You are what you eat.
You’ve probably heard that saying a million (or two) times in your life, but as we get older we start to realize that there’s actually some truth to mom’s oft-repeated maxim. The food we choose to put in our bodies affects everything from our energy levels to the look and feel of our skin. Eat poorly and you’ll suffer inside and out; eat well and you’ll feel and look your best.
Interested in dining your way to a more beautiful future? We’ve got a list of the 25 foods you can incorporate into your diet in order to have the skin of your dreams – not to mention some truly delectable meals.
You say toe-may-toe, we say toe-mah-toe, but what’s really important is that the experts say this juicy red fruit is a phenomenal source of vitamin C and lycopene. The former is a noted collagen builder while the latter is good for your vascular system (promoting better circulation) and helps ward of sun damage caused by UV rays. Tomatoes are excellent raw in salads or on sandwiches and they can also be roasted for soup, stewed for sauces, or canned so you can enjoy the tasty benefits of your summer garden haul all year long.
Nuts in general are a stellar source of the good fats your skin craves but walnuts in particular contain the most omega-3s, including an especially important omega called alpha-linolenic acid that helps prevent the formation of dry, itchy, scaly skin. Snack on protein-rich walnuts to ward of mid-afternoon hunger pains, add some to your oatmeal, or use them in savory vegetarian dishes like pasta or a bean-based chili to replace the fatty acids you’d normally get from fish.
3. Sardines, Salmon, and other Fatty Fish
Coldwater fish tend to be oilier which protects them from temperature fluctuations. For us, the same omega-3 fatty acids help strengthen the membranes of our skin cells. The result? Better moisture retention, less inflammation, and a possible treatment for skin irritations like eczema and psoriasis. You do have to be careful with the mercury levels in some of these fatty fishes so limit your intake to an average of six 6-ounce portions a week, but a few filets here in there – we like them slow-roasted in the oven or grilled with a simple squeeze of lemon and some dill – will do your body good.
4. Grass-Fed Beef
The increasing popularity of grass-fed beef is at least partially attributable to the meat’s signature wild and succulent flavor but cattle grazed on grass also produce meat with a far higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Eating grass-fed beef instead of the corn-fed kind could help you make more collagen and keep your skin plump and resilient. Treat yourself to a steak here and there or use grass-fed ground sirloin as the centerpiece of your next taco night – just remember that traditional (and cheaper) grain-fed beef doesn’t have nearly the same nutritional profile, so buy wisely.
5. Olive Oil
When it comes to age-fighting monounsaturated fatty acids, olive oil beats out the competition by a mile. About three-quarters of the fat in olive oil is monounsaturated; combine that with a wealth of antioxidant polyphenols and there’s a reason that one study found a link between consumption of the oil and a more youthful appearance. Make yourself a yummy vinaigrette or drizzle some fruity EVOO over your pasta salad or tomato and mozzarella stack.
6. Coconut Oil
There has been a coconut oil craze as of late and once you get a gander at this ingredient’s many amazing properties you’re likely to jump on the bandwagon (if you haven’t already). Coconut oil contains vitamin E, an antioxidant that protects skin cells from damage and, when used topically, can also sooth skin irritations. It’s antiviral, antifungal, and healing for those suffering from sunburns, psoriasis, and eczema, too. You can even use it as a lotion to quiet dry, flaky skin. For cooking purposes, use coconut oil in place of butter or olive oil when sauteing, baking, or basting.
If you’re looking to add more zinc to your diet, which you should absolutely do if you’re interested in healthy skin and long and a possible treatment for pesky acne, work some of these bivalves into your diet. Just three oysters contain more than 2 ½ times the daily recommended dose of zinc – spring for a half dozen and you’re really doing a bang-up job. Major bonus: oysters are also famous for their aphrodisiac qualities, so once your glowing skin grabs your partner’s attention you can let the romance of those oysters Rockefeller do the rest.
Just one of these fuzzy fruits provides more vitamin C than you need in an entire day. That amount of vitamin C will help stimulate your body’s production of wrinkle-fighting collagen. Dice up some kiwi up to accompany your morning eggs and toast or tuck a handful into your desk at work. The outer skin forms a convenient carrying case and all you need to do to enjoy the contains is slice and scoop.
