You know that eating lots of carbs, sugar, and fast food can make your skin look dull and puffy. And you’ve probably heard that fruits and vegetables can make it look healthy, even glowing.
But have you ever experienced that glow? And what foods might help you achieve it? And, honestly, has anyone actually researched it – or is it just a ploy to get us to eat healthier?
As it turns out, scientists actually have researched the effects of food and nutrients on skin. And although this field of science is still growing, and many things remain unknown, studies have revealed important information you can put to work now to improve the health and appearance of your skin.
Nutrients and Foods for Glowing Skin
Here are 5 nutrients that support the health and appearance of skin, plus foods that can promote glowing skin:
• Carotenoids — More than 600 compounds form the group of yellow-orange-red plant pigments known as carotenoids, which include β carotene, lycopene and lutein. They play important roles as anti-oxidants, protecting the body from damage caused by ultraviolet light, inflammation and attacks on the immune system.
Humans don’t produce carotenoids, so we have to obtain them from plant sources, primarily fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that these compounds in the diet can reduce wrinkling and aging of skin, reduce the risk of skin cancer, promote healing, and limit sun damage.(1) Studies also have shown that eating vegetables and fruits high in carotenoids can improve the appearance of skin, adding yellow and red tones that promote an attractive appearance.(2)
Foods high in carotenoids include pumpkin, carrots, tomatoes, watermelon, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes.
• Vitamin C — Vitamin C also functions as an antioxidant in the body, countering the effects of free radicals (free electrons that result from certain chemical reactions in the body) and preventing cell damage. Vitamin C plays roles in healing skin from cuts and wounds, limiting damage from ultraviolet light, and promoting collagen growth. At least one study has shown that higher levels of Vitamin C in the diet are associated with fewer wrinkles associated with aging.(3)
Foods high in Vitamin C include oranges, grapefruit, lemons, red and yellow sweet peppers, broccoli, cantaloupe and berries.
• Vitamin E — The term “Vitamin E” actually refers to a group of nutrients, of which α-tocopherol is the most common and active. Vitamin E functions as an antioxidant in the body, “sweeping up” free radicals that can damage cells and tissues.
The Vitamin E group in foods may work together with Vitamin C to prevent or limit damage from the sun and environmental damage to the skin. It may also play a role in reducing signs of aging. The human body doesn’t make Vitamin E, so we need to consume it.
Foods high in Vitamin E include olive oil, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, and dark greens such as spinach and chard.
• Flavonoids — Flavonoids are plant compounds that reduce inflammation and function as antioxidants. They appear to have anti-microbial and possibly anti-cancer properties. Flavonoids may increase blood flow to the skin, protect against ultraviolet light damage and increase the skin’s elasticity and hydration.(1)
Foods high in flavonoids include almonds, green tea, black tea, dark chocolate, citrus fruits, and berries.
• Healthy Fats — Healthy skin requires a diet that contains healthy fats. Fats contain essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6), compounds our bodies need but cannot produce. Fatty acids play a role in producing the oil that protects and hydrates skin, which helps it look younger and fuller, and in maintaining skin cell membranes.(4) They also help reduce sun sensitivity and may play a role in treating psoriasis.
Healthy fats and foods high in essential fatty acids include olive oil, coconut oil, salmon, walnuts, other nuts, flax, and avocados.
OK, Science is Nice, but What Should I Eat?
Most of us are don’t have time to monitor the carotenoid or flavonoid content of our diet. And even if we did, I’m not sure we’d know how to do it! So here’s what I think the science is saying — if you want to eat more foods for glowing skin, do these 3 things:
• Eat LOTS of fruits and vegetables. The current recommendation for Americans is 5 to 13 servings per day (approximately 2.5 to 6.5 cups), but most people only eat 3 servings.(5)
So start eating more, and work your way up toward 10–12 servings per day. One way to start is by eating at least 2 fruits or vegetables at every meal. And make sure many of them are dark yellow, orange or red.
• Eat healthy fats. Make sure most of your fats come from real food sources, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds, fish and avocados. I also think that organic dairy foods are a healthy source of fat, but those fats are saturated, and some people think they should be limited.
Avoid hydrogenated fats, which are common in processed foods, and limit processed vegetable oils (e.g., corn oil).
• Eat a wide variety of real foods. Base your diet primarily on foods that were grown or raised, and limit those that were manufactured. Plants and grains contain hundreds of nutrients we know about, and probably hundreds more we don’t. No one knows exactly which ones, and in what quantities, we need for healthy skin and overall good health.
So cast your net wide, and eat lots of different fruits, vegetables, grains, lean fish and meat, and low-fat dairy.
If you find that eating healthy food takes too much time, get a copy of my ebook, Quick. Healthy. Delicious. Simple Meal Solutions for Busy Moms and Hungry Families, which includes 24 fast and healthy breakfasts, lunches and dinners, plus 22 tips and hacks for prepping and cooking real food quickly and easily. (Use the code FRIEND25 to save 25% off at checkout.)
Also published at Medium.
- Piccardi N and Manissier P. Nutrition and nutritional supplementation: Impact on skin health and beauty. Dermatoendocrinology 2009; 1(5): 271–274.
- Whitehead R, Re D, Xiao D, Ozakinci G and Perrett D. You are what you eat: Within-subject increases in furit and vegetable consumption confer beneficial skin-color changes. PLoS One 2012; 7(3):e32988.
- Cosgrove M, Franco O, Granger S, Murray P and Mayes A. Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007; 86: 1225–31.
- Natural skin care: The skinny on fats — WebMD
- Harvard School of Public Health — The Nutrition Source