David Rath Nutrition did a segment on the Fox TV morning show (Good Day Arkansas) last Tuesday, the topic being eating and appearance. We know that certain foods and their nutrients pay healthy dividends over time for our bodies internally, but what about our external appearance? Does the axiom “You are what you eat” apply to us cosmetically as well?
Thousands of creams, potions, pills and injections are used to maintain a healthy, young-looking exterior. Some of these things work temporarily, lessening symptoms (e.g. wrinkles, brown spots, etc.) for a while. But evidence is mounting that we may be able to work from the inside out by eating a diet that is flush with antioxidants and a moderate amount of healthy fats. Eating certain foods doesn’t change our appearance overnight, but a steady diet of them may have significant consequences for our appearance over the long haul.
Antioxidants such as vitamins, C, E, A and beta-carotene help keep cells healthy. Free radicals are unstable molecules created by cigarette smoke, pollution, radiation from the sun, and normal body processes such as breathing and food digestion. They can play havoc with the body in many ways, one of which is damaging skin cells, leading to premature aging. Antioxidants bind with these free radicals and neutralize them, keeping your cells healthier and skin looking better.
Vitamin C provides cosmetic appeal in addition to its antioxidant qualities. It is used to make collagen, a tissue needed for healthy skin, teeth, gums and blood vessels (damaged blood vessels in the skin can lead to wrinkles). Getting enough of this nutrient will help ensure a healthy, good-looking mouth as well as skin. In a study of over 4,000 women reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007, an association was found between vitamin C and skin quality. Those with higher vitamin C intake had fewer wrinkles as they aged.
The study found other associations with food and appearance. Higher intake of lineoleic acid, an essential fat, was associated with less skin dryness as the women aged. Also, a low-fat diet correlated with better skin appearance with aging.
Omega-3 fats help keep the outer layer of our skin intact so that external toxins are kept out. These fats also control the amount of inflammation we produce when insult occurs to our skin. Insufficient levels of omega-3 fats in our bodies can lead to excessive inflammation of the skin, causing rashes and/or eczema. We do need some fat in our diets; they just need to be the healthier ones in moderate amounts.
Following is a partial listing of food sources for the above-mentioned nutrients:
- Vitamin A/beta-carotene
- Vitamin A – dairy
- Beta-carotene (dark orange, red, yellow and green vegetables and fruits) – carrots, sweet potatoes, red and yellow peppers, spinach, broccoli, kale, apricots, cantaloupe, mango
- Vitamin C
- Citrus fruits and juices, kiwi fruit, cantaloupe, watermelon, mango, papaya, tomatoes/tomato juice, berries, red/yellow/green peppers, broccoli, dark-green vegetables (spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, turnip greens, etc.), white and sweet potatoes, winter squash
- Vitamin E
- Vegetable oils (e.g. sunflower, safflower, corn, olive), nuts and nut butters, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, whole grains, wheat germ, spinach
- Linoleic acid
- Safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame seed and poppy seed oils, nuts, nut butters, seeds
- Omega-3 fats
- Cold-water fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, sturgeon, lake trout, tuna, sardines), walnuts, flax and flaxseed oil, canola oil, olive oil, soybean oil
Including antioxidant-containing foods in your diet can stave off signs of aging down the road. But not too far down the road. Studies indicate cosmetic improvements can be seen anywhere from 3 months to a year after dietary changes. And don’t look for the “magic bullet” here either, as supplements of these vitamins have not shown to be of any benefit.
THE TAKE-HOME MESSAGE: Eat a plant-based diet with healthy fats, but not too much fat, and odds are you may look like you’ve found the Fountain of Youth!
“Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health,” Linus Pauling Institute, Oregon State University.
“Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Oct 2007.
Nutrients for a Healthy Skin, WebMD online article, 2012.
Online fact sheets, Office of Dietary Supplements, National Institutes of Health.
“Antioxidants and Health: An Introduction,” National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, National Institutes of Health.