As the largest organ in the human body, skin is continually exposed to external damaging factors such as UV rays and pollution. UV exposure can cause oxidative stress, inflammation, spotty hyperpigmentation, skin roughness, breakdown of the skin matrix, wrinkling and not to mention, skin cancer.
Who thought fruit, vegetables and sundry plants could make you more beautiful?
Studies have found that our level of fruit and vegetable intake is directly related to the concentration of carotenoids (also known as Vitamin A), in the skin, an indicator of good skin health. A particular study of elderly people found that a diet high in vegetables, olive oil, and legumes (with the main meat source as fish) was protective of skin – meaning those who ate more fruit and vegetables had less wrinkles, sagging and a less aged appearance. But what is the nutrition science behind these findings?
Tomatoes: Your rosy-cheeked salad tomatoes contain lycopene, a phytochemical known to protect skin against the damaging effects of free radicals from UV rays. Lycopene is also in other red fruits and vegetables, such as capsicum, watermelons and papayas but tomatoes by far have the highest concentrations. Studies have shown a relationship between high levels of lycopene in the skin and smoother skin.
Mangoes, papaya, and apricots: These orange coloured fruits contain carotenoids, which are stored in the layer of fat directly beneath the skin and can provide a healthy glow. Their vegetable counterparts are orange root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potato. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale also contain carotenoids, which as an antioxidant is known to have a protective effect against sunburn and beneficial anti-wrinkle properties.
Green Tea and flavanol-rich cocoa: Found in green tea and cocoa beverages, flavonoids are antioxidants that provide anti-inflammatory benefits, working as radical scavengers to protect against sun damage. Flavinoids are also found in the humble almond. Skin improvements including better skin texture, elastic tissue, skin hydration and reduced skin roughness or scaling were seen in participants of a study after having a flavanol rich cocoa drink over a period of 12 weeks.
Sweet potato: Containing carotinoids (as mentioned above) as well as Vitamins C and E, these unassuming orange vegetables are indeed under-rated for their effect on skin. Vitamin C is involved in collagen synthesis, wound repair and skin regeneration processes. When Vitamin C is at a higher concentration in the skin, there is lower prevalence of wrinkles and dryness. Vitamin E is a well-known antioxidant that protects cells from oxidation or damage and becomes a photoprotectant against sun damage when combined with Vitamin C and other antioxidants, thus slowing down the aging process on skin.
Good oils reduce skin wrinkling and dryness
Having certain plant or fish oil in a healthy diet is known to decrease inflammatory responses within skin cells, and can be helpful in managing inflammatory skin disorders. Having higher intake of healthy fats in the diet has also been significantly associated with more skin elasticity. Healthy fats like those found in olive oil, avocado, tuna and other oily fish contribute to supple, permeable cell walls. This is good news for skin, because it allows nutrients to enter cells with ease and for moisture to be maintained in the skin to reduce wrinkling and dryness. Avocado contains lutein (another family member of carotenoids) which may also help to protect the skin from damage from both UV and visible radiation.
Could eggs and leafy greens be the answer to healthy hair, skin and nails?
A connection has been found between less wrinkled skin and the consumption of eggs and green leafy vegetables. Both contain leutin with the richest source being leafy green vegetables followed closely by significant amounts in broccoli, corn and peas. Although levels are not high, lutein is also found in egg yolk which is considered a highly bioavailable source. The level of lutein intake in a persons’ diet may improve skin health and decrease the risk of skin cancer. This relationship may be due to lutein’s ability to prevent the skin’s extracellular matrix from breakdown.
Eggs contain the B vitamin biotin, which is responsible for forming the basis of skin, hair and nail cells. Around 20% of the population have brittle nails, a condition which weakens nails to the point of being easily chipped, cracked or split. Biotin has been able to improve and strengthen nails in this instance. Interestingly, the signs of biotin deficiency can be cradle cap, hair loss and red scaly skin rashes, however deficiency is very rare due to biotin being found in a range of foods. Additionally, our good gut bacteria scan produce this B vitamin to supplement the body’s needs.
While these healthy dietary associations have been found to improve the general health and appearance of your hair and skin, we recommend that any ongoing concerns about skin be discussed with your doctor and dermatologist.