Are there certain foods I can eat to help my skin look younger? Do some foods slow down skin aging?
We've heard the adage that beauty comes from the inside. While research on nutrition and skin health is in the early stages, scientists are learning that what you eat can help mitigate age-related wrinkles and fine lines, sun-related skin damage and other skin problems.
Your skin – the largest organ in your body – relies on a steady influx of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, as well as proteins, glucose and fats, to build a strong barrier against outside toxins and fend off damage from environmental assaults.
Antioxidant vitamins C and E, for example, have been shown to curb skin damage caused by free radicals. Chronic sun exposure, pollution, smoking and aging all deplete the skin's antioxidant levels.
The mineral selenium bolsters the activity of antioxidant enzymes in the skin while zinc, highly concentrated in the skin's upper layer (epidermis), supports collagen production (your skin's support structure) and helps maintain healthy skin-cell membranes.
Of course, what you don't eat matters, too. A surplus of highly processed foods, for instance, has been associated with skin aging. High glycemic carbohydrates that spike insulin (e.g., white bread, white rice, refined breakfast cereals, sugary drinks) are also tied to acne.
Drinking too much alcohol can hasten skin aging as well as trigger rosacea flare-ups, a skin disorder characterized by redness on the cheeks, nose, chin or forehead.
While more research is needed to uncover the long-term benefits of diet on skin health, studies suggest that the following foods – as part of an overall healthy diet that includes plenty of water – can help maintain healthy-looking skin as you age. (Even better, these foods benefit your whole body.)
These tiny seeds are an outstanding source of linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid that's abundant in the skin's epidermis. Here, linoleic acid is used to make special lipids (fats) called ceramides, which are vital for building a strong skin barrier.
Your skin's barrier protects and defends your body by keeping just the right amount of moisture in and keeping harmful things such as chemicals, the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays and pathogens out.
A study published in 2007 found that among 4,025 American women between the ages of 40 to 74, those who had higher linoleic acid intakes showed fewer signs of skin aging defined by dry and thin skin.
Your body can't make linoleic acid so it's essential to get from foods: 11 to 12 grams a day for women and 14 to 17 grams daily for men.
Two tablespoons of hemp seeds supply 5.5 grams of the fatty acid, plus a decent amount of zinc, a mineral needed to make new collagen.
Also eat: Walnuts, Brazil nuts, pine nuts, grapeseed oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil
Red bell peppers
Sweet bell peppers, especially red ones, are packed with vitamin C, an antioxidant nutrient that helps shield skin cells against free radical damage induced by UV light.
Vitamin C also plays a key role in forming and maintaining collagen, a protein that provides firmness and elasticity to skin. As we get older, collagen synthesis declines which can increase wrinkles and fine lines.
The 2007 study conducted with U.S. women also revealed that a higher vitamin C intake was associated with a lower risk of having wrinkled skin and age-related skin dryness.
The official recommended intakes for vitamin C – considered too low by some experts – are 90 milligrams (men) and 75 milligrams (women) daily.
One medium red pepper delivers 152 milligrams of the vitamin; red peppers are also good source of the antioxidant nutrient vitamin E.
Also eat: Kiwifruit, cantaloupe, citrus fruit, strawberries, green bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, tomato juice
Their claim to fame is selenium, a mineral that enables antioxidant enzymes to protect skin cells from UV damage. Selenium is also thought to play a role in skin-cancer prevention.
You'll find 13 micrograms of selenium in one cup of grilled portabella mushroom slices, almost one-quarter of a day's worth. (Adults needs 55 micrograms a day.)
Also eat: Cremini mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, Brazil nuts, wheat germ, turkey, mackerel, herring, tuna, halibut, oysters, scallops, sunflower seeds
They're loaded with vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps prevent free radical damage in the skin. Vitamin E also reduces inflammation caused by UV light exposure.
Adults need 15 milligrams of vitamin E (alpha-Tocopherol) each day. One ounce of sunflower seeds (about 1/4 cup) delivers 7.4 milligrams, nearly half a day's worth.
An ounce of sunflower seeds is also an exceptional source of linoleic acid and selenium.
Also eat: Almonds, cooked spinach, Swiss chard, avocado, wheat germ, wheat germ oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, grapeseed oil
Omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish maintain healthy skin-cell membranes, which act as passageways for nutrients and barriers for harmful substances. Omega-3s may also help preserve collagen and reduce sun damage by quelling UV-induced inflammation.
And, increasing omega-3 fat intake has been linked to an improvement in acne.
Aim to eat fatty fish at least twice a week.
Also eat: Anchovies, Arctic char, herring, mackerel, Rainbow trout, sardines
A 12-week study (2011) conducted in 60 healthy women found that those who drank four cups of a green-tea beverage each day (versus a placebo drink) experienced less skin reddening after exposure to a small dose of UV radiation.
Green-tea drinkers also had improvements in skin health, including hydration, elasticity and structure.
The protective effect of green tea is attributed to potent antioxidants called catechins.
Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
Cocoa powder has been linked to improved UV protection and skin structure in healthy women. It's thought that flavanols, phytochemicals in cocoa powder, increase blood flow to the skin, enhancing the supply of nutrients and oxygen.
Add cocoa powder to smoothies and salad dressings, stir it into oatmeal and plain yogurt, or mix it into stews and chili.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto.