We all know that, if we’re to enjoy a healthy diet, we’re supposed to drink lots of water and eat plenty of fruit and vegetables. We also know that a lot of processed food won’t do our bodies any favours, but a little bit of junk food here and there won’t do any harm. Everything in moderation – that’s the key.
But what foods should you be eating to achieve specific things like better skin, increased energy levels, improved brain function, et cetera? That’s what our new ‘Best Foods For…’ series is all about – telling you what to eat to achieve your goals. And what better place to start than with skin – because all anybody ever wants is a healthy complexion!
Pomegranates are packed full of polyphenol antioxidants, which regulate blood flow and help to reduce inflammation. One pomegranate also contains 48% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin C, which, thanks to its ability to stimulate the formation of collagen, promotes strong, healthy skin. Drink pomegranate juice, use it in cooking and enjoy the seeds on top of your morning cereal.
Walnuts are great to enjoy as a snack and contain both copper and omega-3 fatty acids. Copper is a mineral proven to boost collagen production, thus strengthening the skin and slowing down the aging process. Omega-3 helps to improve skin elasticity and make it all healthy looking. Walnuts shells are also useful, working well as an exfoliant.
The antioxidant lycopene (the natural pigment that gives tomatoes their red colour) contained within tomatoes is great for improving the skin’s sun protection level. In a study by Mark Birch-Machin from Newcastle University, women consuming a diet of five tablespoons of standard tomato paste and 10g of olive oil a day had 33% more protection against sunburn than women consuming only olive oil.
While tomatoes might offer better natural protection against the sun than olive oil, the monounsaturated fatty acids contained in olive oil make it a wonderful anti-aging agent. Like pomegranates, antioxidant polyphenols in olive oils help to neutralise free radicals, while vitamins A and E make this oil better than sunflower or peanut oil for moisturising.
A diet rich in omega-3 helps to keep the skin clear and there is no better way to consume large quantities of omega-3 than by eating oily fish. One serving (about 100g) of sardines, herring or mackerel contains 1.5g of omega-3 fatty acids one of which – DHA – is an anti-inflammatory that works well in tackling acne. Dark oily fish tends to be the richest source of omega-3.
Yes, that’s right, chocolate is great for your skin. Only dark chocolate, mind you. Milk and white chocolate are not so good. Dark chocolate offers a few great benefits. It’s loaded with flavanols, polyphenols and catechins, making it a more potent antioxidant than blueberries. Flavanols also work to hydrate and improve blood flow, as well as increasing the skin’s natural SPF – something worth bearing in mind, if you’re planning on soaking up the sun during summer.
One thing to note when choosing dark chocolate is the cocoa content. Ideally, this should be over 70%.
Start the day with wholegrain oatmeal and keep your blood sugar stable. Stable blood sugar prevents elevated levels of hormones known as androgens. Increased androgens result in pimples and wrinkles. Another benefit of oats is that they contain great healing properties. Opt for steel-cut/pinhead/coarse oatmeal and top with chopped fruit for natural sweetness.
If you’re looking to fight wrinkles, avocado is your friend. The fruit contains plenty of free-radical quenching antioxidant carotenoids such as beta carotene, zeaxanthin and lutein, which are shown to improve skin density and tone when consumed as part of a healthy diet. Other antioxidants such as Vitamin C and Vitamin E, along with monounsaturated fatty acids help reduce skin irritation and work as a natural moisturiser. As well as eating avocados, try using them directly on your skin to improve complexion.
Carrots have high Vitamin A and beta-carotene content. The former is an effective treatment against eczema, while the latter increases the skin’s natural effectiveness against ultraviolet radiation. In 2011, a study by Scottish researchers found that people who eat more carotenoid-filled vegetables, like carrots, have more yellowness to their skin tone – a mild colouration that makes skin look healthier.
Sunflower seeds contain 37% of your daily Vitamin E needs per 30g. Vitamin E is a wonderful antioxidant that helps tackle inflammation – a leading cause of acne. Use sunflower seeds in salads, scrambled eggs and yoghurt bowls. 101 Cookbooks has a selection of recipe ideas worth checking out, here.
Kale has become the most popular ‘superfood’ on the market in recent years, and for good reason. Kale is best known for being low in calories and high in fibre, with zero fat to boot, but it’s also one of the best foods you’ll find for healthy skin. High Vitamin C content helps the skin produce the collagen needed for strong skin and works as a natural protector against the sun. 85g of kale (about one cup) has 80.4mg of Vitamin C – 100% of the recommended daily intake for women and 90% of the recommended daily intake for men.
Also contained within Kale in abundance is copper – a mineral that stimulates melanin production. Melanin being a pigment that protects the skin from the sun’s rays. Copper is also an anti-inflammatory.
