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  • Rajani Katta MD

Preventing skin aging: Why antioxidant-rich foods are so important

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Foods that are rich in antioxidants can help protect skin from the damaging effects of free radicals.

Better skin from the inside out.

In today's world, with hundreds of skin care products touting their ability to fight wrinkles, it's easy to forget how important the right nutrients are. Why are they so important? Research has demonstrated that certain nutrients can help protect our skin. That's why "eat power" (eat foods that are high in powerful nutrients ) is one of my main guidelines for maintaining youthful skin. And that includes eating foods that are high in antioxidants. I talk a lot about antioxidants when it comes to skin-saving foods. That's because our skin is our first line of defense from the outside world, and it's constantly exposed to threats.

Exposures such as everyday pollution and the UV radiation in sunlight can lead to the production of free radicals on our skin. Free radicals act almost like small shooting sparks on our skin. Research has shown that they damage our skin on a molecular level. The result, over time, is visible skin damage. This includes collagen damage, loss of elasticity, brown spots, and fine lines and wrinkles. This damage may even predispose us to skin cancer.

This is why antioxidants are so important. If we think of free radicals as causing small sparks of damage, antioxidants act to "quench" this damage. They accomplish this in different ways, including "mopping up" free radicals, and acting to protect our cells from DNA damage.

Because they're so important, our skin naturally contains antioxidants. However, they're constantly being used up, and that means it's important to replenish our supply through food sources.

How can you consume more antioxidants?

Some antioxidants are ones that we've heard of all our life, including vitamin C and vitamin E. Other antioxidants have become more famous in recent years, including beta-carotene, selenium, and curcumin. But there are many, many more. In laboratory and animal studies, a number of other phytochemicals (substances found in plants) have been shown to have significant antioxidant effects.

This is a partial list of substances that have been shown in research studies to provide antioxidant benefits:

  • Vitamin C – in citrus fruits, yes, but also other fruits (such as kiwi) and vegetables (such as red bell peppers, dark leafy greens and broccoli)

  • Vitamin E – in nuts and seeds (such as almonds and sunflower seeds) and vegetables (such as avocados)

  • Beta-carotene–in red-orange vegetables (such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and butternut squash) and fruits (such as cantaloupe) as well as other foods (including spinach)

  • Curcumin– found in the spice turmeric

Spices can be powerful sources of antioxidants

  • Lycopene – found in tomatoes

  • Selenium– in nuts and seeds (especially Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds) and vegetables (such as cremini mushrooms)

  • Ellagic acid– found in raspberries

Berries, including raspberries, are another potent source of antioxidants

  • Resveratrol – found in grapes

  • Green tea polyphenols – found in green tea

Sipping green tea with a meal provides another dose of antioxidants

And while antioxidants have impressive benefits, they work even better when consumed together. That's due to synergy, which means that substances have stronger benefits when acting together.

For a snack that makes use of synergy by incorporating several antioxidant-rich foods, you can try my recipe for red bean-mushroom-carrot fritters (published on the Baylor College of Medicine wellness blog). Bottom line: Whether it's fruits or vegetables, nuts or seeds, spices or herbs, or leaves or roots, the phytonutrients contained in many plant-derived foods have powerful abilities to prevent skin damage.

Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.

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