Everyone knows that a healthful diet is good for you, but did you know that specific foods and supplements also make your skin more beautiful? Research shows that the same nutrients that keep your arteries clear, ward off cancer, and prevent diabetes are a powerful means for creating smooth, radiant skin. Whether your problem is acne or aging skin, include the following foods and supplements in your diet, and you'll be rewarded with gorgeous skin.
Unique in its ability to penetrate deep into cells, alpha-lipoic acid is the only antioxidant that is both fat- and water-soluble. As such, it protects cells both internally and externally from free radical damage. This overachieving antioxidant recycles other antioxidants (including vitamin C, vitamin E, and CoQ10)-and simultaneously boosts levels of glutathione, yet another antioxidant.
Perhaps the most significant way that alpha-lipoic acid keeps skin youthful is by inhibiting a destructive process called glycation, which occurs when excess sugar molecules attach to proteins and cause cross-linking, or in simple terms, stiffening. When cross-linking affects collagen, skin is no longer elastic, and expressions (such as smiling or frowning) can get etched into the skin. To obtain sufficient amounts of alpha-lipoic acid, supplements are essential. Take 100 milligrams daily.
Bursting with antioxidants, blueberries are tiny powerhouses of skin-protective compounds. Anthocyanins, the pigments that give blueberries their deep purple color, are powerful anti-inflammatories that shield cells from damaging free radicals created by excessive sun exposure, stress, and environmental toxins.
Eat ½ cup to 1 cup of blueberries every day. For variety, substitute blackberries, red or purple grapes, or raspberries, all of which are also good sources of anthocyanins.
Here's one recommendation that few people will have difficulty following: for beautiful skin, be sure to eat chocolate often. Researchers in Germany say that chocolate increases protection from UV damage. In addition, chocolate dilates blood vessels, which increases blood flow and brings nutrients to the surface and deeper layers of the skin.
Antioxidant compounds called flavanols are responsible for the skin-beautifying benefits. Researchers also found that chocolate increases skin hydration, thickness, and smoothness. To provide sufficient flavanols, most experts recommend consuming only very dark chocolate, with at least 70 percent cacao.
Shield your skin from the ravages of stress (both internal and external) by eating citrus and other vitamin C-rich foods, such as broccoli and strawberries. Vitamin C protects cells from free radical damage-visible as age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin-caused by sunlight and environmental pollutants. Vitamin C is also an essential building block for collagen, the underlying supportive structure of the skin. Include two to three servings of vitamin C-rich foods in your diet every day. You can also take 500-1,000 milligrams of vitamin C as a daily supplement.
In addition to vitamin C, citrus fruits offer a unique protective nutrient called d-limonene, found in the skin of the fruit. Researchers have found that people who eat citrus peel at least once a week have less incidence of squamous cell skin cancer. Grate citrus rind and add it to salads or main dishes.
According to many skin experts, eating plenty of cold-water fish is one of the keys to youthful skin. Salmon is rich in two essential fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA keep cell membranes flexible, which allows nutrients to enter cells and waste products to be eliminated. In addition, these healthful fatty acids calm the inflammation that causes aging and problem skin. Studies show that a diet rich in fish oil helps to protect skin against sun damage (including skin cancer) and aids in healing skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis.
Eat two to three servings of cold-water fish weekly, or take 1,000 milligrams of fish oil (approximately 300 milligrams per capsule of DHA and EPA combined).
Shrimp and other seafood with pink or red coloring is loaded with astaxanthin, a carotenoid estimated to have 10 times the antioxidant power of beta-carotene. This supercharged antioxidant scavenges cell-damaging free radicals, including those that cause wrinkles and hyperpigmentation (age spots).
Astaxanthin comes from a microalgae found in marine waters and is responsible for the coloring of wild Alaskan salmon, crab, crawfish, lobster, rainbow trout, and shrimp. Eat foods rich in astaxanthin two to three times a week, or take a supplement of natural astaxanthin (made from the marine algae Haematococcus pluvialis).
Dark, Leafy Greens
Researchers in Italy have found that spinach, collards, kale, and similar greens help turn back the clock on aging skin. The secret? They're packed with lutein, an antioxidant that increases skin hydration and elasticity, and prevents the oxidation of lipids in the skin. In one study, skin hydration increased by 38 percent and elasticity by 8 percent.
Eat ½ cup of cooked dark leafy greens to get 10 milligrams of lutein. Or, take 10 milligrams of lutein as a supplement.
Applying sunscreen is essential, but you can increase your skin's natural resistance to UV damage by eating plenty of deep yellow-orange vegetables and fruits. The pigments (known as carotenoids) in foods such as sweet potatoes, apricots, carrots, mangoes, and winter squash, accumulate in the skin and provide round-the-clock sun protection.
In addition, the carotenoid beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body, which is essential for the maintenance and repair of skin.
Eat two to three servings daily of fruits and vegetables in the rich yellow-to-orange color range and you'll get plenty of beta-carotene.
Tomato sauce, salsa, and other tomato-based products provide lycopene, another carotenoid that safeguards the skin. Recent studies have found that a diet abundant in tomato products acts as a natural low-potency sunscreen. Even better, lycopene encourages the production of collagen. However, for lycopene to be absorbed optimally, tomatoes need to be cooked and consumed with fat (such as olive oil).
In studies, volunteers consumed 55 grams (5 tablespoons) of tomato paste daily, approximately the amount in a Mediterranean-inspired diet. As a supplement, take 20 milligrams of lycopene daily.