Searching for the secret to healthy, radiant skin? Look no further than your kitchen. When it comes to getting a gorgeous glow, the foods you eat are just as important as the creams or lotions you slather on your face, says Anthony Youn, MD, a plastic surgeon based in Troy, Michigan. And certain nutrients can help you save face more than others. “Antioxidants are crucial when it comes to maintaining a youthful glow,” he says. “They fight off free-radical damage that can cause skin to age prematurely.”
Other complexion savers include vitamin A, lycopene, and fiber. Luckily, they’re easy to incorporate into your diet. Read on to discover which foods will make you glow from the inside out.
Polyphenols found in green tea are some of the most powerful antioxidants out there, according to Dr. Youn. To up your polyphenol intake, try switching out your morning cup of coffee for green tea, which contains 24 to 45 milligrams of caffeine per 8-ounce (oz) cup. Or pour green tea over ice for a healthy alternative to soda or juice.
All honey offers some benefits for your skin, but manuka honey, produced by bees in New Zealand that pollinate the manuka bush, may be the best. “The antioxidants in manuka honey are exceptionally good at binding to free radicals and reducing them,” says Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. “And that’s important since free radicals that come from the sun destroy collagen and elastin, which keep skin smooth and supple.” Manuka honey can be found at most natural food markets. To reap the benefits, stir it into a cup of green tea, or drizzle it onto plain yogurt.
Cukes are 96 percent water — one of the highest of any vegetable — which means they’re great at keeping you hydrated. “I always take cucumber slices with me on planes so I can eat them while I’m up in the dry, high-altitude air,” says Josie Maran, founder of Josie Maran Cosmetics. “They help my skin retain moisture so it stays healthy and hydrated.” Cucumbers are easy to incorporate into meals: Simply add a few slices to salads, sandwiches, and wraps for a hydrating boost.
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, which works like an internal protector to help shield your skin against sunburn and the aging effects that come with sun exposure. To work more tomatoes into your diet, try cooking up a zesty sauce made with fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil (spoon it on top of whole-wheat spaghetti or baked spaghetti squash). You could also roast a batch of grape tomatoes drizzled with olive oil for a simple yet tasty side dish.
The unsaturated fats found in fish, called omega-3 fatty acids, reduce inflammation and make your complexion look clearer and more even, says Dr. Gohara. They also reduce the risk of skin conditions associated with inflammation, such as rosacea and eczema, which cause redness and dry patches, respectively. The American Heart Association recommends that adults eat two servings of fish, which contain omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, trout, and herring, once a week. If you’re vegan or not a fan of the fish, reach for walnuts, which are also packed with omega-3’s.
Here’s a reason to add this Thanksgiving staple to your menus all year long: “Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A — a powerful antioxidant that fights free radical damage and is anti-inflammatory,” says Youn. One serving of sweet potatoes contains about 4 grams of fiber and a whopping 377 percent of your daily vitamin A requirements, according to the USDA. Try them baked and topped with a spoonful of protein-packed Greek yogurt, suggests Alexis W.
Blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are loaded with antioxidants, polyphenols, and flavanoids, which help neutralize free radicals from your body, helping to slow down the aging process, says Gohara. Keep a bowl on your desk or kitchen counter to encourage healthy snacking all day, or blend frozen berries into your morning smoothie.
Sipping lots of H2O keeps your skin hydrated, making it appear smoother and more supple. If you struggle to drink enough or don’t like the taste, try flavoring your water with fruits or veggies. “I infuse my water with blueberries, cucumber, basil, and strawberries, and it helps me drink more water throughout the day,” says Moran. Recommendations for daily water intake depend on your gender, body size, activity level, temperature, and health conditions. In general, most people do well with roughly 73 ounces for women and 100 ounces for men per day. A great way to ensure you’re drinking enough is to check your urine color: A light lemonade color indicates that you’re well hydrated. You should always drink more when it’s hot out or when you exercise.
And One to Avoid: Sugar
Consuming too much refined sugar (from soda, candy, or other sweets) can trigger the process of glycation, whereby sugar molecules bind to collagen fibers in your skin, making them stiff and deformed, says Youn. “This creates advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which damage your skin and cause it to age prematurely,” he explains. So to keep your skin looking young, skip processed sugars and stick to the natural kind found in fruits and vegetables.