As winter continues, dry, red, flaky skin abounds in the cold weather. The good news is that diet plays a major role in supporting your skin health. Foods that are good for your skin help to hydrate and guard from environmental damage. Beneficial foods contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties in addition to being hydrating and supporting wound healing. Here is the ultimate FoodTrients® list of the top 50 foods for your skin with a holistic view of the many factors that support our largest organ.
This bitter veggie contains nutrients critical for the skin. Arugula is actually a cruciferous vegetable and contains a special compound called erucin that has shown anti-inflammatory properties and skin support in animal studies. A green leafy vegetable, you can toss arugula into your next salad or add to a fresh sandwich, wrap, or omelet.
Fat in the diet incorporates into the cell walls in the body – including skin cells. Unsaturated fatty acids combined with antioxidants like vitamins E and C make avocado the perfect addition to your winter diet. Studies have linked conditions of the skin, including psoriasis, to heart health. Fortunately, avocados are very heart healthy with research showing a reduced risk of heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and a decrease in oxidative stress in the bloodstream when incorporated in the diet regularly.
Many studies have found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cancer, including skin cancer, so including brightly colored sources like beets is important for your health. Beets also contain unique phytonutrients called betalains, which have shown anti-cancer effects. One interesting mechanism observed with this compound includes the decrease of inflammatory enzymes – also helpful to sooth the skin!
Studies show that eating foods high in antioxidants like bell peppers work as antioxidants to scavenge free radicals and that these compounds protect skin cells from DNA damage. In animal studies, antioxidant polyphenols have been shown to protect the skin from the damaging effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, including a reduction in skin inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage. Since bell peppers are higher in vitamin C content than other fruits and veggies – even citrus – make sure to include them in your diet. Choose any color you like the best.
Brazil nuts make a great snack because of their fat, protein and fiber balance but they also contain high levels of the powerful antioxidant selenium. Studies have known as little as two Brazil nuts per day helped participants meet their needs for this important mineral. They are also high in unsaturated fatty acids which incorporate themselves into the cell walls of our skin, providing a nourished exterior.
This cruciferous veggie contains special health promoting compounds called glucosinolates and isothiocyanates which have both been objects of research, particularly for their anti-cancer properties. There is evidence that they may also support skin health because these unique compounds contain both anti-inflammatory and free-radical scavenging properties. Prepare Brussels sprouts simply by chopping them in half and roasting in the oven or by shredding and add to a salad.
A seed rather than a grain, this unique cereal is gaining popularity in the U.S. Because it is not related to wheat, it is naturally gluten-free and is a good grain to choose if you avoid gluten. However, just like whole wheat and other grains, buckwheat is high in fiber and minerals like manganese, copper, magnesium and zinc. Importantly, zinc acts as an antioxidant and is supportive of skin health and wound healing.
If you notice a yellow tinge to a fruit or veggie, that’s a clue that it contains antioxidants like beta carotene that can support skin health. Butternut squash is packed full of several antioxidants shown to quench free radical damage in the skin, including lutein and zeaxanthin. All squash also contains a high water and fiber content to support the skin and other systems of the body as well.
All colors of cabbage contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Researchers have identified nearly 20 different antioxidant flavonoids and 15 different plant phenols in cabbage, all of which have demonstrated antioxidant activity that can support scavenging free radicals in the skin. A versatile vegetable, include purple, red and green cabbage in salads and soups daily.
This orange melon is packed with skin healthy compounds. The orange color immediately tells you it contains carotenoids like beta-carotene. In addition, it is rich in fiber and water – a refreshing sweet treat. Keep in mind that sugary foods are not healthy for the skin so snacking on fruit instead can be a smart swap. Cubed cantaloupe is perfect for breakfast or a mid-day snack.
Carrots are rich in a couple key skin-health antioxidants: beta-carotene and lycopene. These compounds contribute to the orange hue in this veggie and research has shown that they support the skin when consumed in the die by offering some protection against UV damage from the sun. Keep in mind that nothing will protect your skin like proper sunblock or clothing cover.
A plant-source of polyunsaturated fatty acids called omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds can support skin health. The outer barrier of all cells in the body contains a ‘lipid’ or fatty membrane so the types of fat you consume does get incorporated into your body. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids play a role in the antioxidant defense system of the skin. Additionally, nuts and seeds including chia are rich sources of copper, another precursor to collagen production for skin health.