Finally, 85g of raw kale contains 37% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A for men and 48% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A for women. Vitamin A is essential for healthy skin growth.
Peppers contain carotenoids that help increase the skin’s natural skin protection factor. A study by the British Journal of Nutrition found that women who eat 250g of yellow and green vegetables a day have fewer wrinkles. One large yellow bell pepper is about 190g, so two of those a day should serve you well in tackling crow’s feet.
Whatever your choice of melon, it will contribute greatly to better skin. Melons contain collagen, which maintains the firmness of the skin, as well as speeds up healing. Watermelon and cantaloupe and honeydew melons are rich with vitamins A, B and C – all of which are great for anti-aging, cell growth, and skin strength and moisturising. Try using slices of melon on your face and neck for 20 minutes to refresh the skin.
Strawberries, like other fruits in this list, are a rich source of Vitamin C, which helps to fight free radicals and produce collagen for stronger skin. High folic acid and ellagic acid content helps to remove excess oil in the skin and work against UV damage by ensuring collagen production is maintained. Ellagic acid is also useful for reducing dark spots on the skin. Simply apply the juice of a strawberry to dark spots using cotton buds and rinse off after a few minutes.
Use watercress to help tackle any unwanted blemishes. Watercress is great in salads and sandwiches and is full of Vitamins A, C and E, which are great for strong, healthy skin and work well as an antibiotic. In fact, watercress contains four times more Vitamin C than oranges. There also more Vitamin E to be found in a serving of watercress than in broccoli, more iron than spinach and more calcium than whole milk.
In a study of women aged 23 to 58, eating 80g of watercress a day for four weeks, 10 out of 11 volunteers experienced visible improvements to their skin. 7 out of 11 saw a reduction in wrinkles and 9 out of 11 saw improvement in their pores.
170g of pumpkin (about ½ a cup) contains four times the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. Pumpkin is great source of beta-carotene, which is converted by the body into Vitamin A and used to stimulate skin cell growth and keep your complexion wrinkle-free. Also contained within pumpkins is Vitamin C, which promotes collagen production for improved skin tone and elasticity, and the B vitamins B6, folate, niacin and riboflavin, which work to naturally treat acne and increase skin cell renewal through improved circulation.
With all that lovely food to enjoy, you’re going to need something to wash it down. All of the following liquids work wonders for the skin.
Soy milk and Almond milk
Soy milk is derived from soybeans, making it great for vegans and those that are lactose intolerant. Coming from the soybean plant also makes it pretty great for the skin. The benefits of soy milk can be found in its high protein content, which is brilliant for keeping skin tissue well moisturised and maintaining elasticity.
Almond milk is another great substitute for cow’s milk and is equally as beneficial for skin. A tall glass of almond milk is full of vitamins A,D, E and B12 and minerals including zinc, magnesium, selenium and potassium to name but a few. The Vitamin E found in this milk is great for protecting the skin against damage from the sun and helps to trap damaging free radicals. The zinc content, while fairly small, works well in keeping skin healthy and free of blemishes.
Everyone should drink the recommended 6-8 glasses of water a day. Water does so much good for our health and is totally free! For the skin, water plays an important role in keeping it healthy and ensuring elasticity is maintained. Our organs continually pull water from the blood; the blood then replaces this water by pulling it from the skin cells, making the skin look dry and wrinkly. Whenever you’re thirsty, be sure to reach for a glass of water.
Green tea has been used for centuries as a natural cure for everything from toothache to stress. It’s full of enzymes, antioxidants, amino acids, polyphenols and B vitamins, and contains folate, magnesium, caffeine, potassium and manganese. Green tea is widely used in beauty products and is great for treating skin conditions like rosacea and psoriasis. Applied topically alongside sunscreen, the antioxidants are excellent in protecting the skin against UV rays.
Coffee – the drink that helps millions of us get through the day – gets a bit of a bad rap at times, and you certainly shouldn't consume too much caffeine. However, you’ll be pleased to know that coffee (in moderation as part of your diet) does wonders for your skin. Coffee beans are a rich source of antioxidants, which quench those free-radicals we’ve so often mentioned and protect the skin against the sun. Coffee has also been found to improve circulation, leading to healthy, energised skin.
Great news wine fans: a glass of red helps to improve your skin. In a study carried out by researchers in Australia, the rate of skin lesions caused by sun damage (known as actinic keratosis) was found to be 28% less in adults that enjoyed a glass of red wine every day!
Which foods should you be eating to achieve specific things like better skin, increased energy levels, improved brain function, et cetera? That’s what our new ‘Best Foods For…’ series is all about – telling you what to eat to achieve your goals. And what better place to start than with skin – because all anybody ever wants is a healthy complexion!