By now, you know of tons of reasons to eat more fruits and vegetables. Fresh and frozen produce is abundant in natural chemicals that have an array of health benefits. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are linked with a lower risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2-diabetes, and some types of cancer. Being a good source of fiber and low in calories, people who “eat their veggies” tend to have a lower body weight. All great benefits, right?
Eat Veggies, Look Healthier?
Now you can add another reason to help yourself to another serving of produce. Doing so may actually improve the appearance of your skin. In a study published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, researchers monitored the skin color of more than 80 participants over an 8-week period. Those who ate larger quantities of fruits and vegetables had more yellow tones to their skin and were judged by volunteers to look healthier and more attractive.
Where did the yellow coloration come from? Some fruits and vegetables are a good source of carotenoids – plant-based compounds your body partially converts to vitamin A. Carotenoids also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. Eating carotenoid-rich vegetables and fruits could lower your risk of some forms of cancer and eye diseases such as cataracts when you get them naturally from foods, not supplements.
Love Those Carotenoid-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
To increase your intake of carotenoids, choose vegetables and fruits with a red or orange color, including carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, apricots, pink grapefruit, watermelon, and winter squash. Though they aren’t orange or red in color, collard greens, kale, spinach, Swiss chard, turnip greens, and other green, leafy vegetables are also excellent sources of carotenoids. The strong chlorophyll content of these plants masks the orange pigment.
It’s not surprising that these fruits and vegetables give your skin a slight yellowish hue since they’re plant pigments, but you can take it too far. There are cases of people turning noticeably orange after drinking large amounts of carrot juice, but as the study showed getting moderate quantities of carotenoids from food sources gives you a healthy glow that’s deemed to be attractive. Who would have thought?
Skin Anti-Aging Benefits of Fruits and Vegetables
Eating a produce-rich diet has other benefits for your skin. Many people invest their hard-earned money on anti-aging skin creams, lotions, and serums in hopes of getting younger-looking skin while continuing to eat a processed food diet. Diet matters when it comes to keeping your skin youthful and wrinkle-free. For example, a study showed lycopene, abundant in tomatoes, help protect against sun damage, the most common cause of premature skin aging. In fact, experts concluded a diet rich in lycopene has an SPF factor (sun protection factor) of between 1.3 and 3. You should still wear a sunscreen, but a diet rich in lycopene gives your skin added protection against skin damage that shows up as wrinkles, saggy skin, and skin cancer.
As a general rule, unprocessed foods are better for you than processed ones – but lycopene is an exception. The lycopene in fresh tomatoes is attached to indigestible fiber, making them hard to absorb. When you eat processed lycopene, as in tomato sauce and ketchup, the fibrous attachments are broken and you can absorb more of the lycopene. Tomatoes, pink grapefruit, papaya, and acai berries are other excellent sources of lycopene.
Vitamin C for More Youthful Skin
Further illustrating the importance of eating your fruits and veggies is a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007. Dermatologists examined the skin of more than 4,000 middle-aged and older women and questioned them about their dietary habits.
Their findings? Women who consumed higher quantities of vitamin C-rich foods had fewer wrinkles, less age-related thinning of the skin, and less dryness. Even after the researchers controlled for numerous factors like body weight, physical activity, sunlight exposure, menopausal status, among others, the link was still there.
It’s not surprising that a diet rich in vitamin C offers protection against skin aging. Vitamin C is necessary for the production of collagen, the tough protein in the dermal layer of the skin that gives skin structural support and resistance to sagging and wrinkling. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant vitamin, and oxidative damage contributes to skin aging.
Fruits and vegetables, particularly fruits, are excellent sources of vitamin C. People typically think of a fresh orange or orange juice as being highest in vitamin C, but red bell peppers, kale, green peppers, broccoli, strawberries, papaya, guava, and pineapple are other killer sources.
Eat Your Vegetables
Yet another study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition looked at the effect of dietary habits on skin wrinkling. In this study, eating a diet rich in vegetables, legumes and olive oil was linked with fewer signs of skin aging while devouring significant quantities of dairy foods and meat was associated with more cutaneous signs of aging.
Another reason vegetables offer protection against wrinkles and skin laxity is related to their high concentrations of polyphenols. Research shows polyphenols when combined with sun protection reduce skin damage related to sun exposure. Polyphenols also have an antioxidant effect that helps protect against environmental skin damage.
The Bottom Line
Maybe it’s time to think as much about what you put INTO your body as what you apply to the outside. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has so many health benefits – skin anti-aging is icing on the cake. If your goal is to preserve your skin, don’t forget to wear sunscreen, hat, and UV-protective sunglasses when you’re outdoors. The number one cause of skin aging is sun exposure, so shield your skin from damaging ultraviolet rays.
Scientific American. “Glow from Eating Well Judged Healthy-Looking”
Nutr.Clin.Care. 2002 Mar-Apr;5(2):56-65.
Life Extension Magazine. “Topical Lycopene Improves Skin Cellular Function” September 2012.
Am J Clin Nutr October 2007. Vol. 86 no. 4 1225-1231.
J Am Coll Nutr. 2001 Feb;20(1):71-80.
Dermatoendocrinol. 2012 Jul 1; 4(3): 298-307. doi: 10.4161/derm.22876.
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