Nutrients You Need for a Healthy All-Over Glow

To take care of their skin, most people reach for sunscreen, lotions and creams to protect, smooth and moisturize. These products can help, but beautiful, healthy skin starts with what goes into your body, not what you rub on it. Research shows that good nutrition may reduce the effects of sun damage…minimize redness and wrinkling…and even protect against some skin cancers.

FIRST STEP: HYDRATE

The single most important nutritional factor for keeping skin healthy is water. Staying hydrated keeps cells plump, making skin look firmer and clearer. When cells are dehydrated, they shrivel and can make your skin look wrinkled. Think of it this way—when you dehydrate a juicy grape, you get a raisin. In addition, water transports nutrients into skin cells and helps flush toxins out of the body.

To stay hydrated, drink whenever you feel thirsty. Helpful sign: If your urine is pale yellow, you are adequately hydrated—but if it is bright or dark yellow, you may need to boost your fluid intake.

Good news: Drinking unsweetened tea helps keep you hydrated, plus you get the benefit of antioxidant nutrients called polyphenols, which may help prevent sun-related skin cancers. Green, white, black and oolong teas provide more polyphenols than herbal teas. It is your choice whether to drink caffeinated or decaffeinated tea. Although caffeine is a mild diuretic (increasing the amount of urine that is passed from the body), the relatively small amount in tea doesn’t affect its ability to keep skin hydrated and healthy. Avoid: Teas sweetened with a lot of sugar—excess sugar can make skin dull and wrinkled.

For extra hydration: Eat “juicy foods” that are at least 75% water by weight—fruits such as apples, berries, cherries, grapes, grapefruit, mangoes, melons, oranges, peaches, plums…and vegetables such as asparagus, beets, carrots, celery, cucumbers and tomatoes.

SKIN-HEALTHY FOODS

Everything we eat is reflected in the health of our skin—for better or for worse. Among the best nutrients for the skin…

  • Beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant which, once ingested, is converted to vitamin A, a nutrient necessary for skin tissue growth and repair.Skin-smart: Have at least one serving per day of beta-carotene-rich foods—for instance, orange carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes…green arugula, asparagus and spinach…and fruits such as cherries, grapefruit, mangoes and watermelon.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, healthful fats that are important building blocks of the membranes that make up cell walls, allowing water and nutrients to enter and keeping out waste and toxins.Skin-smart: Eat at least three servings of omega-3-rich foods each week—such as wild salmon (farm-raised salmon may have higher levels of potentially dangerous contaminants)…mackerel (not king mackerel, which has too much mercury)…anchovies, herring and sardines. Good fats also are found in smaller amounts in flaxseed, soybeans and walnuts. If you don’t eat enough of these omega-3 foods, consider taking daily supplements of fish oil providing 1,000 mg of combined eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the most biologically active and beneficial components. Look for brands that have been tested for purity, such as Ultimate Omega by Nordic Naturals, NordicNaturals.com).
  • Selenium, a mineral with antioxidant activity thought to help skin elasticity (which means you’ll look younger longer) and prevent sun-related skin damage and cancers.Skin-smart: Eat at least one serving a day of a selenium-rich food—canned light tuna (which has less mercury than canned albacore or white tuna), crab, tilapia…whole-wheat breads and pasta…lean beef…chicken and turkey (breast meat is lowest in fat). Caution: Taking selenium in supplement form may increase the risk for squamous cell skin cancer in people with a personal or family history of the disease. Selenium in food is safe and healthful.
  • Vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps build collagen and elastin (proteins that comprise the skin’s underlying structure)…and also protects against free radicals (molecules in the body that damage cells) when the skin is exposed to sunlight.Skin-smart: Eat at least one serving a day of any of these vitamin C-rich foods—cantaloupe, citrus fruits, kiwifruit, papaya, pineapple, strawberries, watermelon…and bell peppers, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and kidney beans.
  • Zinc, a mineral that helps maintain collagen. People with zinc deficiencies often develop skin redness and lesions.Skin-smart: Eat at least one serving of a zinc-rich food daily—chicken or turkey breast, crab, lean beef, pork tenderloin (lower in fat than other cuts)…peanuts and peanut butter…fat-free dairy products (cheese, milk and yogurt).Wise for everyone: A daily multivitamin that contains 100% of the daily value for vitamins A, C, E and zinc and no more than 70 mcg of selenium.

WHAT TO AVOID

  • Sugar. Research suggests that sugary foods (such as soda and cookies) may contribute to skin blemishes. These “bad carbs” may promote harmful inflammation throughout the body, which can trigger breakouts. Limit your indulgence in sweet treats to no more than one small serving per day.
  • White flour. Minimize white-flour foods (such as white bread and pasta) in your diet by choosing whole-grain breads and rolls, cereals, crackers and pasta.
  • Dairy foods. Milk may contain hormones (especially if cows are pregnant) and iodine from iodine-fortified feed. Although uncommon, both of these components can cause pimples. If you are prone to acne, try going off dairy for a while to see if your skin improves.
  • Cigarette smoke, including secondhand smoke. It fills your body with toxins, inflammation-causing irritants and free radicals that damage every cell they touch…and also limits blood flow, so skin cells don’t receive the oxygen and nutrients they need.