Got your attention? Think I’m crazy? Chicken skin is a functional food. What is a functional food, you say? Functional foods are foods that have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition. Proponents of functional foods say they promote optimal health and help reduce the risk of disease.
So how could chicken skin possibly be a functional food after all we’ve been told over the last few decades? Well, let me explain.
Chicken skin contains a molecule called a Sphingolipid. It is one molecule, of many, that can make food “functional”.
So what is a Sphingolipid? Well, let’s start with the meaning of the word.
Sphingo is relating to the Sphinx, the Sphinx is mysterious, as are sphingolipids.
Lipids are a group of naturally occurring molecules that include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others.
So a sphingolipid is basically a mysterious fat! Sphingolipids are found in foods as well as in skincare products. For this article, we will be talking specifically about sphingolipids in foods.
Sphingolipids, also called glycosylceramides: a) are involved in intracellular signaling b) they protect against colon cancer c) they inhibit cholesterol absorption and synthesis in the intestine d) and they are antimicrobial
Sphingolipids are part of all eukaryotic cell membranes (cells with a nucleus).
They are found in all food stuffs, though in relatively low concentrations.
So if they are in low concentrations in foods, why are they important?
Because they are involved in intracellular signaling - they signal cells, taking part in the regulation of cell proliferation, differentiation, and cell death, basically determining the developmental fate of the cells. This affects enzyme activity, both in the skin, and in the intestine.
Sphingolipids come from phospholipids or glycolipids which are membrane lipids. They are further broken down into sphingosine from either the phospholipid branch or the glycolipid branch.
Acylated sphingosine, is from the glycolipid branch, and is a ceramide which kills cells.
Phosphorylated sphingosine, is from the phospholipid branch, and is sphingosine-1-phosphate which proliferates cells.
Ceramides trigger cell death, and sphingosine-1-phosphate inhibits the effect of ceramides, inducing cell proliferation. Basically, ceramides kill cells, and sphingosine-1-phosphate makes cells. We need both actions.
Colon Protection An increased intake of dietary sphingolipids has several health promoting effects on the gastrointestinal system.
Sphingolipids protect against colon cancer because tumor cells are sensitive to increases in the concentration of ceramides within cells that trigger cell death.
Sphingolipids also decrease the absorption of cholesterol from the intestine, decreasing the risk of developing colon cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Increased concentration of ceramides in the cell walls will also decrease the rate of cholesterol synthesis. And the intestines are a major site of cholesterol synthesis in humans. A decrease in the cholesterol synthesis in the intestines may also have a positive impact on the plasma cholesterol levels.
Sphingosine is antibacterial and inhibits the growth of several of the most common food borne pathogens, such as Campylobacterjejuni and Listeria monocylogenes.
Dairy products are the main source of sphingolipids in the diet. Meat and fish are also a good source. Poultry breast WITH the skin ON will have a higher sphingolipid content, as ceramides are a major lipid in animal skin.
The following chart shows which foods have a “high” sphingolipid content, with the starred foods being the highest.
1. Butter* 1. Chicken Egg *
2. Cream* 2. Lamb Salmon
3. Cheese 3. Turkey Sweet potato
4. Buttermilk 4. Beef
How to make the most of your new-found butter consumption? Add plant sterols.
Plant sterols and butter result in a greater decrease in plasma cholesterol then plant sterols with vegetable oils, such as canola oil. What is a plant sterol? Plant sterols and stanols (phytosterols) are found naturally in plants and are structurally similar to cholesterol. Their cholesterol-lowering effects have been known for some time, they naturally lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Sterols are compounds that mimic cholesterol and compete with the cholesterol in your food for absorption within your digestive tract. The result is that less cholesterol and less bile (a cholesterol bi-product) is absorbed into the body from the gut. In order to make more bile, more cholesterol has to be removed from the circulation, so lowering blood levels of cholesterol. This reduction happens gradually and depends on the amount of plant sterol and stanol consumed. Over 3 weeks plant sterols and stanols can reduce cholesterol levels by up to 10%.
Sources of Plant Sterols
Nuts and seeds are a good source of plant sterols.
Fruits and vegetables have trace amounts of plant sterols. The amounts are so small that you would need to eat just under 50 pounds of produce to get the recommended .8 grams of plant sterols per day. Fruits and vegetables that are a good source of sterols are:
Science shows us that our ancestors knew what they were doing. They knew which foods were beneficial long before anyone coined the term “functional food”. We can now confidently and scientifically tell our friends that chicken with the skin on and veggies slathered in butter and cheese are actually HEALTHY for us! So go ahead and have that Chicken and Broccoli Casserole loaded with cheese!
"The Renegade Esthetician" Cassandra Lanning, LME, NTP, CPE, CLT
Cassandra is a Master Esthetician and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in the state of Washington. She has 20 years of experience in the beauty industry including electrolysis, laser hair removal, skincare, nutrition, and teaching. She is a member of the International Association for Applied Corneotherapy, the Association for Holistic Skin Care Practitioners, and the National Aesthetic Spa Network. WWW.THERENEGADEESTHETICIAN.COM
Resources: 1. Occurrence of bioactive sphingolipids in meat and fish products
by Lars I. Hellgren http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/1438-9312(200110)103:10%3C661::AID-EJLT661%3E3.0.CO;2-8/abstract;jsessionid=6BE698FED5362694B48D2B48278C3200.f03t02