While we can’t stop the natural aging process, our lifestyle choices can play a significant role in maintaining healthy, glowing skin. Avoiding excess sun exposure, wearing sunscreen, drinking less alcohol and not smoking are the most crucial steps to take in protecting and healing your skin. Healthy habits like getting regular exercise and staying hydrated can also help promote a beautiful glowing complexion in addition to overall health and wellness. But one of the most satisfying ways to slow premature aging is to eat delicious foods full of nutrients that work together to support and maintain the daily functions of the skin.
A general rule of thumb when it comes to understanding the best foods for healthy skin is to shift towards eating more of a Mediterranean-style diet. Known for its emphasis on antioxidant-rich foods, a Mediterranean diet includes a variety of beneficial nutrients that can function as bodyguards to skin cells and protect them from damage. Foods packed with water, like the fruits and vegetables abundant in a Mediterranean diet, can help hydrate the skin. Probiotic-rich ones like Greek yogurt can provide beneficial bacteria to support a healthy gut, which is vital to maintaining healthy skin.
With that in mind, here are the best foods to eat for healthy skin at any age, according to registered dietitians:
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Not only are they delicious, but bell peppers are one of the best vitamin C-rich foods and pack in 95mg — over 100% of the daily value for vitamin C — in just half a cup. Vitamin C has important antioxidant properties and is known for its immune-supporting benefits, but it plays a significant role in skin health too.
Vitamin C can prevent and treat skin damage from ultraviolet (UV) light and even plays a role in wound healing. The antioxidant is also important for collagen synthesis. We know that many environmental pollutants can decrease vitamin C levels in the skin and lead to free radical damage, so incorporating vitamin C-rich foods into the diet is key.
Add sliced peppers to salads and sandwiches or transform them into delicious red pepper hummus for a yummy way to reap the benefits of this favorite vegetable.
Every single cell in your body needs water to function properly and optimally, which is why foods with a high water content are helpful for meeting your daily hydration needs. Two cups of cubed watermelon equal a full cup of water and can help you (and therefore your skin cells) stay hydrated and maintain skin elasticity.
But that isn’t the only thing going for this delicious fruit. The beta-carotene and vitamin C found in watermelon makes it an antioxidant-packed snack that can help fight inflammation and free radicals in the skin.
Try cutting it up and storing it in the freezer for a treat during warmer months. You can even transform it into a festive watermelon pizza or enjoy it with a more savory twist in a delightful watermelon feta salad.
RELATED: 11 Top Watermelon Health Benefits
Another important nutrient for optimizing skin health are essential fatty acids including omega-3s. These polyunsaturated fats play an important role in skin function and appearance. In fact, a deficiency in essential fatty acids can result in scaling and dryness of the skin.
One simple way to incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet is by eating more seafood. Since most Americans eat less than the recommended amount of seafood (about 8-12 ounces per week), many are missing out on the beneficial nutrients that fish has to offer. Salmon is known for its high omega-3 content, but cod is another omega-3 all-star. Other great sources include anchovies, herring, sardines and tuna.
Cod is a simple but versatile fish that pairs well with all different types of marinades and sides. This Mediterranean baked cod recipe is a unique meal to add to your dinnertime staples.
You may have heard of kefir, a fermented milk drink that closely resembles a thin yogurt. This fermented beverage is a potent source of diverse probiotics that can help balance the gut microbiome.
You may be wondering what probiotics have to do with skin health. It turns out that a healthy gut is crucial to overall health since food is ultimately broken down there so that nutrients can be delivered throughout the body. Incorporating probiotic food sources, along with prebiotic sources which feed probiotics, can help positively impact the gut microbiota and skin health.
Kefir is extremely versatile and can be used in everything from smoothies to dressings. You can enjoy it on its own, but if purchasing a flavored variety look for options with minimal to no added sugar.
Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids, walnuts are an excellent source of them and have higher omega-3 levels than practically any other nut. They also have more polyphenols, which help combat inflammation and free radicals, than many other tree nuts and peanuts.
Walnuts also contain prebiotics, which is a type of indigestible fiber that feeds probiotics and can positively impact gut bacteria which we know is connected to skin health.
Lastly, walnuts contain melatonin which is crucial for supporting a good night’s sleep. Research suggests that sleep also plays an important role in skin barrier function, and food and lifestyle choices that support good sleep can help maintain healthy glowing skin.
The delicious nut is great as a snack on its own or mixed into your favorite zucchini bread recipe. They can also add a nutritional boost to any smoothie. Pro tip: Store them in an air-tight container in the fridge for optimal freshness, as walnuts can go rancid if exposed to warm temperatures for too long.
Not only are berries absolutely delicious and refreshing, but they are packed with fiber, antioxidants and loads of vitamin C that can all help promote healthy skin. Strawberries are a true star, with 1/2 cup of sliced strawberries providing 49 mg or over 50% of the daily value.
Strawberries are also high in many phenolic compounds including ellagic acid and flavonoids that have anti-inflammatory properties which can positively support the skin and even help repair damage to skin cells.
Even though they’re seasonal, berries retain their nutrients when frozen, so you can enjoy the skin-soothing benefits all year round. Try strawberries in smoothies, oatmeal, and on your favorite yogurt parfait.
