What is the Best Diet for Clear Skin?
Learn about 16 different diets and their effects on the body and skin
You have probably heard that what we put in our bodies affects our overall health. So what is considered a healthy diet? We hear about diets on social media, the news, from friends, and often medical professionals. Oxford Dictionaries defines “diet,” as “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.” Based on this definition, we have to make a few things clear before starting a diet:
- What diet or restricted method of eating will we follow?
- What is our goal? Weight loss? Helping a health problem?
- Will this diet help give me clear skin?
There are dozens of different “diets” publicized on the web, in books, and on TV. Some names of familiar options might be Paleo, South Beach, Weight Watchers, Mediterranean, DASH, Volumetrics, Ornish, and Raw. Different programs may be designed or marketed towards various goals, such as fast weight loss, fat burning, muscle gain, lowering blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol, etc. Brief descriptions of several popular diets (not an all-inclusive list) are listed below, along with how they might promote improved skin appearance:
1) Anti-Inflammatory Diet
This diet is not intended as a weight-loss solution. Instead, it emphasizes reducing chronic inflammation through “optimum health,” by eating an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, minimizing processed foods, and eating a variety of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. The goal of the anti-inflammatory diet is to increase consumption of foods containing omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols (which both have anti-inflammatory properties) and reduce consumption of pro-inflammatory arachadonic acid and saturated fat. A clinical study has shown that people with psoriasis who consumed an anti-inflammatory diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids had a 50% improvement in their symptoms and severity compared to people who followed their regular diet.
2) Biggest Loser Diet
This diet emphasizes small, frequent meals based on the 4-3-2-1 Pyramid: 4 servings of vegetables and fruit, 3 lean protein servings, and 200 “extra” calories. With this diet, people who lose an extreme amount of weight may have significant excess loose skin all over their body; this excess skin can be surgically removed in a body lift surgery.
3) DASH Diet
This diet is low sodium, plant-focused, with low-fat dairy, lean meats, and “heart healthy” fats, which is especially recommended to help control blood pressure. The DASH diet has been shown to effectively reduce blood pressure in several studies and is endorsed by the American Heart Association (AHA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).[7-9]
4) HCG Diet
This diet promises to “reset metabolism” by restricting daily intake to under 500 calories along with taking an injection or droplet form of the hormone produced during pregnancy, called hCG. Similar to the Biggest Loser diet, the HCG diet is also designed to promote massive weight loss in a short period of time, which can lead to loose and sagging skin.
5) HMR Diet
The HMR diet is divided into 3 phases: first to begin losing weight right away by replacing meals with HMR® replacement shakes and entrees, then learning to keep the weight off and to continue to lose weight until the goal weight is reached, and lastly to maintain goal weight long-term. This diet includes options for medically supervised 500-800 calorie/day restriction, or “at-home” 1,200-1,400 calories/day plans.
Fasting may be defined in different ways, ranging from a “juice fast” to “water only” fasting. Fasting may last for days or may consist of abstaining from food for certain windows of time in a 24-hour period. Naturopathic doctor, Linda Page, ND, PhD describes fasting as “a way you can jump-start your body for a more active life, a healthier life.” Fasting has been present in spiritual traditions for hundreds of years and is gaining popularity for use in psychology and even to treat various medical conditions, such as hypertension.[12,13] There are clinical reports of fasting or ultra low-calorie diets improving skin conditions including eczema, psoriasis, and chronic urticaria.[14-16]
7) Keto Diet
The keto diet is also known as the ketogenic diet, which is low in carbs and high in fats. The idea is to restrict carbohydrates and induce the body into ketosis, which breaks down stored fats into ketone bodies to use as energy. The diet typically consists of 70% of calories derived from fats, 10% carbohydrates, and 20% protein. Since carbohydrates are restricted in this diet, the allowed foods naturally are low on the glycemic index; the ketogenic diet has been implicated as having beneficial effects on acne.
In this diet, portion-controlled meals are purchased through the “Medifast” company to achieve weight loss.
9) Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet emphasizes reducing heart disease by eating mostly plant-based foods, replacing butter with olive oil, not using salt, and enjoying fish twice weekly while limiting consumption of meat. The Mediterranean diet is best known for its association with a reduction in heart disease.[20-22] There may also be an improvement in skin health in people who follow the Mediterranean diet. One study showed that people who followed a Mediterranean-like diet rich in fish had a significantly lower rate of melanoma. Researchers felt this could be due to high intake of antioxidants, folate, and high fiber. Another study found that acne was less common among those that ate a Mediterranean diet.
