Skin-Saving Snacks: 11 Simple Snack Ideas for Healthy Skin
It's 4pm, and your energy levels are crashing. Do you reach for that sugar bomb coffee drink? The crackers from the vending machine?
Or could you try a snack that provides a burst of powerful nutrients?
If you're trying to upgrade your eating habits, snacks are an easy place to start. The ones in this list require minimal cooking [or none at all], yet they pack a hefty nutritional punch. All of them have demonstrated skin-saving benefits, whether that's due to their high levels of antioxidants [lycopene in watermelon], their high levels of fiber [roasted chickpeas], or the other nutrients they supply [monounsaturated fatty acids in peanut butter].
1. Watermelon sticks
Watermelons are a rich source of lycopene, an antioxidant found especially in red and pink fruits and vegetables. Studies have shown that foods rich in lycopene may help prevent UV-related skin damage.
In the photo above, we've created watermelon sticks. (These are much easier to create than they look.) Start by slicing your watermelon in half. Then take that one half, flat side down on the cutting board, and slice into parallel slices. Next, turn your watermelon, and slice perpendicular.
2. Tomatoes (as-is, or in caprese salad skewers)
Some of the cherry tomatoes I"m finding in the grocery store are surprisingly sweet, and can be used as a snack by themselves. My family prefers a version of caprese salad: slice cherry tomatoes in half, add basil and a few cubes of mozzarella, drizzle with olive oil, and serve. We've also served this on skewers, which makes it very easy to eat.
Why are tomatoes so great for the skin? In one study, human subjects who consumed tomato paste daily for 12 weeks experienced less redness following UV exposure. They even showed less damage on a cellular level: researchers found a reduction in levels of a collagen-destroying enzyme that would normally be elevated following UV exposure.
3. Red, yellow, and orange pepper strips
Red, yellow, and orange peppers are a great source of carotenoids. These phytochemicals have powerful antioxidant abilities, and they also contribute to radiant skin. In one study, human volunteers who consumed more fruits and vegetables for 6 weeks experienced skin color changes that appeared to be related to carotenoid pigments in the skin. These color changes were seen as healthy and more attractive.
4. Ants on a log (celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins)
This snack has been around forever, but it's experiencing a resurgence. Celery sticks are a great low-calorie snack, and they actually provide a nice boost of fiber and other phytonutrients, such as vitamin K, folate, and quercetin (an antioxidant). Peanut butter is a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids, while raisins contribute a dose of antioxidants as well.
To make, just slice celery stalks into sticks, add peanut butter, and dot with raisins.
5. Carrot sticks and pepper strips with hummus
Photo by Sharon Lunbeck
Hummus is one of my favorite dips, because it's so easy to make at home, or, if you prefer, easily available at grocery stores in healthy versions.
Chickpeas are one of my favorite skin-saving foods, because they provide a great boost of energy in the form of carbohydrates, combined with a hefty dose of protein and fiber. They're also a great source of other nutrients, including iron and zinc, nutrients which are important for hair growth. For vegetarians, who especially need food sources of iron and zinc, chickpeas are one great option.
Carrot sticks are a popular low-calorie snack, but they're also a great source of beta-carotene and fiber, important skin-saving nutrients. Red pepper strips are a great source of vitamin C, which helps in the absorption of iron from plant sources.
I call hummus a power blend: just start with a few nutritional powerhouse ingredients, and blend. (Click here for the recipe.)
6. Roasted chickpeas
If you prefer a crunchy bite-size snack over a dip, roasted chickpeas are an easy, tasty option. As in the previous snack, chickpeas are one of my favorite skin-saving foods. This is a simple recipe: just shake and bake.
7. Apple slices
Apples contain a high concentration of flavonoids, a category of antioxidants known for their disease-fighting abilities. This includes quercetin, which has been shown to protect the proteins and DNA in our skin from the damaging effects of free radicals.
Phytochemicals are plant-derived substances with important health benefits. There are thousands of phytochemicals, and we've only just started to identify them and catalog their health benefits.
Polyphenols are one group of phytochemicals, and they include a particular type of nutrient called anthocyanins. This nutrient is responsible for the red hue of red grapes, and it's mainly found in the skin of the grapes. While anthocyanins have multiple health benefits, they're great for the skin because of their ability to fight off the damage caused by free radicals.
9. Roasted Cauliflower
Roasted cauliflower is another simple snack. I call this recipe a "chop and pop": just chop a head of cauliflower, and pop in the oven. Add some herbs and spices for extra flavor and extra nutrients. Cauliflower may be white, but it's considered another powerhouse of nutrition, especially due to its high levels of fiber, vitamin C, and other antioxidants including quercetin.
(For a downloadable recipe booklet with this and other recipes, sign up here.)
I'm a big fan of fruits and vegetables that require no peeling and no slicing. I love the type that you can pick up, wash, and just bite right into.
Strawberries fall into this category, and are one of our favorite summer fruits. Berries of all types are also known for being powerhouses of nutrition. They're known to be a great source of antioxidants, as well as other nutrients.
There are plenty of other highly nutritious bite/right/in fruits. This list includes grapes, peaches, blueberries, figs, plums, cherries, apricots--and plenty of others. I love to pack these fruits for work, for picnics, and for road trips. They also help with another what-snack-can-I-bring question: what to bring to an all-day swim meet or basketball tournament.
Edamame is one of my favorite snacks. Edamame is the name for whole soybeans, and I first started eating them years ago at Japanese restaurants. Now, they're available in the freezer section of many of our local grocery stores.
I serve them in the pod, as seen in the picture above. To eat, just bite into the pod and pop out the bean---easy AND fun. (The pod gets discarded.) If you buy them frozen, just cook as directed on the package. I cook mine in the microwave. Soybeans have been grown in China for thousands of years. They're one of the few plant sources of a complete protein, because they contain all eight essential amino acids that we need in our diet. They're a great source of fiber, and also iron. If you serve these with red pepper strips, you'll get a dose of vitamin C, which helps with iron absorption.
Soybeans also contain genistein, an antioxidant which, in laboratory and animal studies, has been shown to combat the skin damage and inflammation inflicted by UV radiation.
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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