The next time you’re carving pumpkins or debating on having that second (or third) slice of pie, stop to appreciate how much beta-carotene is hiding in the flesh of this underrated orange gourd. Your body has the ability to take in beta-carotene and convert it into vitamin A. In turn, that vitamin A is used to grow skin cells, replacing dead skin as it sloughs off so your outer beauty can shine through in all its smooth, supple, and unlined glory. Not a fan of sweet pumpkin recipes? Step away from the lattes, cookies, and cakes and try some pumpkin and ricotta lasagna, a pumpkin and sage soup, or some herb-spiked pumpkin fritters.
10. Red Wine
Wine lovers the world over rejoiced when scientists recently began sharing their findings related to resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, and health. Studies have found that resveratrol may help with everything from obesity to balance to diabetes and now we can add better skin to that list. When applied externally, resveratrol may act as a sunblock; taken internally, the compound has been shown to help with skin hydration and elasticity and has even decreased the appearance of age spots. One more reason to drink up that bottle of Cabernet or Malbec: scientists believe that naturally occurring resveratrol is easier for the body to absorb than the kind stuffed into supplements.
11. Sunflower Seeds
If you’ve ever cut yourself, you may have been advised to dot the healing wound with vitamin E oil to help prevent scarring. That’s because vitamin E is believed to aid your immune system and combat inflammation and adding this vital nutrient to your diet could help your skin in other ways, too. One Experimental Dermatology study of 100 acne sufferers found that participants with lower blood levels of vitamin E seemed to have more severe breakouts. Banish blemishes by snacking on sunflower seeds or adding them to cracker recipes, salads, and rice pilaf.
Mackerel is far from a routine part of the average American diet and that’s really too bad because these underutilized fishies are practically overflowing with vitamin B12. Not only is vitamin B12 deficiency related to fatigue, muscle weakness, forgetfulness, and balance issues, it also lead to issues with skin pigmentation including white spots (known as vitiligo) and dark spots. Some 40% of women aged 40-59 aren’t getting enough B12; buck the trend with some grilled mackerel or go vegetarian by incorporating more nutritional yeast into your meal plan.
We love them in pies, pancakes, and muffins, but now there’s another reason to adore the tiny and tasty nuggets we call blueberries. Each little blue orb contains a staggering amount of antioxidants that help minimize the effect of repeated sun exposure and save your skin from sun- and stress-related damage. Mixed some dried berries into your granola or trail mix, add some to a daily fruit salad for an extra healthy breakfast, or simply grab them by the handful whenever hunger strikes.
Acai, pronounced “ah-sah-EE”, is a kind of fruit that looks a lot like a cross between cranberries and blueberries, albeit with a much larger seed inside. The flavor of acai is intoxicating, bringing to mind a chocolate-covered cherry, and the nutritional impact is just as impressive. Acai is chock full of antioxidants that help save skin from the negative effects of environmental stressors and aging. It’s hard to find whole acai berries in the United States but you can find acai as an ingredient in lots of all-natural juices and the dried berries are delicious, too.
15. Spinach and Kale
Kale salads might be trending but there’s nothing faddish about what these firm, leafy greens can do for your skin. Both kale and spinach are full of phytonutrients (a fancy name for antioxidant compounds) like beta-carotene and lutein that have been proven to aid in skin elasticity. A bag of kale chips here and some spinach and lemon hummus there could lead to plumper, more resilient skin and that’s worth an extra trip or two to the salad bar. For an extra boost, toss some greens into your stir-fry, add them to your banana and peanut butter smoothie, or make a garlicky kale and spinach pesto with raw almonds and some parmesan cheese.
16. Dark Chocolate
No one needs an excuse to indulge in a square or two of luscious dark chocolate, but if you want to easy up on the dessert guilt you can chow down with a clear conscious knowing this sweet treat provides plenty of flavanols. Why is that important? Mostly because flavanols help with hydration and circulation, two things necessary for great skin. Worried about calories? Stick to a 1-ounce square per day and you’ll only be ingesting about 150 calories.
