“Healthy fats are important because they help us repair our body” / This summer, “we can protect our skin from the sun with foods with high antioxidant capacity” / “At the Rafa Nadal Academy we have a small vegetable garden and we eat day in and day out courgettes”.
When Gemma Bes finished her nutrition degree 22 years ago, she says that nutritionists were dedicated solely to “helping people lose weight.” As a result of this, he decided to study a television course to, through communication, spread what nutrition and healthy eating habits are.
It was in the year 2013 when he became Rafa Nadal nutritionist. He confesses that it is not something he likes to talk about, but he acknowledges that thanks to it he has been able to become part of the Rafa Nadal Academy, “an incredible project”, he says, because it has allowed him to be in contact with athletes from more than 45 nationalities with different cultures and eating habits.
Bes is also part of the Cantabria Labs Heliocare Observatory, so one of the aspects he studies is protecting the skin from exposure to sunlight, especially in summer, when the skin suffers especially.
In this interview with EL ESPAÑOL, Rafa Nadal’s nutritionist gives us some keys to eating better this summer and, as far as possible, opting for foods with photoprotection capacity that help prevent burns and diseases caused by the sun these months.
The World Health Organization defines nutrition as the intake of food in relation to the dietary needs of the body. Why is it important to pay attention to nutrition in our daily lives?
For many reasons. I see more and more that when we take care of ourselves at this level we can reverse many diseases and even prevent others. The hardest part of my job is changing habits. You have to go step by step with small changes, because for some people it is complicated, and above all, prioritize what is more or less important. In addition to all this, I think that when you have a patient in front of you, you need to give them all the explanations of why they are doing this type of diet. It is the most educational part of nutrition. When we talk about digestion, or we talk about the sun or autoimmune diseases or sports, we must offer material that accompanies the consultation so that they understand the treatment they are receiving.
We have talked about the internal benefits of eating a good diet, but how does food affect the health of our skin?
They influence a lot. If we eat well, first of all, we will have a better distribution of water in the body, less inflammation, less cell damage. Nowadays there is talk of a new term that is low-grade inflammation, which is that silent inflammation that is created over the years due to an inappropriate lifestyle. This not only includes nutrition, but not resting, stress, sedentary lifestyle… There are several pillars that support skin care and health and they must be taken into account.
In the end, the most important thing is to observe what we lack in order to gradually improve without going to the extreme. I always thought: “well, I have to do everything right or do sports every day”. Now I realize that if I practice it for 10 minutes because one day I can’t do it anymore, it’s welcome too. There is no need to mark great achievements or go to perfectionism.
However, not only nutrition influences the skin, but also hydration. Many times it goes to the extreme of hyperhydration and here the kidneys are also overloaded. It is appropriate to hydrate at the right time of the day, drinking little by little throughout the day. For the skin it is essential.
All that is nutrition for the skin are the vitamins and minerals to take into account to avoid all this oxidative damage. We would have Vitamin D, which contributes to the normal formation of collagen, which is present in bones, cartilage, skin, gums and teeth. It is essential, and it is also essential for the immune system. Then zinc is very important. This is something that we are considering a lot in the pandemic, along with vitamin D. It is essential for the protection of cells against oxidative damage and contributes to the maintenance of the skin in normal conditions.
On the other hand, the metabolism of carbohydrates, healthy fats and vitamin A, which is also important for the maintenance of skin and eyesight. Then we would already have the B vitamins, which are also important for the prevention of oxidative damage and strengthen the nervous system.
Then we would have the antioxidants that are very important. We have fruits and vegetables that have a great composition due to their active ingredients, such as resveratrol from grapes, or pomegranates, but you always have to take it in season, when it’s time. Now we have cherries, strawberries, those red fruits with great antioxidant capacity. Green leafy vegetables are also very interesting to consider in meals. All that it does is prevent oxidative damage to the skin.
Summer is a time when the skin suffers in particular. Can we protect it through food?
Yes, through foods with high antioxidant capacity, good hydration and good sun exposure. It can also be accompanied with some type of supplement, because sometimes this load of antioxidants is not enough with food. Everything must be accompanied by sun creams and good prevention. What happens is that sometimes when we burn out it’s already too late.
And can that sunburned skin recover faster through diet?
Yeah right. When something has burned, it must be regenerated. In that sense, it would be the same formula: with antioxidants that have that regeneration power. We also have omega 3, all that are oils help a lot in this part of regeneration, good hydration. And this is why we also see in summer that, out of common sense, we need fresher, more hydrated foods or dishes… summer fruits and vegetables that are going to help us in this season of the year. If we realize, we consume mushrooms in autumn, but why? Well, because they have vitamin D and a series of vitamins and minerals that help us prepare for winter.
