The Anti-Aging Diet
These days, anti-aging cosmetics can seem more like food than beauty potions: Everything from pomegranate to soy is being infused into creams, cleansers, and serums. But applying products on your skin's surface is no substitute for actually eating the foods that will nurture your skin from the inside out. "Nutrition plays an important part in limiting the aging process and helping to protect against damage from UV rays, the number one cause of lines and wrinkles," says Adam Friedman, M.D., director of dermatologic research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
It goes beyond simple healthy eating: New research has pinpointed specific nutrients that help prevent harm from environmental factors, hydrate your complexion, and keep your skin cells functioning properly. These beauty boosters are front and center in our eating plan (pages 80 — 81). All are easy to incorporate into your meals and also, as it happens, potent disease fighters that are diet-friendly. So while you're eating for a smoother, brighter complexion, you'll be helping to reduce your risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes — and on the way to dropping up to 10 pounds in four weeks as well.
Now that should give you a happy glow.
VITAMIN C FOODS
Beauty benefit: What would dermatologists find if they were to examine the skin of women over 40 for signs of aging and then look at the results against those women's diets? That's exactly what 101 derms did in a British study of 4,025 women ages 40 to 74. What the docs saw: Women with higher intakes of vitamin C also had fewer wrinkles and less dry skin. It makes sense, because vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can quench free radicals — unstable atoms and molecules in your body that harm cells. "Antioxidants prevent damage to cells and to cell DNA that can interfere with the production of collagen, the main supporting structure for your skin," explains Dr. Friedman.
What to put on your plate: Aim for enough C-rich foods to get 75 mg a day. One orange for breakfast and five strips of yellow pepper in a lunchtime salad will get you there. So will a cup of broccoli with dinner and a bowl of strawberries for dessert. Citrus fruits, red pepper, tomatoes, kale, and melon are good sources of C. For an extra skin boost, try blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, and pomegranate — beyond vitamin C, they contain ellagic acid, which may counter the deleterious effects of UV rays.
BEAUTY BENEFIT In the 101 dermatologists' study, women with lower protein intakes also had a more wrinkled appearance. "Protein provides the building blocks of collagen," says F. William Danby, M.D., adjunct assistant professor of surgery (dermatology) at Dartmouth Medical School. As collagen and other proteins break down, the skin essentially folds into itself, creating wrinkles and lines. Your skin will make collagen whether you dine on marbled steaks or skinless chicken breasts, but the leaner choice can help keep weight down.
WHAT TO PUT ON YOUR PLATE Skinless poultry, egg whites, and fish are good lean-protein choices. When choosing beef or pork, go for lower-fat cuts such as loin and round. Consider tofu, too: The research isn't definitive, but a small Japanese study found that women who consumed soy extract for 12 weeks showed improvement in fine lines around their eyes as well as greater elasticity in their skin.
Beauty benefit: Sea fare like tuna and salmon brings to the table a hefty dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which may help guard against sun damage. In studies of mice, the fats significantly reduced inflammation and other immunological responses to sunlight that degrade collagen and, more worrisomely, can trigger skin cancer. And three British studies showed that omega-3s can protect against sunburn in humans, too. What to put on your plate: Try to get at least two four-ounce servings of omega-3 — rich seafood a week. Besides salmon and tuna (albacore), good choices include mackerel, herring, sardines, and lake trout. If you're not partial to fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, canola oil, pumpkin seeds, and tofu contain a compound (ALA) that the body converts into a similar type of beneficial omega fatty acid — though it takes a lot more ALA to get adequate amounts of these "good" omegas.
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