Are you getting the most out of your meals?
You might be surprised to hear that a huge part of a healthy diet revolves around how you cook your food.
How and what you use to cook your food with not only affects your health, it affects your skin. Over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of people make the same mistakes over and over again when it comes to cooking for acne-prone skin: using the wrong oils, cooking at extremely high temperatures, or not embracing antioxidant-packed spices and herbs.
This quick article is meant to give you an edge in the kitchen when it comes to cooking for acne-prone skin.
A lot of cooking fats and oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids that can cause chronic inflammation. Chief among these acne-causing fats are vegetable oils, like soybean, corn, sunflower, and safflower oil. They’re extremely prone to oxidation and are very likely to cause inflammation, especially when using them at higher temps.
Substituting vegetable oils and artificial fats for healthy alternatives can make all the difference.
Building off our last point, make sure you lightly saute vegetables in healthy fats or drizzle olive oil on top of them to get the most nutrients out of them. Many of the nutrients in vegetables can’t be properly utilized unless cooked or eaten alongside fat. These include fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which are crucial for clear skin.
This study found certain vitamins in carrots to be more bioavailable and potent when the carrots were cooked in olive oil.
Some vegetables (spinach, chard, kale) are high in antinutrients, like phytic acid, that need to be broken down by cooking. Others contain fat-soluble vitamins and minerals that can’t be absorbed unless they’re cooked or consumed with fat. Knowing how and when to cook vegetables can be crucial for unlocking their true skin-clearing benefits.
This study found that lightly steaming most vegetables is the safest and most effective cooking method. Lightly sauteing most vegetables in a safe fat, like olive oil (low heat only) or ghee butter is also not a bad option when it comes to nutrient and antioxidant retention.
Non-stick cookware is oftentimes coated with fluoride (or chemicals that when heated emit fluoride) that can cause acne. One study (granted it’s from 1975) found Teflon increased fluoride concentrations in boiled water by upwards of 300%. This is caused by the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) found in Teflon and many non-stick products.
A lot of things have changed in the world of non-stick pans, and unless you’re cooking at high temps or scraping off some of the surfaces, they’re generally safer than they used to be. Still, I would recommend staying away from them if you have acne-prone skin. It’s just not worth the risk.
Stick with stainless steel, copper, or cast iron. If you’re sensitive to copper or iron, stay away from copper or cast iron cookware, as it’ll leach into your food. With that being said, I’d much rather have too much iron than too much fluoride.
Cooking at high temperatures or for too long can oxidize fats and create free radicals in the process. Furthermore, it can damage heat-sensitive omega-3 fatty acids and destroy antioxidants like vitamin E.
Steaming, baking at less than 320° F, lightly sauteing, or lightly pan frying/searing are your best bets. While cooking can certainly bring out many nutrients and fat-soluble vitamins, overcooking won’t do you any good. Go for rare/lightly cooked meat whenever you can (while still being safe, of course).
Also, know the smoke points of the oils and fats you’re using. Here’s a comparison of several healthy fats below:
|Fat||Smoke Point (in ° F)|
|Coconut oil (unrefined)||350°|
|Macadamia nut oil||390°|
|Extra virgin olive oil||320°|
When you’re changing your diet to eliminate acne, it can sometimes feel like you’re only left with boring options.
Luckily there’s a plethora of spices and herbs out there that aren’t just safe for your skin, but beneficial:
- Oregano is extremely high in antioxidants with an ORAC score of 175,925 (9 times higher than blackberries’ ORAC score of 19,220)
- Cinamon has been shown to lower insulin spikes after meals
- Tumeric can be as effective as prescription-grade drugs at treating inflammation
Don’t forget to consume plenty of high-quality sea salt or Himalayan pink salt too, especially if you’re on a low-carb diet.
Vinegar has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity in high-carbohydrate meals. Increased insulin sensitivity means less insulin will be released when you eat carbohydrates. Anytime we can minimize insulin the better.
While any vinegar should work, I would specifically recommend apple cider vinegar, which is anti-bacterial, filled with prebiotics, and can improve nutrient absorption.
Furthermore, many people report that lemon juice has a beneficial effect on blood sugar. I like to use a combination of olive oil and either lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in place of traditional salad dressing (which are usually loaded with omega-6 fatty acids anyways).
You don’t have to cook with vinegar, just using a bit on your food can be enough to see substantial benefits.
If you can tolerate them, eggs are an acne-fighting superfood. Loaded with vitamin A, D, and E, as well as several minerals necessary for clear skin, eggs are a truly balalnced protein source.
Not all eggs are creating equal though, and neither are all methods of cooking eggs.
Whenever you can, do your best to keep the yolk as raw as possible in order to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol and keep heat-sensitive nutrients like vitamin E in-tact. You’ll also want to lightly cook the egg white, which makes the protein more bioavailable.
Soft-boiled eggs are your best bet, followed by poached, sunny side up, and over-easy.
If you’re going to cook scrambled eggs, separate the yolks from the whites and throw the yolks towards the end.
Rice is usually a big no-no when it comes to acne. White, brown, and wild rice are all high in carbs and trigger huge insulin spikes that can cause acne. On top of that, rice (with the notable exception of white rice) contain antinutrients known as lectins that can damage the gut. All and all, most rice isn’t much better for acne than pasta or wheat.
However, there is one cooking hack that can make white rice pretty acne-friendly: add a tablespoon of coconut oil when cooking your rice, and then refrigerate it for at least twelve hours.
This simple little hack can dramatically increase the amount of resistant starch in the rice (you can do the same with potatoes), making it extremely beneficial for your gut flora. On top of that, it’ll decrease the insulin spike substantially, and because white rice doesn’t have any lectins in it, you won’t be punching holes in your gut.
- With the exception of macadamias and chestnuts, nuts are very high in inflammation-causing omega-6 fatty acids
- Legumes (and many nuts) are very high in antinutrients that damage the digestive system, including phytic acid, lectins, and saponin
That being said, nuts and legumes have their place in a healthy diet. Almonds are a great source of skin-clearing antioxidant vitamin E, and legumes like lentils or chickpeas are a much safer, high-fiber, nutritious, low-GI carb source than bread, pasta, or corn.
Properly soaking nuts and legumes along with proper cooking can actually minimize the number of antinutrients in them. One study found that soaking pigeon peas for 6-18 hours decreased lectins by 38-50%. Furthermore, soaking and then cooking legumes have been shown to substantially decrease the amount of phytic acid.
For a full breakdown on how to soak legumes, nuts, and other foods, check out this article.
How do you get the most out of your food in the kitchen? Let me know in the comments below!