I see today that many types of diet are being followed: vegan, ketogenic, paleo… But I think it is a matter of recovering common sense and observing what each season of the year gives us and, based on to that, consume those foods. We at the Rafael Nadal Academy have a small garden and we eat courgettes in their different versions day in and day out, but it’s really because it’s what the earth is giving you at that moment. Red tomatoes too, which have those antioxidant powers. So all of that is what I think you have to keep in mind at this time of year.
Seasons like summer make it necessary to include foods with antioxidants that help strengthen and recover our skin, but do we have to avoid any particular nutrient?
Foods that harm us at the digestive level, or those that are pro-inflammatory are the ones that we should avoid all year round, and also in summer. Of course, instead of repairing, they do the opposite. If we don’t have a healthy digestive system, what will happen? That we will not have a good absorption of nutrients and many times the deficiency is not so much in how we eat but how our digestive system is.
Processed foods should be avoided, and go to more real food, less processed: instead of refined salt, sea salt, for example, which comes directly from the salt pans and is packaged, has not undergone any processing. Avoid all those foods that after eating we notice that they do not feel good, that swell us, that cause diarrhea, gas… Avoid them for a while, because perhaps there is a certain intolerance and we have oversaturated them. Sugars -white, especially-, refined cereals and we should assess how cow’s milk makes us feel and perhaps use more goat or sheep milk, or else opt for fermented foods such as yogurt, which we will digest better.
We must try to reduce the consumption of animal protein, because from my point of view it is consumed in excess. Invite people to be a vegetarian two days a week to see how we feel, and if they eat meat, better at noon than at night. It is important to promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Fats are also important because they help us repair our body, but healthy ones.
Many use food to achieve goals like getting a tan. For example, carrots. Are they right or is it a myth?
It is not a myth. Provitamin A is very interesting for the skin, beta carotene. They contribute to the good maintenance of the skin and mucous membranes. In many supplements, beta-carotene is added for better skin color. There have been cases of people who also go too far and a peculiar color is produced, but in moderation it is interesting to consume foods rich in beta-carotene such as carrots, because they help keep this skin healthy and with a healthy color.
What does photoprotection through nutrition mean for athletes?
For athletes who are exposed to the sun for a long time, nutrition is very important. Here it would be necessary to add supplementation at the internal level, in addition to the external one with sun creams. Internally, it is important to work on oxidative damage and immunity. We will combine with zinc and vitamin D, which help us regulate immunity. They participate – especially vitamin D – in both the innate immune system and the adaptive immune system, which is what creates memory.
What eating advice would you give for this summer?
In summer always fresh, seasonal and local food. Real foods and avoid all processed. What I would do in summer is to avoid foods that raise our blood insulin. Then complex carbohydrates would be recommended -from brown rice, quinoa, bread made with sourdough and long fermentation, sweet potato-, and this should occupy a quarter of our plate. At night they would not be so necessary. And then half the plate would be fresh, seasonal vegetables.
In summer we are more interested in what is raw than what is cooked, or cold creams. In this dish, always add these healthy fats from avocado, olive oil, nuts… What is very important is to reduce the consumption of salt, which is like sugar. It is interesting to get used to consuming less and less.
Exposure to the sun is causing more and more skin problems. The normal thing is to go to a dermatologist, but have you received patients who want to recover the condition of their skin through nutrition?
Increasingly. It’s funny, because when I started in this 22 years ago, the most boring thing in the world was that my job was to help people lose weight, because I always told them that it’s not about losing weight but about having better health. When you tell them “eat fat”, they freak out. We always have the idea that fats provide a lot of calories, so it is always working from another perspective. We are not working on calories, but on having a good state of health to have a good metabolism and for the body to function better. This will ultimately help you lose weight.
In the last four years, I have had people with skin problems come to my practice to improve these skin problems: from atopic dermatitis, vitiligo, sunburn, etc. Increasingly. And they manage to recover.
However, we must take into account the fact of working on other pillars, not just food. You have to sleep more and, at least two days a week, recover your sleep and go to sleep before 11pm. You can also follow the circadian rhythms of the sun: when the sun goes down, you have to rest, and when it comes out again, you have to activate. This pillar also has to be worked on. We have to find spaces to rest and give the body time to repair itself.