Healthy Eating Tips

‘I’m a Dermatologist, and Here’s What Happens to Your Skin When You Start Eating More Foods With Omega-3 Fatty Acids’

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The key to healthy, radiant skin isn’t just products and pricey treatments—skincare is also about fueling your body with nutrient-dense foods that have a lasting impact. Incorporating foods that have healthy unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, is essential for a balanced diet and is also specifically beneficial for skin. “Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and increase hydration in our skin," says New York City-based dermatologist, Marisa Kardos Garshick, MD, FAAD.

Because foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, Dr. Garshick says that they also can help with different skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema. In fact, studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can help by reducing redness, itching, inflammation, and scaling for those with psoriasis. In addition to helping with various skin conditions, consuming omega 3s can also support heart health, reduce liver fat, and improve symptoms of depression.

Typically, when we think of foods that contain omega 3s, we think of salmon or fish, but there are other plant-based sources, too.

Here are some omega-3 rich foods to keep in your weekly rotation:

1. Fatty fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines

"Many nutrition experts recommend starting simple by including two servings of fatty fish per week into your daily diet," Amanda Baker Lemein, RD, previously told Well+Good.

Can fish oil supplements deliver the same benefits as eating real fish? Watch the video below to find out:

2. Plant oils, including algae oil, walnut oil, and flaxseed oil

"The three main omega-3 fatty acids include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)," Lemein said. "Omega-6s are also fatty acids, mainly found in vegetable oils. While both types of fatty acids are unsaturated fats and important for heart health, omega-6s are more readily available in the typical western diet. So in order to keep a more balanced ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, experts recommend increasing one’s intake of omega-3 foods, which [by contrast] are often lacking." Lemein says that algae oil is particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids.

3. Seeds and nuts, like chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts

Flax and chia seeds may be small, but Lemein says they're both full of omega-3s. Besides omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseeds are also a good source of magnesium, thiamin, and fiber. Chia seeds are higher in fiber and protein than flaxseeds, but they are both strong sources of omega-3s. Whichever one you prefer, you're benefiting your skin when you add a spoonful to your smoothie or salad. Walnuts, as far as nuts go, pack the most omega-3 fatty acids.

So how many of these foods should we be eating to reap the omega-3 benefits for skin?

How do you know if you’re getting enough of these healthy fats in your diet, you ask? “Different studies have looked at the suggested dosage for omega-3 fatty acids, and there’s no uniform recommendation at this time," says Dr. Garshick. "It generally ranges from 250 milligrams to 500 milligrams of combined EPA and DHA per day." The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for ALA is 1.1 grams per day for women and 1.6 grams per day for men.

If taking fish oil supplements, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults consume 500 milligrams per day, which is roughly the equivalent of two servings of fatty fish per week. And while taking omega-3 and fish oil supplements are a convenient alternative, Dr. Garshick recommends eating the aforementioned foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids regularly. She also mentions that you may be able to see a difference in your skin within just two to three months of upping your omega-3-rich food intake.

At the end of the day, the old adage of "moderation is key" rings true for skincare—just like everything else in life—says Dr. Garshick. "Consistency and healthy lifestyle habits are essential to maintaining healthy skin." In other words, though eating omega-3 rich foods has plenty of skin-boosting potential to offer, there is no one single nutritional (or procedural, or product) fix. “Staying hydrated, getting a good night’s rest, and eating a well-balanced diet are important for skin health, in addition to moisturizing and wearing sunscreen," says Dr. Garshick.

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