Processed meats are everywhere -- from bacon at breakfast to deli meats on lunch sandwiches to salami and prosciutto on charcuterie boards at dinner. In recent years, research has shown just how harmful these types of meats can be to the human body. The skin -- the largest organ of the body-- is no exception. Here’s how processed meat might be worsening your skin.
In literature about the harmful effects of processed meats, the majority of the content focuses on sodium nitrates, and for good reason. Sodium nitrates are a preservative used in many processed foods, especially in meat. This particular preservative can actually damage collagen and elastin, causing them to break down at a more rapid pace than usual in the aging process. Collagen and elastin are what help skin cells keep their shape, and thus keep skin looking firm and youthful. Therefore, the sodium nitrates in processed meats are linked to early signs of aging, like the development of wrinkles.
Sodium itself -- also known as salt -- isn’t great for the skin either. Salt causes puffiness and swelling due to water retention. High sodium content is common in salty foods like chips and pretzels, but it can sneak into foods you wouldn’t suspect (like processed meats). Keep an eye on your sodium intake in general, especially if you’re eating at restaurants frequently, as they tend to add lots of salt to their dishes for flavor.
The other common issue with processed meats is the gluten factor. Gluten is a protein found in most grains, but it also pops up in unsuspecting foods -- like sausage casings, pepperoni on pizza, and even cold cuts from the deli counter. While the research on gluten is still relatively new, there are many studies that show adverse reactions to gluten in the body -- including the skin.
If you have a gluten intolerance or allergy, your digestive tract is typically unable to process the protein. Zonulin, a protein produced in the gut, is responsible for keeping the gut lining intact and functioning optimally. Gluten can be a trigger in the overproduction of zonulin, which can wreak havoc on the gut. What happens then is an inflammatory response in the digestive tract. While this might not seem like a big deal in relation to the skin, remember that inflammation is the cause of troubling skin conditions like acne and eczema.
If you don’t have a gluten allergy or intolerance and your skin rarely or never breaks out in acne or eczema, it’s probably safe to enjoy the occasional hot dog at a sporting event. But processed meats shouldn’t be a regular part of a healthy diet, especially if you’re trying to keep skin looking youthful longer.
Have questions about whether your diet is affecting your skin? Talk to an expert. If you’re in the greater New York City area, contact Vanguard Dermatology today for an appointment with one of our board-certified dermatologists who can answer your questions.