This is a great topic given the fact that the internet is filled with conflicting dietary information on just about every aspect of health. Its overwhelming and frustrating for the average person to navigate the volume of information out there.
When it comes to reviewing the foods that are directly linked to younger looking skin its best to look at large studies to determine which foods consistently are linked to skin health.
Its important to note that there are studies that have reviewed foods that have shown an overall benefit but it is extremely difficult to study individual nutrients. The impact that one nutrient has on our skin is difficult to dice apart from other factors.
1. Vegetables: In studies that review diets and skin wrinkle assessments, vegetables in general have been shown to reduce the appearance of wrinkles in addition to leading to less new wrinkles in sun exposed sites. Some studies have actually specified green and yellow vegetables. You simply cant go wrong with leafy greens (aside from the current romaine lettuce issue:). They are a great source carotenoids, vitamins C, iron and calcium. Carotenoids are vitamin A derivatives with proven benefits to protect the skin against harmful UV rays that cause the signs of premature aging of the skin such as age spots, fine lines and wrinkles and loss of elasticity.
2. Olive oil: In addition to monounsaturated lipids, olive oil contains antioxidants such as vitamin E and polyphenol. Vitamin E is made up of a group of compounds called tocopherols. Vitamin E can prevent collagen breakdown in the skin which results in wrinkles. Vitamin C can work with vitamin E to further protect the damage in the skin from the sun. Polyphenols include a group of compounds called flavonoids. Polyphenols have been shown to work well with sunscreen to prevent UV from damaging the skin and may prevent skin cancer. They likely work to help protect cells from UV damage and also prevent tumors from growing or enlarging.
3. Fish: Fish, such as halibut, mackerel, salmon or tuna, contain omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce inflammation caused by UV rays. It is thought that fish lowers prostaglandin E2 levels to prevent collagen breakdown that leads to wrinkles. Some studies have shown that in combination with vitamin E and C that omega 3 fatty acids can promote collagen synthesis.
4. Fruits: Eating fruits is a great source of lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid which is another powerful antioxidant and photoprotective qualities. A Dutch study looking at dietary patterns and wrinkle formation showed that diets rich in fruits resulted in less wrinkles. Lycopene is a red pigment that gives tomatoes and berries their red color.
5. Legumes: Beans, lentils and chickpeas are common legumes. They are high in high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. These are essential nutrients for skin health that work in conjunction with other antioxidants to prevent premature aging of the skin. Folate applied topically to the skin has been shown to increase the firmness and elasticity of the skin.
6. Low in sugar: It has been repeatedly shown in studies that a diet with a high glycemic index is considered ‘inflammatory’. When you think about inflammation and the skin consider how an army of cells in the skin looking for a target will behave! Inflammatory cells are ‘reactive’ cells. They are cells looking for a ‘fight’. If there is no infection or outside cause, those cells are going to attack your healthy cells and collagen. Damaging our healthy cells can lead to freckling and discoloration in the skin. Damaging the collagen and elastic fibers in the skin will lead to a tissue paper like wrinkling of the skin and deep wrinkles. A diet with a low glycemic index has also been shown to fight the early signs of aging.
The key is trying to integrate a few servings a week throughout your dietary plan and not focusing on just one ingredient. Each item plays a role in a healthy skin diet and most likely work best together and not in isolation. A well rounded diet is key!