When it comes to your skin, what you put inside your body is as important as any cream or serum that you apply to the surface. While certain nutrients and foods can give you a glow, others can have the opposite effect, causing breakouts, puffiness and even premature aging (yikes!). We asked top cosmetic physician Dr. Mitch Chasin, founder and medical director of Reflections Center for Skin and Body in New Jersey, to give us the lowdown on the foods to cut out for a more beautiful, clearer complexion.
Short of surgery, not many treatments can get rid of under eye bags — but changing your diet could help. “Foods that are high in salt are very bad for the skin, because salt can cause us to retain water, which results in swelling,” says Dr. Chasin. “This usually affects the skin around the eyes, giving us a puffy look. Salt can also lead to high blood pressure, which affects collagen.”
Salty foods aren’t limited to snacks like chips and pretzels; many processed foods contain hidden sodium — even ones touted as good for you. “‘Healthy’ food that is marketed as low-fat and comes in a box (e.g. Lean Cuisine), is actually packed with sodium and should be avoided,” says Dr. Chasin.
2. Red meat
Would you switch to veggie burgers if it meant looking younger, longer? “Red meat contains a high level of carnitine which can harden blood vessel walls, causing premature aging,” Dr. Chasin says.
3. White bread and sugar
“Certain carbohydrates, like the ones with no nutrients in white bread, can cause acne and break down collagen,” says Dr. Chasin.
These types of carbs can spike insulin levels, leading to inflammation. When sugar enters the bloodstream, it attaches to proteins and forms molecules called advanced glycation end products (or AGEs) which damage collagen and elastin and also deactivate protective antioxidants.
Read more: How Your Sugar Addiction is Ruining Your Skin
Some loaves marketed as “wheat bread” can be just as bad. “Oftentimes products will say they’re made from wheat bread, but will contain enriched flour, which is loaded with sugar and not good for skin health. Stick to bread that is 100% whole wheat,” Dr. Chasin advises.
“As for beverages, any type of alcohol is the worst due to its dehydrating properties. Drink in moderation, and alternate alcoholic drinks with glasses of water when possible.”
Read more: Can Drinking Alcohol Give You Bad Skin?
5. Anything fried
As if you needed another reason to feel guilty about eating French fries. “Unhealthy fats from fried foods release free radicals in your body, and can clog pores, so they are not beneficial to the skin or body at all,” Dr. Chasin explains.
Instead, incorporate healthy fats into your diet. “Healthy fats like avocado and olive oil are great for the skin, because the fatty acids in these foods are responsible for regulating cell function,” Dr. Chasin says. “This helps the skin to maintain the transfer of waste and water, allowing waste to pass out and water to plump up skin cells. This is what gives skin a youthful, healthy look. Healthy fats also help prevent clogged pores, which prevents acne.”
What about chocolate?
Chocolate has long been thought of as an acne-causing food, but the blame is a bit misplaced. “Chocolate on its own does not make you break out, so most professionals think it’s a myth,” Dr. Chasin says. “However, a high sugar diet can increase sebum production, and excess sebum production is a cause of acne.” We’ll assume a square of dark chocolate here and there won’t hurt.
Read more: 5 Foods That Give You Better Skin