10) MIND Diet
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. Researchers say this diet may help prevent Alzheimer’s by eating “brain-friendly” foods such as green leafy veggies, nuts, berries, whole grains, and fish. It also advises avoiding red meat, butter, cheese, sweets, and fried food.[25,26]
11) Ornish Diet
The purpose of the Ornish diet is to reverse coronary artery disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.[27-29] This diet promotes eating only plants in their natural form, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and soy. This is essentially considered a vegan diet. Vegetarians tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) compared to people who eat meat, and vegans have a lower BMI compared to vegetarians and meat eaters.[31,32] Additionally, a plant-based vegan diet may be the most effective diet in reducing risk factors for heart disease.[33,34] Studies have shown that vegetarian diets can significantly improve symptoms of both eczema and psoriasis.[14,35-38]
12) Paleo Diet
The Paleo diet promotes a diet similar to the “caveman.” It promotes grass-fed meats, fish, lots of fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, and healthy oils. It restricts grains, all legumes, all dairy, refined carbohydrates, starchy vegetables such as potatoes, all processed foods, and salt. Indigenous populations that followed the paleo or “Paleolithic” diet were reported to be free of acne until the Western diet was introduced, after which the prevalence of acne increased.[40,41] The paleo diet may be the ideal “acne-fighting” diet because it emphasizes eating vegetables and fruits with a low-glycemic load, and plentiful wild fish rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
13) Raw Food Diet
The Raw Food diet promotes raw fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, with the notion that heating food may diminish the nutrients and natural enzymes of the food.
14) TLC Diet
TLC stands for “Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes.” This diet is promoted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) as a way to lower cholesterol. The TLC diet is low in fat (especially saturated fats) and low in dietary cholesterol.
15) Volumetrics Diet
This diet was created by Barbara Rolls, PhD as a way to lose weight and still be able to eat large amounts of food. This diet helps people feel “full” on low calorie, fiber-packed foods, such as vegetables.
16) Weight Watchers
The Weight Watchers diet promotes “eating what you love,” and sustaining a healthy lifestyle while meeting weight loss goals. No food is “forbidden,” and participants track their progress by recording “SmartPoints” that are assigned to different foods.
Questions to Ask When Deciding on a Diet
Once you have selected a diet or dietary guidelines for obtaining your health, skin appearance, and/or weight loss goals, there are several other important questions to ask yourself:
- Is this diet safe?
- Should I speak to my doctor about my diet?
- Is this diet sustainable?
Many “fad” diets are heavily marketed to provide the fastest weight loss in the quickest time possible. Some of these diets may not be safe or may not be sustainable long-term. It is best to consult with your primary physician or healthcare provider prior to drastically changing your dietary habits.
- Koutroulis I, Pyle T, Kopylov D, et al. The Association Between Bathing Habits and Severity of Atopic Dermatitis in Children. Clin Pediatr (Phila).2016;55(2):176-181; PMID: 26149842.
- Weil A. Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet. http://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/health-centers/aging-gracefully/dr-weils-anti-inflammatory-diet/. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Sears B, Ricordi C. Anti-inflammatory nutrition as a pharmacological approach to treat obesity. J Obes.2011;2011PMID: 20953366.
- Guida B, Napoleone A, Trio R, et al. Energy-restricted, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids-rich diet improves the clinical response to immuno-modulating drugs in obese patients with plaque-type psoriasis: a randomized control clinical trial. Clin Nutr.2014;33(3):399-405; PMID: 24120032.
- Robinson KM. The Biggest Loser Diet. 2016; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Capella JF. Body lift. Clin Plast Surg.2008;35(1):27-51; discussion 93; PMID: 18061797.
- The DASH Diet for Health. 2016; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Avci P, Gupta A, Sadasivam M, et al. Low-level laser (light) therapy (LLLT) in skin: stimulating, healing, restoring. Semin Cutan Med Surg.2013;32(1):41-52; PMID: 24049929.
- NIH. Your Guide to Lowering Blood Pressure. In: Health NIo, ed.
- webMD. HCG for Weight Loss. Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- HMR. HMR Weight Management Plans. Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Davis JL. Detox Diets: Cleansing the Body. 2016; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Goldhamer A, Lisle D, Parpia B, et al. Medically supervised water-only fasting in the treatment of hypertension. J Manipulative Physiol Ther.2001;24(5):335-339; PMID: 11416824.
- Lithell H, Bruce A, Gustafsson IB, et al. A fasting and vegetarian diet treatment trial on chronic inflammatory disorders. Acta Derm Venereol.1983;63(5):397-403; PMID: 6197838.
