I spent a month studying cooking in southern France. Traditional people here cook everything in copious amounts of duck fat. A Gascony staple is duck confit, a plump tender duck leg that has been cooked long and slow under a layer of duck fat. This is often served with duck foie, otherwise known as fattened duck liver.
Say what you will of this diet, but the skin of women here is extraordinarily silky smooth and young looking. Interestingly, the heart disease rate in this part of France is lower than in the rest of France and far lower than in the states. A physician here told me women in this region are the longest-lived women in the world. I did not verify this. I just know they looked good.
Your skin cell walls are made of fat. Thus the type and amount of fat you choose in your diet will reflect in your skin. Other foods can damage or protect the fat in our skin cells, accelerating or slowing (and even reversing) signs of skin aging.
Hydration is a well-known key to healthy plumped up skin cells. Adequate fluids help prevent skin cells from drying out, which makes us look older. While the inside of skin cells benefit from water, the surface (cell walls) need fat. A significant amount our cell membranes are made of saturated fat, which gives cells structure, integrity and protection from sun damage.
Duck fat is semisolid, a blend of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, although mostly saturated. Research confirms saturated and monounsaturated fats are associated with wrinkle resistance.
In a Japanese study of over 700 women, those who consumed the most saturated fat developed significantly less wrinkles. Monounsaturates also helped, but saturates were most effective. These fats correlated not only with less wrinkling but better skin elasticity.
Saturates don’t seem to hurt overall health either. Traditional French have significantly lower rates of heart disease and live longer than most other western cultures. Research confirms what traditional cultures have experienced for thousands of years. There is no correlation between saturated fats and heart disease, according to a recent 21-study analysis of saturated fats.
Skin-protecting fats are found in coconut and palm oils, butter, beef and pork. Monounsaturated fats come from olive oil, macadamia nuts or oil and duck fat. The fats to be avoided are vegetable oils, including canola, safflower, sunflower and soybean oils, especially when hydrogenated. Why? These oils are omega-6 rich and vulnerable to light, heat and age.
UV light is so damaging because it oxidizes, and thus damages, the fat in our cell walls. Omega 6 fatty acids are more vulnerable to oxidation than saturates or monounsaturates.
Dermatologists warn us to slather on sunscreen to shield us from sun, but protection from the right dietary fats is likely more effective.
Pacific islanders, despite living outdoors in a perpetually sun-drenched climate, have healthy, nearly wrinkle-free skin. A diet rich in coconut oil, palm oil and lard is part of the reason.
Studies show omega 3 fats plus fruits and vegetables are also effective in protection from UV light. Omega 3’s are found in cold-water fish, pastured eggs and beef, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds and leafy greens.
Antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables along with vitamin E from nuts and seeds further protect our skin against oxidation. Vitamin-C is not only an antioxidant, but it strengthens collagen, which gives our skin strength, elasticity and resistance to wrinkles. Citrus, kiwi, berries, peppers and dark leafy greens are especially rich in vitamin C, plus other age-slowing antioxidants. Dark leafy green and yellow vegetables seem to be most protective.
Green tea contains an age-fighting chemical called ECGC (epigallocatechin gallate), which causes aging surface skin cells to regenerate much like younger cells. ECGC also quenches damage induced by UV light and slows collagen breakdown.
On the other hand, refined sugar, milk, vegetable oils and alcohol speed up skin damage and wrinkles. Check food labels for vegetable oils. You don’t just want to avoid partially hydrogenated oils, you want to skip the canola, gape seed and sunflower oils too.
Alcohol is inflammatory and dehydrating and in excess can age any cell in the body. Sugar, especially when found in baked form, leads to formation of AGE’s, advanced glycation endproducts. AGE’s can age any organ of the body, including the skin.
A diet rich in traditional fats, olive oil, fish, fruits, vegetables, green tea and low in sugars and vegetables slows aging throughout your body, with your skin one of the more visible sign.