Toss them on a salad, cook them into a soup or chili or bake them to create a crunchy snack – chickpeas are healthy for many systems in the body, including the skin. Chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, contain small but meaningful amounts of antioxidants known to support skin health like vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene but they are also uniquely rich in antioxidant phytonutrients like flavonoids, quercetin, kaempferol and phenolic acids, ferulic acid, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and vanillic acid.
Some people love it and some hate it but the green leafy herb cilantro is a skin booster if you enjoy adding it for flavor. Studies continue to find that diets rich in fruits and vegetables reduce the risk of cancer. Both animal and human studies have also supported the role of dietary factors in reducing the risk of skin cancer and adding in plenty of green leafies is one of them. Conversely, too much salt can cause dehydration, challenging skin health, so using herbs and spices like cilantro for flavor instead has a double bonus.
While chocolate has sugar and fat added to create it’s creamy, sweet flavor, those ingredients can be a challenge for skin health. Instead, bitter baking cocoa powder contains potent antioxidants without all the added negatives. Put it in smoothies or blend it into yogurt for its skin boosting benefits. Studies have shown that participants who consume cocoa powder daily for 12 weeks showed a significant decrease of skin roughness and scaling as well as improved skin blood circulation.
Cranberries are high in certain antioxidants including vitamin C. Naturally tart, the biggest challenge with consuming these berries is added sugar which is a challenge for skin health. High glycemic diets (diet high in added and refined sugars) have been linked in some studies to an increase in acne. Foods with a high glycemic index like sugar and white bread are rapidly absorbed, leading to higher blood sugar levels and elevated levels of insulin which have been shown to enhance sebum production and stimulate other hormonal factors that regulate skin breakouts. Since cranberries are tart, they are often accompanied by sugar so experiment with 100% pure cranberry juice mixed with soda water or a lower-sugar cranberry sauce this winter.
The simple eggplant could play a major role in health. It is the veggie highest in an antioxidant phenolic compound called chlorogenic acid, one of the most potent free radical scavengers found in any plant tissues. Benefits of chlorogenic acid are many including anti-cancer, antimicrobial and antiviral activities that can support skin health (and many other systems!). Try it simply grilled or baked or add it to a stir fry this week.
The yolks of eggs contain significant amounts of protein, zinc, choline, and vitamins A and D, making for a healthy start to the day or snack when you need a pick-me-up. Just like the orange color in skin-healthy vegetables, the orange color of an egg yolk indicates the presence of important compounds, lutein and zeaxanthin which are yellow/orange carotenoids known as xanthophylls. The new dietary guidelines for Americans lifted all restrictions on dietary cholesterol so eggs are back on the menu. Hard boil some to stock for the week when you need a burst of energy.
Flaxseeds are a rich source of fiber as well as omega-3 fatty acids which are critical for skin health. Studies show that dietary omega-3 fats help inhibit UV damage that can lead to cancer. They also calm inflammation and support the immune system. Eating flaxseeds is a very healthy practice for many systems of the body but keep in mind that whole seeds cannot be broken open by the body during digestion. Grinding them is the best way to get access to their health effects.
Part of the reason we see skin lose elasticity, resulting in sagging and wrinkles with ageing has to do with a process called glycation which is already well underway by early adulthood. High intake of sugar can speed this process while research has shown that certain herbs and spices including ginger and garlic can slow it. Garlic also works to support the cardiovascular system as well as prevent diabetes which are both associated in studies with diseases of the skin such as psoriasis. Feel free to include garlic in any (or every) meal of the day.
Packed with vitamins and fiber, antioxidants in grapefruit include naringenin, limonin, beta-carotene and lycopene though grapefruit’s biggest claim to fame is its vitamin C content. A precursor to collagen, getting enough vitamin C is critical for skin health. Collagen, the structure of our skin, cannot be made without vitamin C so include grapefruit and other citrus in your diet daily to get your dose.
Red or green, grapes are a perfect snack, especially for skin health. Aside from containing nutrients and antioxidants, they are a perfect replacement for sugary snacks. Because sugar has a high glycemic load, causing blood sugar and insulin spikes, it can damage skin health. Freeze grapes instead to get the sweet treat you’re after. Grapes work the opposite of sugar – though they are naturally sweet, studies have shown that people who eat grapes experience better blood sugar balance, better insulin regulation, and increased insulin sensitivity.
Packed full of antioxidants, namely epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCg), a potent polyphenol, green tea is a friend to healthy aging. Studies indicate potential skin protective effects of consuming green tea, particularly in conjunction with protection against UV damage from the sun and for reducing inflammation. Iced or hot, green tea supports healthy skin.
