Wednesday, February 20, 2008


The old saying still holds true: You are what you eat. Some of us believe we can afford to disregard this dictum as long as we have a plastic surgeon, a salon and a day spa on speed dial. We want to be thinner — we get liposuction. Our hair is thinning — off to the salon for extensions. Our nails become brittle — acrylic nails are a phone call away.

What most of us fail to recognize is that these changes (skin, hair and nails) are our body’s way of screaming for help. We’re clued into the newest beauty treatments way before we are clued into our bodies.

For the record, I’m not opposed to a little nip and tuck or the tricks of a salon. However, I do think it’s unwise to ignore your body’s pleas in favor of instant gratification. I always tell my clients to listen and pay attention to their bodies. You are the best judge of the changes your body is going through.

What keeps you clean and healthy on the inside will keep you looking good on the outside. Thus, not much of what is described below is new — it’s just a reminder of how certain nutrients affect your appearance and, in the process, keep you looking young and fresh without costing you an arm and a leg.

If you want clean and clear skin, drink more water. Your kidneys remove waste products that must be dissolved by water. By drinking about eight glasses of water a day (this is an average; everybody has different requirements) you are flushing out the toxins that normally would escape through the pores of your skin. This prevents pimples and blemishes and helps keep the skin moisture level even.

The antioxidant vitamins A, C and E fight free radical damage caused by aging and the environment. The beta-carotene in bright orange and red produce converts into vitamin A, helping you produce new skin cells and shed old ones, which leads to fresh skin. (Incidentally, most dermatologist-recommended skin care creams are derived from vitamin A.)

Vitamin A also is good for preventing dry skin and dry hair. Food sources of vitamin A are carrots, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes. Recommendations: 900 mcg a day for men and 700 mcg a day for women.

Citrus fruits, broccoli, strawberries and red peppers house vitamin C. Vitamin C is a collagen healer, helping the body build new tissue. The healthier the collagens in your body, the firmer and smoother your skin will look. If you bruise easily, double-check your vitamin C intake. Recommendations: 75 mg a day for men and 60 mg a day for women.

Vitamin E is found in almonds, avocados and sunflower seeds. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that protects the skin from free radicals and helps repair connective tissue damaged by the sun; 15 mg a day is recommended for men and women alike.

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in wild salmon, mackerel, walnuts and flaxseed, are great for the skin. Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation (which can damage the collagen in the skin, causing wrinkles), prevent dryness in the skin and hair. It also adds moisture, leading to healthier looking skin and strong nails by preventing cracking.

Omega-3 fatty acids get more hype than omega-6 fatty acids because most of us eat an overabundance of the latter in a number of foods, ranging from nuts and cereals to poultry and eggs.

Although both are important, the ratio of the two is key. It’s been noted that a ratio of 4:1 is optimal, and we’re hovering somewhere around 14:1. If you don’t eat fish, fish oil supplements are an option, but it’s not yet known whether fish oil taken alone provides the same health benefits as eating fish.

For healthy adults with no history of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends eating fish high in omega-3 fatty oils at least two times per week. It also recommends consuming plant-derived sources such as tofu or soybeans, walnuts, flaxseed oil and canola oil.

It’s no secret that calcium builds strong bones and helps prevent osteoporosis. As you age, calcium helps maintain tooth enamel so teeth remain strong. A diet lacking in calcium also contributes to dry, brittle fingernails.

The good bacteria in yogurt is beneficial not only to the digestive tract, but to your skin as well. Choose low-fat dairy products such as skim milk, low-fat yogurt and low-fat cheese. The recommendation for both males and females is 1,000 to 1,200 mg a day.

Iron is the most commonly deficient mineral in humans and is essential for forming red blood cells and delivering oxygen to the cells. Brittle fingernails are often a sign of iron deficiency. Iron comes from both animal (heme) and plant (non-heme) sources, but is better absorbed from heme iron food sources. Iron is found abundantly in lean red meats and fortified cereals. Recommendation for males and females (non-pregnant) is 10 mg a day.

Zinc is another mineral whose deficiency can contribute to hair loss and brittle nails and also those unattractive little white spots on nails. Zinc is needed for a multitude of functions, including tissue repair, wound healing, maintenance of night vision, taste acuity and hormone production.

Zinc-rich foods are shellfish and lean red meats. Pumpkin seeds provide one of the most concentrated vegetarian food sources of zinc. Recommendations are 8 mg a day for females and 11 mg a day for males.

Protein is not a common deficiency in this country, given our Cheesecake Factory-style portion sizes. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that protein fortifies the hair and promotes growth.

Getting the right balance of all these nutrients takes some forethought and planning, but it’s not difficult, and it certainly doesn’t condemn you to an uninteresting menu. For example, the salmon teriyaki described below is delicious and easy to prepare — and a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Salmon teriyaki

1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger

3 cloves of garlic, minced (1 tablespoon)

3 scallions, finely chopped

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup mirin

1½ tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons honey

4 (6 to 8 ounce) wild salmon fillets

Place the ginger, garlic and scallions in a bowl, and whisk in the soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil and honey.

Marinate salmon for 1 to 2 hours in the refrigerator, turning once or twice.

Either grill on high heat for 3 to 6 minutes, turning gently, or preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake for about 20 minutes. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving: 320 calories, 34 grams protein, 16 grams fat, 0 gm carbohydrates, 414 mg sodium, 108 mg cholesterol

Betsy Klein is a dietician in Miami. To contact her, go to

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