Desiree Nielsen Weighs in on the Link Between Diet & Skin
Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian based in Vancouver, BC whose consulting practice focuses on inflammation, digestion and plant-centred diets. Desiree is the best selling author of Eat More Plants: 100 Anti-inflammatory Plant-centred Recipes for Vibrant Living and a new gut health cookbook in 2022.
In addition to her writing and work, Desiree also hosts The Allsorts Podcast, where she and guest experts debunk myths, chat about health trends, and overall nutrition and wellness. Her real, down-to-earth, and passionate approach to help others eat and feel better is what makes us love Desiree. With Desiree, nutrition and wellness is fun, informative, and non-restrictive.
Interview questions with Desiree:
1. How did you get into nutrition and consulting? Was it something that you’ve just always wanted to do?
I went vegetarian in my teens (and fully plant-based in my 30s) and that really sparked my awareness of making conscious choices to build health. It turned a couch potato into a runner, and I started reading more about health and wanted to become a lifestyle-focused doctor. Before I went to university, I didn’t actually know what a dietitian was! I thought that nutrition would be a good thing to study before trying to get into medicine. Once I realized what a dietitian was, I realized that so much of what I wanted to do was probably better served by being a dietitian and told myself that if I wasn’t happy in 5 years, I’d try and find some med school to let me in…but I never looked back!
2. What is your personal approach to nutrition?
Eat more plants. Be curious about how your choices make you feel. But then, live your life! Without a doubt, the more we eat whole plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and seeds), the more energized and healthier we’ll be. But it’s also just food and not to be taken so seriously. Nutrition is meant to be a tool, not a hobby.
We’re totally adrift in a sea of influencers and less-than-ethical health professionals using social media to whip us up into a terrified frenzy about our food choices, which is the opposite of actual wellness. We focus on the minutiae of gluten or organics in the pursuit of internet wellness to the detriment of really transformative basics like sleep and eating vegetables.
So for me, it’s about taking an additive approach, tuning out the noise and really loving what you eat. A salad should (and can!) taste as good as a veggie burger otherwise what’s the point?
3. You have so many amazing recipes on your blog - what’s your favourite meal at the moment?
As someone who is constantly developing recipes, my instinct is to answer…whichever recipe I develop next! I probably create 75-100 recipes a year on average so I don’t re-make things as often as you might think. But there are a few that have stubbornly worked their way into my family’s routine and I make all the time - like my breakfast sandwich and my black bean chili. I make each of those probably once every week or two. I love them!
4. What is your take on the link between the gut and skin health? Are there specific foods that you would recommend to keep skin/body inflammation low?
As with anything gut-related, it’s so complex. We have plenty of research to give us a theoretical foundation for a deep link between skin and gut health, with the gut-immune system acting as the intermediary. For example, observations that the gut bacteria of someone with psoriasis looks different than someone without it. But we don’t have a ton of solid human trial research to tell us exactly how, or whether action x will produce resulty.
The skin is also impacted by things other than nutrition: hormones, stress, genetics, sleep, and skin condition all have an impact. As someone who’s cystic acne journey started the very same day she realized she was pregnant, no amount of nutrition (including going plant-based) was able to clear up my skin. And it’s important to know that the skin has it’s own barrier system and microbiome, so alterations in that can occur independent of what’s going on in the gut or immune system.
So when it comes to taking dietary strategies in hopes of keeping inflammation low, we have to look at dietary patterns over single foods. A single kale salad won’t clear your skin! Instead, eating more whole plant foods consistently on a daily basis will help provide plenty of fibre (maybe the most overlooked factor in anti-inflammatory nutrition) and supportive phytochemicals. It will also help keep your blood sugars more stable, the gut barrier strong and feed the microbiome.
5. All these things are important! What has your skincare journey been like?
I had REALLY good skin until my early 20s and I treated it terribly, except for good daily sunscreen habit. Inflammation started cropping up here and there in my 20s and then the hormone surge in pregnancy led to cystic acne that took the larger part of my 30s to clear. My skin was angry, fragile and dehydrated. I had to learn the hard way about barrier function and not overstripping my acne + rosacea-prone skin. Now, I’m oils obsessed.
6. Can you walk us through your current skincare routine? Have certain ingredients or routines been working for you?
I probably change things up more often than is good for me…but I use a gentle creamy cleanser from Aesop that I’ve been committed to for a couple of years! It took me a while to find something both gentle but that actually feels like it cleans off your sunscreen etc. Eye creams change all the time, but right now I have one from Sahajan (I use their brightening mask too…found it through Laura Wright of The First Mess!).
I always use an oil (love LOA!) at night with some vigorous facial massage because all the the muscles in my face are really tense. Some people store stress in their shoulders, I guess for me it’s my face! And because I’m over 40, skin turnover is an obsession. A 10% AHA has changed my life.
7. If you haven’t been feeling the greatest, what are some tips you like to do to reset?
I’m a really hardcore introvert in an extroverted job, so a combination of fresh air-movement-alone time is my secret sauce. Going outside for a walk or run with some good music is the best medicine for me.
8. You have a rebrand coming up with a focus on transformative nutrition, which is so exciting! Can you tell us more about what the rebrand and what transformative nutrition means to you?
Thank you! The incredible team at BEST Studio dreamed it up…they’re so talented!
After almost 9 years in practice, I had never done an official branding for my business and it started to feel like the external wasn’t really matching up with who I was and what mattered to me. Spending so much time online, sometimes I really get into my own head about what I do. I had to go back to my ‘why’ as a north star for what’s coming next.
I’ve seen good nutrition actually transform lives for the better. And that’s what I’m here to do. When it was just me, one-on-one with a client, it gave me so much purpose to help people find tools that really do transform their relationship to food, to their bodies and to nutrition itself. They gained energy, felt better, and lost fear.
So in a digital space, sometimes it’s tricky to educate on the nitty gritty of while not creating a space that feels positive, non-judgemental and inclusive. But not everyone has the privilege of seeing a dietitian for an hour or two, so it’s so important to me that folks can find supportive and trustworthy spaces online. And that’s why I work so hard to create them. In fact, I just launched a free, non-social media based community called Nutrition with Desiree so we can share food and ideas in a non-diet space that’s not going to feed you a bunch of diet culture via some algorithm.