The proof is in the scientific research: What you put on your plate can help skin issues, from acne to premature aging. Let us crunch the data while you crunch on youthifying sweet red peppers alongside your salmon and asparagus.
1. Load Up on Produce, and Prep With Care
Here's why: Sunlight and air pollution can cause unstable free radical molecules to wreak havoc on your skin, upping your odds for wrinkles and dark spots. You can help neutralize the assault by piling your plate with antioxidant-packed fruits and veggies. A plant-heavy diet can also slash skin cancer risk by as much as 54 percent, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Experts agree that how you prepare the produce matters. For example, the antioxidants in tomatoes and carrots — lycopene and beta-carotene — are more potent when you cook them with a healthy fat like olive oil, says Torey Armul, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Foods with the antioxidant vitamin C (peppers, broccoli, kale) are best chomped raw or stir-fried just enough to heat without sapping their color or crunch.
2. Get Your Protein
"Eating a wide variety of proteins will pump your body full of collagen-building amino acids," says Whitney Bowe, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "We know that women who don't get enough can develop rough, sallow skin as well as thinner hair and brittle nails." Be sure you're hitting the recommended 46 grams a day. Chicken, fish, lean beef, and eggs are your best sources, but vegetarians can sub in extra chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans (also good for all of us).
3. Heal Your Stomach
Scientists have been buzzing for years about the possible connection between intestinal bacteria and obesity, GI issues, even depression. Now dermatologists are chiming in: "When bad bugs start elbowing out the good ones in our intestinal tract, inflammation surges through our entire body, including the skin," says Dr. Bowe. That may trigger acne, rosacea, and wrinkling. Rebalance your body with foods rich in gut-friendly probiotics: Eat plain yogurt topped with fresh fruit for breakfast, slurp miso soup, or experiment with kombucha, a fermented tea. (It tastes way better than it sounds!) Right now, food sources are a better bet than probiotic supplements since it's hard to tell if the pills have any effect on your skin. And don't forget about prebiotics, a type of indigestible fiber that probiotics love to snack on. Asparagus, kale, and spinach are filled with them.
4. Hold the Hormones
Nobody orders her milk shake with a side of estrogen. But some cattle in this country are injected with growth hormones to make them better milk providers, and those hormones may spur acne by upping oil production and inflammation. If you're acne prone, you can try buying organic dairy products whenever possible. To earn the USDA certification, dairy must come from animals not treated with growth hormones or antibiotics. Even organic milk contains some hormones, however, so it may help to limit your dairy intake overall.
5. Dial Back Sugar and Other Refined Carbs
And we're not just talking candy here. White rice, bread, pasta, and most packaged snack foods can spike blood sugar about 15 minutes after the first bite, says Bowe. In response, your body churns out a type of protein that increases oil production and causes inflammation, possibly leading to flares of eczema, rosacea, and acne. Higher blood sugar can stiffen up collagen fibers, which can make skin less springy, more saggy, says Rajani Katta, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. So get your carb fix from high-fiber, low-sugar foods (brown rice over white; a handful of nuts instead of crackers; beans rather than white pasta). You can calm your oil glands, reduce inflammation, and possibly improve acne in just 10 weeks, according to one study on the effects of diet on skin.
6. Choose Healthy Fats
The MVPs: omega-3 fatty acids, found in cold-water fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines. They're rich in DHA and EPA, two compounds that have been shown to ease moderate to severe acne and lower your risk of skin discoloration, roughness, and other signs of sun damage, says Jessica Wu, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California. Just three servings of fish a week can make a difference in what you see in the mirror, says Wu. Not a seafood fan? You can pop a daily fish oil supplement, or munch on a plant source of omega-3s like walnuts or flaxseeds. Really, any unsaturated fat will help keep skin looking supple and glowy, says Wu. So have some sliced avocado with your grilled chicken breast, drizz lean olive oil-based vinaigrette on your salad, or sprinkle chia seeds over a mixed fruit cup.
This story originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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