When we think of skin health, we usually think of topical creams and lotions that moisturize and refresh, but just as important is nourishing our skin from within. Although the skin is our largest organ, it gets its nutrients after other vital organs get their share.
Cutting the processed carbohydrates can help. Research shows that a low glycemic diet can relieve skin conditions like acne. Eat more whole grains, beans, and nuts, and knock off the sugar if you can.
But the eternal carbohydrate bogeyman isn’t the only solution. The skin needs antioxidants and other phytochemicals, which our body can obtain from certain foods.
We can’t stop aging, but we can make it as graceful as possible, and a lot of it has to do with our diet. So what can you eat to keep your skin glowing and looking fresh?
In addition to being high in vitamin C, tomatoes contain all the major carotenoids, including lycopene, lutein and beta-carotene. These protect your skin from sun damage and can even prevent wrinkling.
Carotenoids work by protecting your skin from light, through light-absorbing properties and antioxidant effects. They regulate gene expression induced by UV light and suppress inflammation. This prevents premature aging of the skin by improving elasticity and moisture, which in turn benefits the structure of the skin and reduces age spots.
If you consume tomatoes or other foods rich in carotenoids, consider pairing them with cheese or olive oil. The fats in these foods increase your body’s absorption of the carotenoids.
2. Nuts and seeds
Vitamin E is important in counteracting skin aging by preventing the destruction of collagen and cell damage from free radicals. Nuts and seeds provide the antioxidant and are high in healthy fats, especially almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds.
Sunflower seeds specifically contain half of the necessary daily requirement of vitamin E. They also contain five grams of protein per serving and a high proportion of zinc, which reduces cell inflammation, which is a source of skin aging.
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Olive oil also curbs inflammation due to the antioxidants it contains – so-called phenols. Additionally, a 2012 study showed that a diet high in olive oil reduced the effects of photoaging on the face, which researchers attributed to fatty acids and squalene, compounds that protect against dryness and free radical damage.
Walnut oil, soybean oil, and even rapeseed oil also help keep skin glowing by adding plant-based omega-3 fatty acids to your diet.
4. Oily fish, clams and oysters
Everyone knows the health benefits of salmon, but mussels and oysters offer their own form of skin protection. In addition to being high in protein and omega-3 fat, these mollusks provide most of the zinc in almost all foods. Zinc helps prevent acne and other skin conditions and is an essential mineral for preventing infections.
Salmon and other oily fish are naturally anti-inflammatory and nourish the skin with omega-3 fats, provided they are eaten at least twice a week. Studies have shown that fish oil can help manage the symptoms of eczema, psoriasis, or even lupus.
Coenzyme Q10 is a lesser-known vitamin-like substance that occurs naturally in our body and helps reduce fine lines by smoothing the structure of the skin. In our mid-30s, CoQ10 levels go down, but eating oily cold-water fish can supplement our natural quantities.
Avocados have a beneficial monounsaturated fat for skin health, according to at least one study. Humans cannot produce this fat themselves and have to take it in with food. It helps to include vitamins like A, D, E, and K.
Because avocados are high in vitamin E combined with vitamin C, they help protect the skin from sun damage and free radicals. Vitamin C alone helps the skin create and maintain collagen, a structural protein that keeps it strong and healthy.
Avocados also have lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been shown to improve skin tone by protecting the skin from UV and radiation damage.
6. Sweet potatoes and carrots
Like tomatoes, both sweet potatoes and carrots contain large amounts of beta-carotene, an antioxidant that can be processed into vitamin A in the body. It keeps the skin healthy by acting like a natural sunscreen, preventing sunburn, cell death, and dry, wrinkled skin.
You can tell when a fruit or vegetable contains beta-carotene because it is orange in color. In addition to carrots and sweet potatoes, it also contains mangoes, pumpkin, apricots, melons and papayas.
Carrots, in particular, also have magnesium, which can aid sleep patterns, which in turn is great for skin health. In the meantime, sweet potatoes can help soothe and gently dry oily skin.
7. Green tea
Green tea rejuvenates the skin cells with catechins, which promote blood circulation and ensure that the skin is adequately supplied with oxygen. It contains antioxidants that can protect against sun damage. Studies have shown that green tea reduces redness in the skin, improves moisture levels, smoothes roughness, and increases skin thickness and elasticity, in addition to helping to repair DNA. Some health experts recommend the tea for treating acne because it contains polyphenols that decrease the amount of oil in the body.
Just be sure to drink tea between meals, not with them, as the tannins in tea can reduce the body’s ability to absorb minerals from food.
Berries, including blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and others, are high in vitamin C and antioxidants that help strengthen the skin’s capillaries to reduce bruising and even spider veins in old age. They are known as superfoods for a reason!
9. Citrus fruits
Of course, everyone knows the vitamin C content in citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins, and more. These fruits help reduce dark spots on the skin, soothe inflammation, and support the entire complexion.
10. Green leafy vegetables
Leafy green vegetables are great for many body functions, but incredible for the skin. The darker green indicates higher levels of antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that cause skin cell damage. Studies show that people who eat two to three servings of dark, leafy vegetables per week are less likely to develop skin cancer.
In addition, thanks to their vitamin K content, they help prevent dark circles under the eyes, which improves blood circulation and blood clotting.
Of course, drinking plenty of water helps to keep your skin hydrated and clear, and you can get that water intake from many of the foods listed above, too. But it’s not just about what you eat, it’s also what you avoid. Eliminating caffeine and processed sugars can also go a long way in promoting a healthy shine.
Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer and professor at the University of Florida with degrees in communications and ecology.
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