You can head off a lot of your most common beauty concerns simply by downing the right foods. That's right—eating well not only does wonders for your waistline and bolsters your immune system but can also provide some very real get-gorg benefits, such as smoothing wrinkles, giving hair a glossy shine and strengthening flimsy nails. "Your diet directly affects your day-to-day appearance and plays a significant role in how well you age," says Joshua Zeichner, MD. The smart approach, Dr. Zeichner says, is to create a plan that includes what he calls "the building blocks of healthy skin and hair"—nutrients, minerals and fatty acids—as well as antioxidants to protect your body from damaging environmental stresses. Get ready to nab some beauty-boosting perks by tossing these essential face-saving edibles into your grocery cart.
Grabbing some java every morning doesn't just jump-start your day—that cup of joe has bioactive compounds that may help protect your skin from melanoma (the fifth most common cancer in the U.S.), according to a recent report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers found that the more coffee people downed, the less likely they were to get the disease: Those drinking four cups daily had a 20 percent lower risk of developing malignant melanoma over a 10-year period than non-coffee drinkers.
The summertime fave is loaded with lycopene. "This antioxidant compound gives watermelon and tomatoes their red color—and helps skin stave off UV damage," says nutrition pro Keri Glassman, RD, founder of NutritiousLife.com . Researchers believe that the melon contains as much as 40 percent more of the phytochemical than raw tomatoes; that's the equivalent of an SPF 3, so use it to bolster (not replace) your daily dose of sunscreen.
The seeds of this wonder fruit are bursting with antioxidants, like vitamin C, that prevent fine lines, wrinkles and dryness by neutralizing the free radicals that weather skin. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher vitamin C intake lessened the likelihood of dryness and wrinkles in middle-aged women. Also in the fruit's arsenal: anthocyanins (which help increase collagen production, giving skin a firmer look) and ellagic acid (a natural chemical that reduces inflammation caused by UV damage).
Boost radiance by popping some of these plump little beauties. Blueberries supply vitamins C and E (two antioxidants that work in tandem to brighten skin, even out tone and fight off free-radical damage), as well as arubtin, "a natural derivative of the skin lightener hydroquinone," Dr. Zeichner says.
High in zinc, shellfish has anti-inflammatory properties that can help treat a range of skin annoyances, acne included. "Zinc accelerates the renewal of skin cells," says Whitney Bowe, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "That's why you find the nutrient in many acne medications." In fact, research shows that people with acne have lower levels of zinc than people with clear skin.
On the long list of this leafy green's nutrients are vitamin K (it promotes healthy blood clotting, so the blood vessels around the eyes don't leak and cause Walking Dead-like shadows) and loads of iron. "Insufficient levels of iron in your diet can cause your skin to look pale, making it easier to spot blood vessels under the skin," explains Howard Murad, MD, associate clinical professor of medicine at UCLA. To max out the benefits, eat the veggie cooked, not raw.
Your fingernails (toenails, too) are made of protein, so a deficiency can turn those talons soft. Keep yours thick and mani-pedi-ready by cracking smart: "Eggs are a good source of biotin, a B complex vitamin that metabolizes amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein," says Frank Lipman, MD, director of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in New York City.
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in the natural oils that keep your hair hydrated) and vitamin E (which helps repair damaged follicles) are two secrets behind strong, lustrous strands—and these nuts are full of both, Dr. Lipman says. All you need is 1/4 cup a day. What's more, walnuts are packed with copper, which will help keep your natural color rich: Studies show that being deficient in the mineral may be a factor in going prematurely gray.
Like you need another reason to love them: These rich fruits are high in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that helps skin retain moisture in the outer layer to keep it soft, plump and supple, Dr. Bowe says.
The sweet melon contains beta carotene, or vitamin A, which is believed to regulate the growth of skin cells on your scalp and sebum in the skin's outer layer, Dr. Zeichner says. This keeps pores from getting clogged and causing flakes.
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