Not everyone has access to this delicious tropical fruit, but if you do, your skin could benefit. The beautiful pink color indicates the presence of antioxidant lycopene, found in other red fruits like tomatoes and watermelon. In studies, lycopene was found to protect skin against UV effects, including redness and DNA damage. If guava is available in your area, make sure to slice some up for breakfast or blend into a smoothie.
Tiny, nutty hemp seeds are perfect for sprinkling on cereal, oats or adding to granola. Hemp seeds are a natural source of essential anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Aside from calming inflammation that can be irritating your skin, keep in mind that every cell in the body has a fat layer on the outside and omegas can get incorporated there for positive outcomes.
These small, cold water fish are naturally low in mercury and high in omega-3 fatty acids so the benefit here could be multi-faceted. One review of 25 observational studies, with more than 265,000 psoriasis patients, found that this condition was significantly associated with greater odds of out of range blood lipid labs – think high cholesterol – and omega-3 fatty acids can help with that. This study also showed that the intake of omega-3 fats inhibited the beginnings of skin cancer related to UV sun damage. If you enjoy it, include herring as a snack on crackers or salad.
Everyone’s favorite, versatile green leafy veggie is also one of the richest sources of skin-health supporting antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. Human studies have shown that these compounds are present in the skin and animal studies have provided evidence that these compounds protect against light-induced skin damage, especially UV wavelengths. Better yet, kale can be eaten in so many ways. Add it to eggs, soups and stews, casseroles or to a salad.
Did you know that kidney beans are particularly rich in a trace mineral called molybdenum? Just one cup offers nearly 300% of your daily needs. This mineral has been linked in one study on a population in China whose soil is particularly rich in molybdenum to its inhabitant’s longevity and healthy aging. Whether molybdenum is the key to longevity and youthfulness remains unclear but it is easy and delicious to get in healthy foods like beans and whole grains.
Little limes have a couple skin health benefits. First, they are packed with antioxidant vitamin C, a precursor to collagen which is critical for skin health. Secondly, it can help you stay hydrated. Lime in water is a refreshing beverage without any added sugar and can be used to brighten salad dressings and sauces for flavor and nutrition combined.
All mushrooms contain a very special compound called beta-glucans which are a type of polysaccharide or long-chain carbohydrate. Studies have indicated that beta-glucans may support the skin by regenerating collagen-producing cells and protecting against environmental damage. Collagen is a protein in the human body, critical for skin, cartilage, and bone health. Get creative with mushrooms and add them to any meal of the day – in omelets, stir-fries, soup and on salads.
Another rich form of beta-glucans, oats are an important part of the diet for your skin. Studies have shown that beta-glucans support the skin in many ways including the reduction of wrinkles, wound healing, antioxidant activity, anti-UV and moisturizing effects. Include oats for breakfast or for a snack – the high fiber, vitamins and minerals benefit other body systems as well.
Not surprisingly, olive oil is good for the skin. It has benefits both topically or when consumed in the diet. Rich in unsaturated fatty acids, olive oil supports the cardiovascular system which in turn supports skin health when consumed regularly in the diet. Olive oil contains many antioxidants so you can also rub it safely on your skin topically for some moisture support during winter months.
This Italian herb has been studied with other herbs including cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and garlic as skin supportive additions to the diet. Part of the reason skin loses elasticity and wrinkles with age is due to a process called glycation which does depend on some dietary factors. Herbs like oregano can slow this process. Don’t be afraid to add oregano liberally to your recipes – try it in sauces or marinades, as a garnish and in salad dressings.
Many people think of papaya as soothing for the stomach but there are some benefits for skin health, too. The salmon pink color of this fruit indicates the presence of antioxidant lycopene, found in other red fruits like tomatoes and watermelon. Research has shown that lycopene protects skin against UV ray-induced redness and DNA damage. If you have access to fresh papaya, slice some up for breakfast or a snack or blend into a smoothie for added creaminess and a boost of antioxidants.
Brightly colored paprika has in fact been tied to positive outcomes in skin health. Rich in antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin, human studies have demonstrated that these compounds are present in the skin and may protect against light-induced skin damage, especially the ultraviolet wavelengths. Of all the spices, paprika is richest in these compounds.
More than just a garnish, parsley has some important health benefits, too. It is packed with powerful antioxidants vitamin C and flavonoids like luteolin. Aside from being a precursor to collagen, vitamin C has been observed to be a potent scavenger of superoxide radicals, protecting cells from DNA damage. Chop parsley up into a salad or sprinkle it on a soup this week.
