You may know that incorporating the right skin care products can help you maintain youthful skin as you age, but did you know that certain foods can also make you look younger?
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- Brightly-colored fruits and vegetables and whole food sources of healthy fats are good for skin health.
- The nutrients most researched for improving skin health are vitamins C and E, beta carotene, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and antioxidants, which are present in higher quantities in certain foods.
- Beyond diet, other lifestyle factors can improve or worsen skin health, such as hydration, stress management, smoking, alcohol, and drug use.
Understanding How Diet Impacts Skin Health
For a long time, people have incorrectly described the skin as the body’s largest organ. While it is not the body’s largest organ by weight or by surface area, it’s certainly still the organ that has the most varied interactions with our external environment.
Our skin serves as a protective layer for all of our internal organs and it has to combat damaging agents like bacteria, germs, viruses, sunlight, air pollutants, and toxins.
Of these damaging agents, the biggest concern are agents called reactive oxygen species, or “free radicals.” These are unstable molecules containing oxygen that react with organs like our skin and cause oxidative stress, which leads to cell and tissue damage.
When our bodies’ antioxidant defense system cannot keep up with the oxidative stress, we get oxidative damage such as unfavorable changes in the color and texture of the skin (think sunburns, discoloration, and wrinkles), and eventually even cell death.
Just like we can support our immune system with good nutrition, we can also support our antioxidant defense system. I’ll share the top 5 foods to do so, next.
The Top 5 Anti-Aging Foods For Youthful Skin & Overall Health
While eating minimally processed whole foods in general supports your health, there are specific foods in particular that will improve your skin health by supporting its defense systems.
1. Blackberries, Blueberries, Figs, Grapes & Plums
Blackberries, blueberries, figs, grapes, and plums are delicious fruits that share a purplish hue. Their rich color comes from a compound called anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant.
Anthocyanins have UV (ultraviolet radiation)-filtering properties, which means that they can help protect the skin from UV rays.
UV rays are one of the leading causes of premature aging and skin cancer, so eating foods that can help filter these harmful rays is beneficial for your skin health.
While the U.S. and Canadian governments have not yet established recommended daily values for anthocyanin consumption, China is proposing an intake of ~50 mg/day, which is the amount found in just one-third cup of blueberries.
Add a handful (⅓ cup) of berries or chopped fresh figs or plums to any meal or snack to get anti-aging anthocyanins for youthful skin.
2. Fatty Fish
The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines are also protective against ultraviolet radiation.
These fatty acids help reduce the risk of sunburn, skin cancer, photosensitivity, and photo-aging (aging of the skin from exposure to light).
The American Heart Association recommends at least two 3 ½ oz (100-gram) servings of oily fish each week.
To reduce the risk of heavy metal contamination associated with eating fish, you can also take a fish oil supplement containing 4 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid, a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid) daily.
Take 1 tsp of high-EPA fish oil supplement daily or eat at least 2 servings of fatty fish each week for smooth, supple skin.
3. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds, like almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds, are another source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (like omega-3s), as well as antioxidants, which are beneficial for skin health.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to support the skin’s protective barrier, helping lock in moisture to keep skin looking more hydrated and plump.
Walnuts, Brazil nuts, and Pine nuts are high in PUFA, and they also contain vitamin E, which is strongly linked to skin health.
The best way to eat nuts is raw and with their skins still intact. It appears that roasting nuts can damage the beneficial compounds they contain, so it’s best to avoid this to maximize their benefits.
Study participants saw good results in terms of improved antioxidant levels in their blood, providing more antioxidant defenses to environmental sources of oxidative stress with ~ 1 1⁄2 oz (40 grams) per day.
Enjoy a small handful of raw nuts with any meal or snack as a way to improve skin health benefits.
4. Dark Chocolate
I’ve already written about 10 benefits of eating dark chocolate every day, and now benefit #11 is the fact that the flavonoids in dark chocolate make it excellent for skin health.
Regular consumption of chocolate high in flavonols (the higher the cocoa content of chocolate, the higher the flavonols) provides a significant photo-protective effect (protection against skin damage caused by sunlight).
Savor 2 squares (20 grams) of dark chocolate daily (at least 70% cocoa and ideally 85% or more) to help protect your skin against sun damage.
Avocados are an amazing savory fruit, rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids (the compounds in certain fruits and vegetables that give them their color, like beta-carotene in carrots and bell peppers), and phenolic compounds (natural bioactive molecules in fresh fruit & vegetables that have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects).
This study showed that eating one avocado per day for 8 weeks significantly improved skin elasticity and firmness for the participants.
Include one whole avocado over the course of your day to get firmer, more elastic skin.
Sample Meal Plan For An Anti-Aging Diet
This meal plan includes the full recommended daily servings for all 5 anti-aging foods:
- Breakfast: 1 bowl of oatmeal (½ cup whole grain rolled oats) with ½ oz (14 grams) of chopped walnuts and ¾ cup Greek yogurt with ¼ cup of blueberries
- Snack: Multi-grain seed crackers with carrot sticks and ½ sliced avocado
- Lunch: 2 cups mixed leafy greens with 3½ oz (100 grams) of cooked salmon, tossed with a dressing of olive oil & balsamic vinegar (½ tbsp. of each) and 1 tbsp (5 grams) of raw pine nuts, and a side of cooked whole grain brown rice (~½ cup cooked)
- Snack: 2 squares (20 grams) dark chocolate with 1 small plum and ¾ oz (21 grams) raw Brazil nuts
- Supper: 4 oz (112 grams) flank steak strips with grilled bell pepper & onions, served in a warm flour or corn tortilla with ½ avocado, mashed
Other Factors That Affect Skin Health
Anti-aging foods are only part of the equation when it comes to skin health.
To maximize your skin health and avoid premature aging, It’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Lifestyle factors that affect your skin health are:
Getting enough water (at least 2L/day) is associated with better skin elasticity and extensibility (the ability to return to its original state after being stretched or pulled) and lower measures of dryness or roughness.
Drink at least 8 glasses of water per day to promote good skin health.
Scientists are discovering that not only is there a gut-brain axis; but we also have a skin-brain axis, where high levels of stress can manifest themselves in new or worsening skin conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, and more.
Practice stress management techniques like controlled breathing, meditation, or journaling each day for better skin.
Tobacco smoking is associated with significantly more wrinkling, especially around the lips, as well as uneven skin coloration and thinner, dryer skin.
This compelling study showed a dramatic difference in skin aging between identical twins where one smoked and the other didn’t.
Quit smoking or don’t start to reduce the risk of premature skin aging.
Alcohol & illicit drugs
Skin changes are one of the first signs of alcohol use, such as skin flushing. In the longer term, chronic alcohol abuse can lead to yellowed skin from jaundice, or urticaria (a raised, itchy rash).
Illicit drugs can cause skin disorders such as ulcers, sores & infections, and rings of purplish red bumps called skin granulomas. All of these conditions are symptoms of poor skin health.
Minimize alcohol consumption and avoid illicit drugs if you want your skin to be clear and healthy.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.