The Anti-Wrinkle Diet:
What to Eat to Slow Down the Visible Signs of Skin Aging
Can your diet actually impact the way you look as you age?
The short answer is: yes. Definitely!
There's actually been significant research on this topic. Researchers have tried to answer this question: Can dietary factors impact the clinical signs of aging? In laboratory studies and animal studies, and even in some human studies, the answer has been yes.
The next question, of course, is what. What can you eat to slow down the visible signs of aging?
As you might suspect, many of the recommendations that center on slowing down the visible signs of aging are the same recommendations that improve our overall health. That's because many of these foods work on a molecular level.
The recommendations are very similar to those of the DASH diet [Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension], the Mediterranean diet [for cardiovascular health], and the MIND diet [shown to help prevent Alzheimer's disease].
The core recommendation is a strong focus on vegetables. The USDA now recommends that half of your plate should consist of vegetables, and that's where I recommend you start. [And although that may sound daunting if you're not used to eating that way, it's much more doable than you might currently think.]
It's also important to add in other sources of food antioxidants, which means more herbs and spices, more fruits, and green tea. You should also focus on power carbohydrates and power fats. Instead of empty carbohydrates, such as white bread or white rice, the focus should be on foods that provide an extra punch of power in the form of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other substances. That's the main reason we've been hearing so much about other types of grains. Brown rice, quinoa, and farro, among others, are all much more powerful than white rice and white bread.
There are other foods that have been shown to promote skin health. These include nuts, seeds, and naturally probiotic foods, among others.
To read more on some of the foods that can protect your skin from the visible signs of aging, start with the five foods below.
To read more about the research behind these recommendations, please see The Scientific Basis for the Anti-Wrinkle Diet.
Skin Saving Foods:
Five Foods That Can Help Protect and "Save" Your Skin
We're starting to discover that most vegetables have thousands of phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are substances that are found in plants, and as more research is being done, we're starting to discover more health benefits for many of these plant-derived nutrients. Lycopene is one phytonutrient that's been studied more extensively, and it's shown grown promise in preventive medicine.
Lycopene is an antioxidant, and it's the substance that gives tomatoes, watermelon, and grapefruit their red and pink overtones. In laboratory studies, lycopene actually helps to limit the amount of DNA damage that occurs after ultraviolet radiation. It even does so in a visible way.
In one study, volunteers were given a daily serving of tomato paste for 10 weeks, and their response to UV radiation was compared before and after the 10 weeks. After 10 weeks, the volunteers actually developed less of a sunburn reaction after UV exposure. Laboratory studies have confirmed that lycopene acts to limit the amount of DNA damage that occurs following UV exposure. While sunblock is definitely required to guard against UV exposure in the first place, a daily dose of extra protection to guard against UV damage is always welcome.
For years, many Americans thought of spices as flavor-enhancing agents. In actuality, they're potent, concentrated sources of disease-fighting power.
Spices such as cinnamon and turmeric have been studied more extensively in the last decade, and researchers continue to confirm their powerful effects. Turmeric has been shown to fight inflammation on multiple levels, and consumption of turmeric may provide some protection against Alzheimer's disease. Other spices including cinnamon have demonstrated powerful antioxidant capabilities.
In the skin, this ability to fight inflammation and combat the effects of free radicals translates to less visible skin damage.
Spices such as cinnamon have another benefit, and that's the ability to fight off collagen damage.
One of the causes of collagen damage is a process called glycation. High levels of blood sugar trigger a process known as glycation, in which chemical bonds are formed between collagen fibers. These bonds lead to collagen fibers that are more brittle, and that can't be repaired easily. This results in a loss of skin elasticity, which ultimately promotes sagging and wrinkling of the skin. Foods that help stabilize blood sugar levels can help save our collagen.
Why are berries so great for health? Studies have shown that many types of berries have high levels of antioxidants. These antioxidants come in different types, such as anthocyanins in blueberries and ellagic acid in raspberries. These antioxidants are great for helping fight the inflammation that can put people at risk for heart disease and even Alzheimer's disease. They're also great for your skin.
Even if we're careful, there's no way to avoid daily doses of ultraviolet radiation, pollution, and other factors that can damage our skin. These exposures can give rise to free radicals in our skin, which are damaging molecules that can, over time, lead to DNA changes in the skin. These changes can ultimately lead to visible skin damage. The antioxidants in berries and other foods are able to combat the effects of free radicals. Multiple studies have found that, on a molecular level, antioxidants can help limit this damage, and some antioxidants can actually help promote DNA repair.
Why are avocados so popular all of a sudden? There are lots of people who swear by avocado or guacamole on sandwiches instead of the usual mayo, and others who love avocado toast for breakfast.
That's because our thinking on fats in the diet has drastically changed over the last two decades. We now know that not all fats are created equal, and some fats are actually powerful sources of nutrients. I call these power fats, and avocados are a great source. Avocados provide a hefty dose of MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) in addition to other skin-protective nutrients such as vitamin E.
In one study, researchers evaluated photos of subjects and graded them on their visible levels of photoaging (photoaging refers to the skin changes that result from chronic, long-term UV exposure). Those subjects who reported a higher dietary intake of MUFAs were graded as having less signs of visible photoaging. [Link to study.]
Researchers speculate that MUFAs may help because they fight inflammation, combat oxidative stress, and help stabilize blood sugar levels.
Most of us don't think of beans as nutritional powerhouses. We should.
Why are beans so great for our health, and so great for our skin? To start with, black beans actually contain high levels of antioxidants. As I mentioned, these powerful substances can help protect the skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation.
Black beans also contain high levels of protein and fiber. These components help to stabilize blood sugar levels and thus prevent sugar spikes. Those sugar spikes can result in collagen damage, so foods that act to stabilize blood sugar can help save our collagen.