Ever woken up pale and puffy instead of glowy and refreshed? It’s no mystery why: Your face mirrors what you eat. Choosing the right foods can actually make you prettier. Here’s what to pile on your plate for clear skin, shiny hair and a brighter smile.
1. Go fish for fewer wrinkles
What to eat – Wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel and herring.
The beauty of them – These swimmers are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which help decrease inflammation (they aid in treating psoriasis, an inflammatory skin condition) and improve blood circulation, producing a healthy glow.
Elderly people who had eaten more fish and veggies over their lifetime had fewer wrinkles. Possible reason: Upping your omega-3s helps blunt the potentially harmful impact of omega-6s, which are found in red meat and processed foods; most of us get too many 6s, which can result in inflammation.
2. Eat more colors for smooth skin
What to eat – Dark orange, red or green fruit and veggies, such as butternut squash, carrots, cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, spinach.
The beauty of them – The Crayola-colored orange and red in most of these foods is due to beta-carotene, an antioxidant that converts to vitamin A in your body and switches on DNA that’s in charge of producing new skin cells and shedding old ones, Bauer says. (In green produce, chlorophyll masks the color of the beta-carotene.) A regular influx of new cells keeps the surface of your skin smooth, fresh-looking and resistant to irritants and damage. (It’s no coincidence that some of the best topical healthy-skin ingredients, retinoic acid and retinol, are derivatives of vitamin A.) Plus, beta-carotene acts like Pac-Man, eating up free radicals that cause DNA mutations that can lead to wrinkles.
3. The eating plan
Creating a diet with foods that help you look your beautiful best is easy. Try this 1,650-calorie, one-day plan.
1 cup whole-grain, fortified cereal
1 cup skim milk
1/2 cup fresh sliced strawberries
1 tbsp chopped walnuts
1 cup green tea
3 cups fresh spinach leaves
5 oz wild salmon (fresh or canned)
1/2 cup chopped or cherry tomatoes
1 cup sliced red bell peppers
Toss all with 1 to 2 tsp olive oil and vinegar or fresh lemon juice.
8 oz nonfat flavored yogurt
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
5 oz grilled chicken
1 cup broccoli (sautéed in 1 tsp olive oil or canola oil, and garlic)
1 medium baked sweet potato
1 oz dark chocolate
4. Brighten your smile with dairy
What to eat – Skim milk, lowfat yogurt, lowfat cheese.
The beauty of them – The key ingredient here is calcium: When you’re young, it creates cavity-resistant tooth enamel; when you’re an adult, it maintains the integrity of the enamel, so teeth stay strong. People who get enough calcium (the RDA is 1,000 milligrams) are less likely to have severe gum disease. Many dairy products add vitamin D to enhance absorption.
5. Increase iron and zinc for strong hair, clear skin and healthier nails
What to eat – Fortified cereal, lean beef, oysters.
The beauty of them – These foods are brimming with zinc and iron. Zinc is a critical beauty multitasker, contributing to nearly every enzyme in your skin, including those that help create collagen and produce new cells. It also aids in healing wounds: When you nick your leg with a razor, zinc levels in the area jump as enzymes rush to begin closing the cut. And there’s some evidence that the anti-inflammatory properties in zinc supplements play a role in calming skin conditions such as acne by reducing the number of pimples and other lesions that form. Because both zinc and iron are key to cell production in hair follicles, a deficiency in either nutrient could also cause hair to thin or even fall out. Low iron could also exacerbate conditions such as hereditary female pattern hair loss. Your nails benefit from zinc and iron, as well; getting too little could contribute to a slowdown in cell production, causing more gradual growth. And in severe cases, an iron deficiency may cause nails to become brittle or spoon-shaped.
6. Snack and sip for a natural sunscreen
What to eat – Dark chocolate, sunflower seeds, green tea.
The beauty of them – These very different foods have one crucial benefit in common: All are packed with antioxidants that protect skin from free radicals (the damaging molecules that form in skin exposed to sun and pollutants). Tiny sunflower seeds are big on vitamin E; found in areas with lots of oil glands, such as the face, E blocks free radicals from attacking the membranes so cells stay alive. Similarly, dark chocolate and green tea deliver potent antioxidants known as polyphenols. The compounds in green tea, for example, can suppress agents that trigger inflammation. Regular intake of polyphenols found in cocoa may keep skin hydrated and lessen the effects of a sunburn; researchers aren’t sure why but speculate that it has to do with the polyphenols’ ability to increase blood flow to the skin.
7. Add vitamin C for healthy collagen
What to eat – Strawberries, citrus, red bell peppers and broccoli.
The beauty of them – All are loaded with vitamin C, with red peppers practically oozing the stuff (a cup boasts more than an orange). Just as vitamin A turns on cell production, vitamin C activates fibroblast cells, which make collagen, the tightly packed and carefully organized support system sitting under the skin’s surface. The healthier your infrastructure of collagen, the firmer and smoother your skin looks. And because collagen reinforces the walls of blood vessels, extremely low levels of vitamin C can cause bruising. By meeting your daily quota of 75 milligrams (a cup of strawberries does it), you’ll give your skin what it craves.