The probiotics in yogurt are great for digestion but this type of friendly bacteria also seems to aid in the fight against inflammation and oxidative stress, two things that may contribute to skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis. Researchers are still exploring the link between probiotics and skin health, but in the meantime you can hedge your bets by swapping out plain Greek yogurt in place of sour cream or trying kefir, a cultured dairy drink that has triple the probiotic content compared to yogurt.
Pomegranates always seem so exotic but there is nothing strange about what this vividly hued fruit can do for your skin. Each ruby-colored kernel is packed with vitamin C which can protect your skin against sun damage and related wrinkling. The key compounds? Ellagic acid and punicalagin, two nutrients that work to banish free radicals and preserve your body’s own natural reserves of skin-plumping collagen. Pomegranate juice is a worthwhile addition to your diet but for the full nutritional impact scatter some seeds over your yogurt or salad.
Nutritionists love to tout avocado as one of the tastiest sources of good fats but dermatologists know that these funny green goodies are also high in glutathione, an anti-aging and detox-friendly compound that may help fight cancer, breakouts, and the formation of wrinkles. Swap out mayonnaise on your sandwiches in favor of mashed avocado or top your homemade tacos with a few slices of this creamy green fruit (yup, it’s really a fruit!).
All those buzzing bees are onto something. Honey has long been used as an antibacterial treatment. Throughout history, the sticky substance has been used to heal wounds, fight infections, and even “cure” the common cold. We now know that those same anti-viral properties combine with antioxidant properties to help your skin – and honey doesn’t cause inflammation like sugar can. All honey contains health benefits but raw honey and Manuka honey are known to be particularly advantageous.
There are dozens of types of olives and they’re all stocked with phytonutrients like polyphenols that work to reduce inflammation, boost skin cell growth, and even provide more oxygen and blood flow to your skin. Olives are a staple in Mediterranean dishes like Greek salads with feta, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and Italian pasta dishes or you can bake chicken or fish with some lemon, capers, and olives for a light and tangy supper.
Pineapple contains a mineral called manganese which serves as an activator for prolidase, an enzyme necessary for collagen production. Collagen production naturally decreases as we age, so upping your pineapple intake could be an important part of compensating for that natural decrease so you can stop sagging and the formation of fine line and wrinkles before they start. We love a good pineapple popsicle when the weather heats up and pineapple salsa with a little jalapeno and red onion makes even simple tacos seem fancy.
Fight cell damaging and signs of aging with this vibrant yellow-orange spice that’s a popular addition to curry powders and pastes. Turmeric is a popular addition to anti-inflammatory diets because the curcumin it contains is believed to prevent deterioration of our DNA, stopping degenerative diseases, immune dysfunction, cancer, and age-related skin disorders from progressing or perhaps even developing in the first place. Try eating some Indian food here and there, add a dash of turmeric to your freshly squeezed orange juice, or try a turmeric tea with almond milk and honey.
In addition to being juicy, sweet, and delicious, it turns out that watermelon is also hiding a nutritional trio you don’t want to miss out on. Dish up some watermelon and you’ll be serving yourself a blend of vitamin C, lycopene, and potassium, infusing your skin with tons of hydration and naturally warding off signs of aging and giving your complexion a dewy glow in the process. Looking for an alternative to simple slices of watermelon? Try the fruit grilled or tossed with some feta and mint.
Chances are you’ve never heard of ghee, but don’t let that unfamiliarity cause you to lose out on this neat ingredient’s many positive properties. Ghee is basically organic, high-quality butter that has been clarified (heated and the solids skimmed off the top) so that you’re left with the healthiest fats and a more stable, less toxic product that is easy to digest even for people who are otherwise lactose intolerant. Those healthy fats are wonderful for your skin, so consider keeping ghee on hand as a base for sautéed vegetables, scrambled eggs, baked goods, basting grilled goodies, roasting vegetables, or broiling fish.
Truth time. Will eating your weight in ghee or gorging on watermelon every weekend make your look 16 again? Not likely. But packing your plate with delicious and nutrient-dense foods will make a big difference in your overall health and, if you stick with it, support better skin and a more youthful glow in the long run. And isn’t that worth a few extra forkfuls of pumpkin ravioli or guacamole?