A person’s appearance is an outer reflection of inner health. Beauty will pale even in the most fair when underlying health is lost, while those who are healthy on the inside also are radiant on the outside - with clear glowing skin and eyes. Are you ready to feed your face? Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Sexy gave us a crash course on what nutrients you need, why your skin needs them, and which foods are the best sources.
1. Can diet really have that big of an effect on how our skin and eyes age?
Yes, and I’m not talking about severe deficiencies - You needn’t be so drained of vitamin C that you bruise easily (a sign of scurvy) or so lacking in vitamin B2 to have cracks at the corners of your mouth. Even slight short falls from an optimal diet leave subtle effects on your looks. The reason is that the skin is one of the first tissues affected by nutrition and general health. Because the cells of the skin have a short life span, signs of poor nutrition develop quickly. On the other hand, people seldom think about how their diets affect their vision today and down the road. The good news is that the nutrients needed for a healthy glow also revitalize your whole body, since every cell - right down to those cute freckles! - need the same arsenal of vitamins and minerals to stay well-tuned. Vanity might just be your best vice!
2. What is the first diet tip for protecting our skin and vision?
Go low fat and focus on the right fats. Adopting a low-fat diet lowers your risk for skin cancer, according to studies from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. In a two-year study where people consumed typical-fat or low-fat diets, researchers found that the high-fat diets increased skin cancer risk four-fold. The benefits of a low-fat diet were noted only after 16 months. That means you must make a commitment to low-fat and stick with it for life. The sooner you start the better, since it’s better to eat healthy before you develop precancerous skin lesions. However, it’s never too late to reap the benefits, no matter what your age.
But that doesn’t mean you have to cut out all fats. The omega-3 fats in fish, especially DHA, are exceptions; this fat lowers skin cancer risk and helps protect eyes from vision loss down the road. .
What To Do: You know the routine: Feast on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, chicken breast, seafood, and other low-fat goodies. Skip fast, convenience, and processed stuff, as well as the fatty dairy products, and go light on red meat. When you do include fat in the diet, make sure it’s skin and eye-friendly fats, such as the fat in salmon. If you don’t get at least two servings a week, then take a supplement that contains at least 220milligrams of DHA.
3. Besides eating healthy fats, what else can we do to protect our eyes and skin?
Focus on antioxidant-rich foods. The number one enemy of eyes and skin is the sun. Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight generate oxygen fragments called free radicals. These highly-reactive compounds pierce delicate cell membranes and attack the genetic code within skin and eye cells, damaging underlying structures such as collagen and elastic fibers in skin and the retina in eyes. (UVA light penetrates the outer layers of the skin, causing sunburn, sun spots, rough texture, and skin cancer. UBA light penetrates deeper skin layers, resulting in wrinkles.)
Fortunately, the skin and eyes have an anti-free radical system comprised of antioxidants that protect these tissues from free-radical damage. For example, eyes concentrate the antioxidant, vitamin C, to levels far greater than most other tissues. Sun exposure (as well as stress) drains this antioxidant from the skin for up to 72 hours, leaving skin vulnerable to damage. Frequent sun exposure and smog both deplete the skin’s antioxidants, such as beta carotene and vitamins C and E. It also takes up to three months to accumulate antioxidants in skin. These antioxidants work as a team, so a combination is better than focusing on only one.
What to Do? Eat more vitamin C-rich citrus fruits and juices, such as orange, grapefruit, and lime. Kiwifruit, currants, cantaloupe, papaya, strawberries, broccoli, and green peas.
4. How does vitamin E keep us looking and seeing younger?
Sun exposure depletes vitamin E from the skin (by up to 50%!), while boosting intake of this antioxidant, alone or in combination with other antioxidants like beta carotene, helps lower skin-cancer risk. Vitamin E also slows the aging of skin cells, by reducing the production of an enzyme called collagenase that otherwise breaks down collagen, causing the skin to sag and wrinkle. When it comes to eyes, vitamin E is the primary fat-soluble antioxidant that protects the delicate fatty membranes that surround cells in the eyes.
What to Do? Include vitamin E-rich foods in the daily diet, such as wheat germ, nuts, and seeds. Take a moderate-dose vitamin E supplement of 100 to 400IU, preferably natural vitamin E.
5. What about beta carotene, I hear it is the best nutrient for vision?
Beta carotene, because it can be converted in the body to vitamin A, is important for night vision. But in reality, there are other nutrients that are just as, if not much more, important for vision and protecting the eyes against the main causes of vision loss, cataracts and macular degeneration. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS), a major clinical trial sponsored by the National Eye Institute, one of the federal government's National Institutes of Health, has found that the compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, along with the omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, zinc, and vitamins C and E significantly lower the risk for vision loss. Lutein and zeaxanthin are found in dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale, and corn.
What to Do? Include several deep-green vegetables in the daily diet, such as chard, collards, spinach, romaine lettuce, and kale. If you are like most Americans, and consume these vegetables sporadically, then take a supplement that contains lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as that omega-3 fat DHA, and vitamin E, to protect your vision.
6. I’ve heard tea also helps protect the skin. Is this true?
My mother used to pour tea over me when I came home with a sunburn. Turns out this wives’ tale has merit. Tea contains antioxidant compounds called polyphenols that reduce sun damage to the skin associated with wrinkling and cancer. Tea also reduces the inflammation and redness that comes with sunburn. Applied topically, green tea appears to reduce skin cancer risk, inflammation from sunburn, and skin aging. Of course, fluids in general are very important to the skin. You should drink at least 8 glasses daily of water or other fluids to keep your skin moist and firm.
What to Do? While green tea is the best source of polyphenols, black tea also contains these helpful compounds. Force fluids by bringing a water bottle with you or filling 8 glasses of water in the morning and putting them on the counter to drink throughout the day.
7. If we eat well, does that mean we don’t have to worry about sun damage?
No. You still need a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and a big floppy hat. Combine these habits with a healthy diet and I promise you will slow the aging process and reduce the risk of serious sun damage.