When it comes to beautiful, healthy skin, hair and nails, the old adage “you are what you eat” definitely rings true. Breakouts, inflammation, brittle nails and dull hair can be improved just by making better food choices.
Dermatologist Jordan Carqueville of The Skin Care Center in Glenview and Chicago explains, “Foods containing natural antioxidants help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress to our cells, including our skin cells. Inflammation and oxidative stress contribute to aging and skin cancer development.”
Northbrook nutrition coach Rebecca Willis says that a diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals (unprocessed foods and lots of fruits and vegetables) will protect your skin. She also points to recent research that connects a healthy gut to a variety of benefits, including good skin. To discover what is causing inflammation in skin or lackluster hair, Willis suggests keeping a detailed food diary to find the culprit.
Beauty-Boosting Foods to Add to Your Grocery List
The popularity of this leafy superfood isn’t going away anytime soon. “Kale is an excellent source of vitamin C and A,” says Carqueville. “Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that also promotes collagen growth for wound healing and anti-aging, while vitamin A helps our skin cells differentiate and grow, which prevents clogging of the pores and improves dullness from skin build-up.”
Dermatologist Rebecca Kazin of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery and the Johns Hopkins Department of Dermatology recommends berries, as they’re a great source of antioxidants and they also neutralize free radicals that can accelerate skin aging. Throw a half-cup in your yogurt or oatmeal for a healthy and delicious topping.
Tomatoes contain the anti-aging antioxidant lycopene, shown to be protective against UV-radiation and prevention of sunburns. Take it one step further and make a tomato mask that you can apply directly to your skin. Mix the juice of a lemon and the juice from a tomato. Apply the mask to your face and let it soak in for around 30 minutes. Wash it off and enjoy tighter, brighter skin.
“Both olive oil and green tea contain polyphenols, which fight against free-oxygen radicals that contribute to aging and skin cancer,” explains Carqueville. They also contain antioxidants that smooth and nourish skin and hair. Additionally, people have noted improvements in gum health just by rinsing green tea in your mouth.
Make sweet potatoes a must on your menu. They’re packed with huge amounts of vitamin A as well as beta-carotene, which fights free radicals associated with skin aging. Vitamin A derivatives are known as retinoids, and they are found in most anti-aging skincare products to smooth wrinkles, boost collagen and fade dark spots.
You don’t have to forgo a glass of wine at your meal. In fact, a glass of red is great for skin. “Red wine contains the antioxidant resveratrol, which may play a role in anti-aging and skin cancer prevention,” explains Carqueville. According to a study in “Women’s Health” magazine, resveratrol in red wine helps firm and moisturize, has anti-inflammatory properties that soothe skin, and exceeds vitamins E and C in its effectiveness.
“Almonds are great sources of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids,” says Kazin. “They are a good source of protein (the building blocks of skin cells) and vitamin E, which decreases skin inflammation.” Almonds also contain magnesium, which counters the effects of stress hormones that can increase aging and worsen acne. Magnesium also helps maintain healthy hair. Since raw almonds are the lowest-calorie nut, they make the perfect afternoon snack when your energy is lacking.
Fish is high-protein, heart-healthy and nutrient-rich. Willis notes that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish aid skin as they are potent antioxidants. “Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain our epidermis to keep moisture in the skin,” says Carqueville.
Water is good for many of our organs, and your skin and hair are no exception. Water keeps skin supple and hydrated. It also rescues dry hair. See what happens when you simply increase your daily water intake.
Skin-Damaging Foods to Avoid
Steer clear of dairy products for a while if you’re experiencing breakouts. “Androgens stimulate oil glands to secrete sebum, which clogs the pores and contributes to acne formation,” says Carqueville. “Dairy has been shown to increase androgens in the body, and therefore lead to more oil production, clogging of pores and pimples.”
“Foods or drinks that spike blood sugar and increase insulin levels can lead to pimples by increasing inflammation and oil production,” explains Kazin. “They also can worsen hormonal fluctuations.” Examples include “white foods” like white bread, white rice, pretzels, chips and pasta.
Salt, Sugar, Processed and Fast-Food
Like high-gylcemic foods, salt, sugar, processed and fast-food cause insulin levels to spike, which in turn inflames skin. Inflammation caused by high blood sugar weakens skin by breaking down collagen, making skin sag and look puffy. Eating these types of foods also aggravates eczema, rosacea and acne.
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