- Rucevic I, Perl A, Barisic-Drusko V, et al. The role of the low energy diet in psoriasis vulgaris treatment. Coll Antropol.2003;27 Suppl 1:41-48; PMID: 12955890.
- Okamoto O, Murakami I, Itami S, et al. Fasting diet therapy for chronic urticaria: report of a case. J Dermatol.1992;19(7):428-431; PMID: 1401501.
- Craig. What is a Keto Diet? 2013; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Clinically Proven, Doctor-Recommended. Science sets Medifast and your weight loss success apart from the rest. 2016; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- MayoClinic. Mediterranean diet: a heart-healthy eating plan. 2016; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Mediterranean diet could cut cardiovascular disease risk. Nurs Stand.2016;31(6):17; PMID: 27823096.
- Isabel C, Calvet D, Mas JL. Stroke prevention. Presse Med.2016;10.1016/j.lpm.2016.10.009PMID: 27816341.
- Guasch-Ferre M, Hu FB, Martinez-Gonzalez MA, et al. Olive oil intake and risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality in the PREDIMED Study. BMC Med.2014;12:78; PMID: 24886626.
- Shapira N. Nutritional approach to sun protection: a suggested complement to external strategies. Nutr Rev.2010;68(2):75-86; PMID: 20137053.
- Skroza N, Tolino E, Semyonov L, et al. Mediterranean diet and familial dysmetabolism as factors influencing the development of acne. Scand J Public Health.2012;40(5):466-474; PMID: 22833557.
- Koch M, Jensen MK. Association of the MIND diet with cognition and risk of Alzheimer's disease. Curr Opin Lipidol.2016;27(3):303-304; PMID: 27145102.
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet associated with reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement.2015;11(9):1007-1014; PMID: 25681666.
- Pischke CR, Weidner G, Elliott-Eller M, et al. Comparison of coronary risk factors and quality of life in coronary artery disease patients with versus without diabetes mellitus. Am J Cardiol.2006;97(9):1267-1273; PMID: 16635593.
- Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. Jama.1998;280(23):2001-2007; PMID: 9863851.
- Dewell A, Weidner G, Sumner MD, et al. A very-low-fat vegan diet increases intake of protective dietary factors and decreases intake of pathogenic dietary factors. J Am Diet Assoc.2008;108(2):347-356; PMID: 18237581.
- Ornish. Delicious & Nutritious Ingredients for Reversal. Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Tonstad S, Butler T, Yan R, et al. Type of vegetarian diet, body weight, and prevalence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care.2009;32(5):791-796; PMID: 19351712.
- Spencer EA, Appleby PN, Davey GK, et al. Diet and body mass index in 38000 EPIC-Oxford meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord.2003;27(6):728-734; PMID: 12833118.
- Pettersen BJ, Anousheh R, Fan J, et al. Vegetarian diets and blood pressure among white subjects: results from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2). Public Health Nutr.2012;15(10):1909-1916; PMID: 22230619.
- Barnard ND, Katcher HI, Jenkins DJ, et al. Vegetarian and vegan diets in type 2 diabetes management. Nutr Rev.2009;67(5):255-263; PMID: 19386029.
- Tanaka T, Kouda K, Kotani M, et al. Vegetarian diet ameliorates symptoms of atopic dermatitis through reduction of the number of peripheral eosinophils and of PGE2 synthesis by monocytes. J Physiol Anthropol Appl Human Sci.2001;20(6):353-361; PMID: 11840688.
- Henseler T, Christophers E. Disease concomitance in psoriasis. J Am Acad Dermatol.1995;32(6):982-986; PMID: 7751469.
- Wolters M. Diet and psoriasis: experimental data and clinical evidence. Br J Dermatol.2005;153(4):706-714; PMID: 16181450.
- Naldi L, Parazzini F, Peli L, et al. Dietary factors and the risk of psoriasis. Results of an Italian case-control study. Br J Dermatol.1996;134(1):101-106; PMID: 8745893.
- Cordain L. What to Eat on the Paleo Diet. Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Melnik BC. Linking diet to acne metabolomics, inflammation, and comedogenesis: an update. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol.2015;8:371-388; PMID: 26203267.
- Silverberg NB. A brief primer on acne therapy for adolescents with skin of color. Cutis.2013;92(1):20-26; PMID: 23961520.
- Robinson KM. Raw Foods Diet. 2013; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 201.
- NIH. Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol with TLC. Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Zelman KM. Volumetrics. WebMD 2016; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.
- Asp K. Weight Watchers. WebMD 2016; Link to research. Accessed August 29, 2016.