of course 100 percent whole grain is, well, 100 percent whole grain. However, the FDA allows a product to be called whole grain if it is 51 percent whole grain by weight.
As for those clever “made with whole grains” marketing labels that are slapped on cereal-based products and baked goods, they’re not worth the cardboard box they’re written on. When you inventory the foods at your local convenience store, shopping centers, vending machines, schools, and on and on, you will find foods made with processed flour—with nutrients and fiber stripped away.
Our overall intake of insulin-spiking, refined sugars has increased by eightfold over the past two hundred years. A massive increase in sugar intake has come from our fondness for high-fructose com syrup (HFCS), as found in soft drinks. We increased our annual refined-sugar consumption from half of a pound per person, on average, in 1970 to more than 60 pounds per person by the late 1990s. Sugar encourages the production of skin-damaging molecules called Advanced Glycation End-products, aptly abbreviated as AGEs.
Fruits and Veggies
Supported by volumes of research, government and private nutrition education groups encourage us to increase our intake of fruits and vegetables to ward off serious conditions like heart disease and cancer. Problem is, we aren’t listening. We continue to shun fruits and vegetables.
More than 60 percent of Americans consume fast food on a regular basis, which translates into fewer colorful fruit-and-vegetable servings for adults and children alike.
The largest study to date, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association (2006), showed that, on average, we only consume a meager 1.5 servings daily of dark green and deeply colored orange or yellow vegetables. Take away potatoes, and only 29 percent of adults and 13 percent of children consume even the minimum recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables pet day. Four foods account for half of total vegetable intake in U.S. adults—potatoes (mostly frozen and fried), iceberg lettuce, onions, and tomato. Let’s state the obvious: this constitutes the trimmings on a burger and a side of fries!
If you need more evidence of our colorless, bland diets, consider a recent study in the Journal of Cancer Education (2007). Among more than 1,600 parents surveyed, not a single one consumed the five major dietary plant-color groups (reds, greens, orange-yellows, purple-blues, non-potato whites) on more than 3.5 days per week. Only 40 percent of parents and 26 percent of children ate from the five major color groups over the course of an entire week!
A diet consistently rich in deeply colored plant foods provides a nutritional defense system for the skin. A steady diet devoid of colors opens up and exposes collagen and other skin structures to the ravages of aging.