One of vitamin C’s most powerful roles is producing collagen, a protein that gives your skin its elasticity. Collagen breaks down as you age and causes wrinkle formation, but a vitamin C-packed kiwi can provide 141% of your daily value and help counteract this effect, says dermatologist Lauren Ploch, MD, MEd, FAAD.
Varieties like golden kiwis have even more vitamin C, making them an exceptional source of the micronutrient. The body cannot make vitamin C, so it’s very important to get enough of this nutrient through food to protect the body from harmful pathogens. Kiwis are also over 90% water which can help hydrate the body too.
Kiwi can offer a vibrant addition to any fruit salad and can be incorporated into smoothies and yogurt parfaits. You can even add them to your favorite homemade salsa recipe for a sweet twist.
Red, green and black grapes provide a combo of ellagic acid and resveratrol, two compounds that help combat oxidative stress. Researchers recently found that consuming grapes for two weeks was protective against UV light. Specifically, the study found that significantly more UV exposure was required to cause sunburn following grape consumption.
This doesn’t mean that you can ditch the sunscreen, but grapes may make for a skin-protective food on beach days and throughout the week. “The grape diet was also associated with decreased DNA damage, preservation of skin cells, and a reduction in inflammatory markers,” explains Courtney Romano, M.B.A., R.D., health advisor to the California Table Grape Commission.
Enjoy grapes as a snack by themselves or get creative by using them anywhere a tomato goes Romano says. “They provide a complete refresh to any dish … from appetizers to salads to entrée accents to dessert, grapes work across the meal spectrum.”
Tomatoes boast lycopene, a pigment that’s naturally found in the skin and can help prevent photodamage. While it also won’t replace sunscreen, this antioxidant can offer long-term protection against UV radiation and neutralize harmful free radicals, says dermatologist Rajani Katta, M.D.
Cooking tomatoes, like in sauce or stews, can actually increase the amount of lycopene (also a potent antioxidant) that the body can absorb.
Tomatoes are best stored at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. If you can’t use them before they spoil, then refrigerate them. They’re typically great to use within one week after ripening. Try this Mediterranean chicken bowl recipe that uses air-fried tomatoes for a burst of flavor and nutrition.
RELATED: 33 Best Fresh Tomato Recipes
Mangoes are loaded with beta-carotene, which helps your skin repair itself, stay smooth, and even delay the appearance of wrinkles. They’re packed with vitamin A, which protects cells and helps them regenerate.
Research out of the University of California, Davis found that eating about half a cup of Ataulfo mangoes four times a week resulted in a significant decrease in deep wrinkles after just two months. But the findings are very specific, as women who ate a cup and a half of mangoes saw an increase in wrinkles, so these results show that moderation is key and too much of even a good thing may not be beneficial.
This mango salsa recipe is an innovative way to incorporate them into your weeknight dinner. When they’re out of season, you can get them frozen to add to smoothies, though other foods like winter squash and sweet potatoes are also rich in beta-carotene.
A staple in the Mediterranean diet, olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and powerful antioxidants like vitamin E which helps support the health of your skin, hair and nails. The polyphenolic compounds found in olives and olive oil may help protect cells from disruption and improve blood flow throughout your body.
But the benefits go beyond just skin health. One study in the Journal of American College of Cardiology found that people who consumed more than half a tablespoon of olive oil per day had a lower risk of mortality compared to those who did not.
Incorporate good quality olive oil in salad dressings or on your favorite roasted vegetables. Olives themselves are a filling snack that provide a dose of filling fiber too, just don’t go overboard as they tend to be high in sodium.
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These small but mighty seeds are a great plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and more. Research even suggests that consuming flaxseeds, specifically flaxseed oil, can increase skin hydration and smoothness. Just note that flaxseed oil has a very low smoke point and is best used raw.
When it comes to the actual flaxseed itself, there is an important distinction between whole versus ground. Whole flaxseeds have a longer shelf life but can be difficult for the body to break down and digest, whereas ground flaxseeds are easier for the body to digest but do tend to have a shorter shelf life, so it’s best to store them in the fridge to prevent spoiling.
Try adding ground flaxseeds to your morning yogurt parfait or adding them to a smoothie. Since flaxseed oil has a low smoke point, it is best used in healthy homemade dressings and for drizzling.
There isn’t one single miracle food that can reverse aging and fine lines, but an overall healthy diet that incorporates foods rich in antioxidants, probiotics, fiber and more can support glowing healthy skin. Some foods can even repair skin and possibly reverse skin damage.
Remember that other lifestyle factors, like staying hydrated, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol and not smoking all play significant roles in the health and appearance of your skin. The good news is that topical treatments can often compliment dietary intervention and improve the skin, so it’s important to speak with a dermatologist for a topical regimen that is best for you and your skin needs.
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This article was most recently updated by registered dietitian Stefani Sassos, who handles all of GH’s nutrition content, product testing and evaluation as deputy director of the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Nutrition Lab. She stays up to date on the latest research to provide evidence-based reporting on all things diet and nutrition, and also runs large-scale tests and analyses for products ranging from protein bars to supplements. Stefani has extensive knowledge of food labeling and nutrition requirements on food products, rigorously evaluating hundreds of claims for products that apply for the Good Housekeeping Seal.
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