Food and skin health: Which holiday treats to avoid for clear skin

healthy holiday treats for fall
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The holidays are just around the corner, which means so is a ton of family, food and (hopefully) fun. From Halloween to New Year’s Eve, it can be incredibly hard to resist indulging in holiday treats. However, it’s important to remember that we are what we eat, and some foods are better for our overall health — including our complexion — than others.

Despite what you might have heard, the relationship between flawless, glowing skin and diet isn’t crystal clear. “There isn’t a huge link between diet and the skin,” Nazanin Saedi, MD, tells us. She points out that there are very few evidence-based studies supporting the claims that certain foods cause acne. That being said, there is some evidence linking specific foods, like certain dairy products and high-glycemic foods to skin flare-ups. Whereas nutrient-rich foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats have been linked to skin benefits.

So which foods should you stay away from during the holidays, and where should you indulge? We asked the experts and they gave us some advice.

Avoid: Potato chips with sour cream and onion dip

Salty potato chips paired with creamy onion dip are often on the table at holiday gatherings, but when it comes to your skin health, the savory holiday treat isn’t going to do you any favors. Jackie Newgent, RDN — culinary nutritionist, author of the upcoming The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook, and nutrition advisor for Lunch Unpacked — points out that most chips and dip are generally considered pro-inflammatory, which can negatively impact skin appearance.

Try instead: A big handful of whole grain corn tortilla chips with guacamole

Numerous studies find a beneficial association between avocado intake and skin health,” Newgent tells us. Plus, both corn and avocados contain lutein and zeaxanthin. Research has found that these carotenoids may help protect your skin from damage caused by UV radiation.

MORE: We recreated PF Changs banana spring rolls recipe with a healthier twist

Avoid: Eggnog

Whether you love or hate this rich, holiday drink, someone is going to hand you a glass at some point during the festive season. Newgent explains that the cream in eggnog contains saturated fats that are inflammation-inducing, which is no bueno for skin or your health in general. Additionally, if eggnog is spiked with rum or another spirit, drinking too much of it can contribute to dehydration, leading to dry-looking skin.

Try instead: A cup of hot chocolate made with dark chocolate and plant-based milk

“Regularly choosing chocolate that’s rich in cocoa flavanols may potentially protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun no matter what season it is,” Newgent explains.

Avoid: Holiday sugar cookies

Sugar cookies are a staple holiday treat at every winter shindig. While they may be super tasty, Newgent points out that the combination of “bad” fats, processed white flour and added white sugar is a triple whammy of inflammation triggers — which is the opposite of what you’ll want for clear skin.

holiday treats sugar cookies
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Try instead: A sliver of pumpkin pie

Delicious pumpkin pie actually has some health benefits. “Pumpkin is rich in beta-carotene, which acts as an antioxidant that’s helpful for youthful-looking skin,” says Newgent. Research points to beta-carotene’s role in skin photoprotection. Additionally, the eggs used in pumpkin pie filling contain skin health nutrients, including biotin, which may be linked to healthy skin, hair and nails.

Avoid: Party punch

Stay away from the holiday punch bowl, warns Newgent. “Drinking classic party punch is basically like drinking sugar,” she maintains. Due to the high glycemic index of sugar, it causes a release of insulin in the body, triggering inflammation that seems to be linked to acne.

Try instead: A cupful of fresh-squeezed pink grapefruit juice

If you want to drink something sweet, Newgent urges you to try and get plenty of nutrients along with it. “Pink grapefruit juice is rich in the antioxidant lycopene, which may provide skin-protective qualities and help maintain healthy skin,” she says. Add a sprig of rosemary as a “stirring” stick and it may boost that benefit.

Avoid: Processed cheese balls

Oh, how we all love to nosh on those bright orange cheese balls. However, Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, — author of Fertility Foods Cookbook+: 100 Recipes to Nourish Your Body — warns that they aren’t going to do your body or skin any justice. “Cheese balls may be a mainstay on many holiday spreads this fall season. However, they aren’t the healthiest,” she explains. For one, those who are sensitive to dairy and experience an inflammatory reaction may be left with acne or other markers of skin inflammation from the cheese. Then there is the high sodium content typically found within dishes like this that also dehydrate your body.

Try instead: Goat cheese with apple slices and walnuts

If you are craving cheese, try and get your fix with some goat cheese. “Goat cheese is actually made up of only A2 beta casein protein, meaning it’s less likely to cause an inflammatory response in those individuals who may be dairy sensitive to the A1 protein,” Shaw tells us. Plus, apples are a fiber-fueling snack and walnuts are a heart-healthy nut, meaning this combination will leave you feeling full and satisfied without the breakouts you may see with an A1-protein-based snack.

Avoid: Halloween candy

Whether you are giving or receiving Halloween candy this year, it can be really hard keeping your hand out of the candy jar. But before you start snacking on all that sugar, Shaw urges you to consider how a handful here and there makes you feel. “Relying on added sugar as your prime source of nutrition will leave you feeling rundown, sluggish and tired, three feelings we know reflect heavily in our skin,” she points out. Plus, research shows that sugar intake can affect collagen, making it difficult to repair — and leaving the aftermath apparent in your complexion.

halloween candy
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Try instead: Dark chocolate and pistachio bark

According to Shaw, dark chocolate and pistachios are an amazing duo. “By making your own candy you can control what goes into it, meaning nutrient-boasting ingredients in place of the added sugar and preservatives found in most candy bars,” she explains. Why pistachios? The popular nuts are packed with antioxidants called polyphenols that give the nut its pretty green and purple hue. Antioxidants (like the flavonoids found in the dark chocolate, too) help keep the body in balance, moving free radicals, which can wreak havoc on your total health, out of your system.

MORE: Vegan caramel apples are the answer to your dairy-free candy dreams

Avoid: Red wine hot chocolate

Red wine hot chocolate might be rich, comforting and jolly, but Shaw warns that the added sugar combined with the heavy cream is a combo that can leave many feeling not so jolly after their holiday party. Plus, alcohol is dehydrating to the body (and your skin).

Try instead: Pomegranate mocktini

Consider toasting to the holidays without alcohol. “A mocktail gives you the best of both worlds: a wonderful celebration with friends and a night you’ll remember,” says Shaw. She suggests concocting a beverage with 100 percent pomegranate juice, which “has the perfect holiday color thanks to those antioxidants.” Research has found that pomegranate juice has, on average, more antioxidant capacity than red wine, grape juice or green tea. Mix with sparkling water for a bubbly delight that will hydrate, nourish and allow you to partake in the fun, too!

Looking for a healthier holiday treat? Try our healthier pumpkin spice latte recipe.