As it turns out, we really are what we eat. Diet has profound effects on appearance and not just at the waistline. The glowing skin and healthy hair we covet depend on what we put into our bodies. We turned to the experts for some diet tips on how to eat for healthy skin and hair.
Inner health, outer glow
“Your skin is an outer reflection of your inner health,” says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness. As a registered dietician, she suggests peeking into other people’s grocery carts as you shop. “We look just like the food we buy. Carts filled with white bread, doughnuts, soft drinks and potato chips are most likely pushed by people with pasty completions and lifeless hair,” she says.
In contrast, the person pushing a cart loaded with fresh spinach and strawberries, fat-free milk, whole-wheat bread, fresh salmon and beans most likely has a rosy glow and healthy, shiny hair. “What you eat affects how you look, both today and down the road,” she explains.
Beauty diet tips
Some of the worst things we can eat when it comes to appearance include fatty foods (especially when the fats are from meat), full-fat dairy, processed foods, refined grains, excessive added sugar, alcohol and salty foods. Bye-bye beer and extra cheese pizza! The good news is that the nutrients needed for a healthy glow also revitalize your whole body, so making diet changes to improve your skin and hair will have an even larger positive effect. Somer suggests following these guidelines on what we should be eating every day:
- At least nine colorful fruits and vegetables
- Five or more servings of 100 percent whole grains
- Three servings of calcium-rich foods
- Two servings of iron/zinc-rich foods, such as extra-lean red meat, chicken breast, seafood or legumes
- At least eight glasses of water
The brighter, the better
When shopping for products at the grocery store, remember that the brighter the color, the more antioxidants in them, says Dr. Angela Vecellio of Palm Beach Medical. “Take bell peppers for example. They come in four colors: green, red, orange and yellow. The yellow bell pepper has 30 percent more antioxidants than the green bell pepper. Other sources of antioxidants are berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and cranberries).”
The most important beauty foods
Deficiency in any nutrient will cause changes in the skin, hair and nails, as well as in blood circulation, which supplies nutrients to the skin and removes toxic waste products, Somer explains. Here are the most important things we need and what happens when we don’t get enough:
- DHA: Omega-3 fats make hair shiny, protect skin from sagging and wrinkling, speed healing, slow aging and reduce skin cancer risk. Get the glow-inducing benefits from omega-3-rich seafood, antioxidant-packed produce, nuts and olive oil.
- Antioxidants: These help protect the skin from free-radical damage (which can cause rough texture, wrinkles and sunspots), but frequent sun exposure and smog deplete them. Since it takes up to three months to accumulate antioxidants in skin, load up on colorful fruits and vegetables every day.
- Zinc: This trace mineral helps maintain collagen and elastin fibers that give skin its firmness and help prevent sagging and wrinkles. Zinc is important in healing cuts and scrapes, while a deficiency causes dry, rough skin.
- B vitamins: Poor intake of almost any B vitamin can cause dry or scaly skin, itching and a burning sensation. Vitamins B2 and B6 also are important in maintaining the oil-producing glands, which keep skin moist and smooth.
- Vitamin A: This fat-soluble vitamin is essential for maintaining epithelial tissues, and skin is the largest epithelial tissue you have. Skimp on this vitamin and your skin might be dry, scaly and rough.
Why vegetables are so crucial
According to popular registered dietitians and personal trainers, The Nutrition Twins, veggies are naturally rich in water, so they create moisture within your skin, plumping the cells and filling the crevices. “Think of them as your body’s natural lotion, plus a whole lot more.”
Here’s what else they’ve got:
Vitamin C: Keeps skin youthful and elastic by aiding in collagen formation. Think: tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, broccoli and potatoes.
Beta-carotene: Helps give a healthy glow and hue, while protecting skin from sun damage. Go for: carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and other orange and green-colored produce.
Antioxidants: Guard against premature aging by helping to prevent cell damage. They mop up free radicals, including those caused by pollution and other environmental toxins, stress and the sun. Eat up: most veggies.
Omega-3s: Contain powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that give skin a smoother appearance. Great source: cabbage.
Water and potassium-rich: Keeps skin hydrated and restores fluid balance so it doesn’t look wrinkled and withered. Indulge in: most veggies.
The beauty benefits of biotin
Biotin is a vitamin that helps improve and strengthen the keratin protein (which makes up your hair, skin and nails) in your body, says celebrity hairstylist Julia Papworth. “Increasing your biotin intake can help make your nails stronger, not to mention your hair longer.” So, how do you get your daily dose? Easy. Simply take Nature’s Bounty Optimal Solutions Hair, Skin and Nails supplement. Not only does it contain biotin, but it also provides you with other vital nutrients, such as vitamins B, C and E, to ensure you’re beautiful from the inside out.
Easy ways to get skin-healthy and hair-healthy foods into your diet
It’s not always easy to eat right. Health often takes a backseat to busy schedules, family commitments and social obligations. But Somer has some suggestions for how even the busiest women can incorporate skin- and hair-healthy foods into their day:
- Aim for two colorful fruits or vegetables at every meal and at least one at every snack.
- Switch to 100 percent whole-grain bread.
- Pack a cup of spinach into sandwiches.
- Grate carrots into spaghetti sauce.
- Snack on watermelon instead of chips.
- Pop frozen blueberries in your mouth instead of ice cream at night.
- Make a rule that 75 percent of your plate will be filled with unprocessed, real foods.
Try this antioxidant-packed smoothie, courtesy of Dr. Angela Vecellio of Palm Beach Medical, to get you feeling great and have your skin looking beautiful as well. For use as a homemade mask, just eliminate the milk and blend. Then lather it on your face.
Antioxidant boost smoothie recipe
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup almond milk
- 1-1/2 cup frozen berries
Blend and drink