Summertime Warning Signs of a Bad Diet

Summertime Warning Signs of a Bad Diet

By Elizabeth Somer
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Gary Vogin

Did you know that dry skin during the summer might easily be remedied with a handful of nuts? Or that shiny hair is as much a sign of your diet as your shampoo? We know that what we eat affects how we feel, but we often ignore how our diets affect typical summer problems, such as dry or brittle hair, chipped nails, or bloodshot eyes. Consequently, the symptoms of a marginal diet go unnoticed or are thought to be "all in the mind." The following warning signs of a bad diet will help you assess your dietary intake and decide what, if anything, needs improvement.

Turn Around a Bad-Hair Day

The signs: dry, lackluster hair

What's missing: protein, folic acid, the vitamins B-6 and B-12, iron, vitamin C, water

What's going on: These nutrients help build a healthy blood supply, which carries oxygen to the hair and scalp and removes waste products. Poor intake results in a reduction of the number of red blood cells, which literally suffocates the hair and scalp. Vitamin C aids hair growth; poor intake results in hair that tangles or breaks easily.

What you can do: Pack a spinach, caesar, or lentil salad in your picnic basket or brown-bag lunch for iron and folic acid; a piece of fruit for vitamin C; and a roast-beef sandwich or a piece of cold chicken to boost iron, protein, and the vitamins B-6 and B-12. Drink at least eight glasses of water on warm summer days -- even more if you exercise regularly.

Have Beautiful Nails Again

The signs: slow nail growth. Nails chip or are weak.

What's missing: protein; vitamins E, K and C; iron; selenium; zinc

What's going on: Nail growth and proper circulation to the nail bed require ample amounts of these nutrients. Deficiencies result in weak, slow-growing nails.

What you can do: Use whole-grain breads for summer sandwiches; munch on at least five fruits and vegetables each day; and include several servings daily of the iron-rich foods mentioned above.

Feed Your Skin From Within

The signs: dull, dry skin

What's missing: protein, folic acid and other B vitamins, copper, iron, water

What's going on: The skin relies on the bloodstream to supply oxygen and nutrients and to remove the waste products of cellular metabolism. An inadequate supply of one or more of these nutrients cuts off the skin's nutrient supply, while allowing toxic waste products to accumulate.

What you can do: Remember your whole-grain breads and cereals; fruits and vegetables; iron-rich foods; and water. Drink extra water if you're quenching your thirst with iced tea or coffee, since these beverages act as diuretics.

Slow Skin Aging

The signs: sun-damaged skin, sagging skin, easy bruising

What's missing: the antioxidant nutrients: vitamins C and E, beta carotene, selenium

What's going on: These nutrients slow the rate of sun-induced aging of the skin by blocking free-radical damage generated by summer sunlight. Vitamin C also is essential for collagen formation, the "glue" that holds the body's cells together. Poor collagen formation results in frequent bruising, loss of skin elasticity, delayed wound healing, and reduced production of the skin's lubricating oils.

What you can do: Include orange juice or cantaloupe at breakfast and two other vitamin C-rich snacks during the day, such as kiwi, broccoli, or strawberries. For beta carotene, mix spinach into your scrambled eggs or snack on baby carrots. To obtain the 100 IU of vitamin E -- without pouring one-and-a-quarter cups of safflower oil into your daily diet -- take a supplement.

Smooth and Soft Again

The signs: flaky, itchy, or rough skin

What's missing: linoleic acid

What's going on: Linoleic acid is an essential oil that helps maintain smooth, moist skin; poor intake causes dry, scaly skin.

What you can do: Add a tablespoon of linoleic acid-rich foods, such as safflower oil, nuts and seeds, to the daily diet.

Want to Have Bright Eyes?

The signs: age-related vision loss caused by cataracts or macular degeneration

What's missing: the antioxidants: vitamins C and E, beta carotene

What's going on: The eye's lens is bombarded by free radicals from sunlight. A diet rich in antioxidant nutrients protects against the formation and progression of age-related vision loss by counteracting the damaging effects of free radicals.

What you can do: At least three servings or more daily of vitamin C-rich foods, such as citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, is all it takes to protect your eyes.

Elizabeth Somer is a registered dietitian and author of several books, including Nutrition for a Healthy Pregnancy, Food & Mood, and The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals.

Originally published July 20, 1999.

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