Simple green peas contain many skin healthy compounds. Rich in the mineral molybdenum for longevity and anti-aging, peas also contain lipoic acid which has been shown in studies to help inhibit the production of pro-aging advanced glycation end products (AGEs) which are proteins or fats that have an added sugar molecule on them. AGEs can be a factor in aging of the skin and other systems in the body. Fresh or frozen peas can be more palatable and lower in sodium than the canned variety so steam them lightly and serve with fresh herbs.
These beautiful seeds (also called arils) are rich in antioxidants called flavonoids which help fight free radical damage. They are also loaded with vitamin C. In animal studies, vitamin C and antioxidant polyphenols have been shown to protect the skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation, including a reduction in skin inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage. Make sweet-tart pomegranate seeds your snack or dessert today.
Pumpkin seeds, also called pepitas, are very rich sources of zinc which is important for skin health. Higher than many other seeds, whole roasted, unshelled pumpkin seeds contain about 10 mg of zinc per 3.5 ounces (daily needs are about 15 mg for adults). Critical for healing wounds, getting enough zinc is important for the immune system and for skin health. Snack on pumpkin seeds for a dose of zinc along with healthy fats, protein and fiber.
Red raspberries are uniquely high in an antioxidant called ellagic acid, a potent scavenger of free radicals that protect skin cells from DNA damage. Skin is constantly exposed to UV sun rays and so eating skin-healthy foods like raspberries is critical (in addition to regular skin protection and dermatologist visits). Raspberries are also rich in vitamin C so make sure to eat them fresh when they’re in season or frozen when they’re not so you can have them all year round.
Onions are another cancer-fighting allium vegetable like garlic and are packed with the antioxidant quercetin which studies show support detoxification and skin health. Red onions have one added benefit from yellow or white: added antioxidants indicated by their purple/red color. Keep in mind that any onion added to the diet is another fantastic way to increase flavor while keeping salt low so chop onion in to sauces and stews, use it as a base to any savory dish and add it to sandwiches and salads.
Edible seaweed snacks could be your skin’s best friend. Seaweed – also called sea vegetables – contains a skin-healthy compound called beta-glucans which are also found in mushrooms and oats. Studies have shown that beta-glucans support the skin by regenerating collagen-producing cells and protecting against environmental damage. Beta-glucans possess skin regenerative properties, strengthening this organ’s ability to deal with cold winter conditions or exposure to sun.
One of the most versatile green leafy veggies, spinach is less bitter than some other similar greens so you can chop it into eggs, add it to casseroles and stews or even blend it into a smoothie for a boost of nutrients. Packed with antioxidant vitamins C and E as well as lutein and zeaxanthin, fresh spinach is a skin-supporting veggie. Another bonus, it is a good source of zinc so it really contains many of the most critical nutrients known to protect your skin.
The orange/yellow hue of sweet potatoes indicates that they are a source of skin-supporting antioxidants like beta-carotene, C and E as well as the mineral copper. No need to add more sweet flavor like brown sugar to the natural flavor of sweet potatoes. Instead, try spices like cinnamon, cloves, garlic or paprika for a double skin-health benefit.
These tiny, easy-to-peel oranges are packed with antioxidant vitamin C as well as plenty of natural fluid to support hydration. Vitamin C is a precursor to collagen which is vital for skin elasticity and healing. Citrus fruits contain compounds that scavenge potentially damaging radicals to protect skin cells from DNA damage. Pop some in your bag for an on-the-go healthy snack or dessert.
A healthy vegetarian and vegan friendly protein, tofu contains compounds that help so many systems in the body including heart-healthy minerals, fiber, antioxidants and polyunsaturated fats. If the soft texture is a problem for you, choose extra firm and since it takes on the taste of whichever spices or sauces you use to cook it, take advantage of other skin-boosting spices like garlic, onion, oregano or paprika. Studies have found that genistein, an isoflavone in soy helps to protect cells from DNA damage and the damaging effects of UV radiation.
Perhaps one of the most potent in a collection of skin-healthy compounds, tomatoes are a very important food. Rich in antioxidants including lycopene and vitamin C, tomatoes have been shown in some studies to protect against DNA damage and redness from sun exposure. Lycopene is a carotenoid, or type of pigment which contributes to the red color of most tomatoes and is linked to health benefits in studies. Tomatoes also contain beta-carotene which modulate skin properties and help protect the skin against sunburn. Whether fresh or canned, include tomatoes daily for a boost of skin protection.
This yellow spice found in curry is known for its many health properties. Famous as an anti-inflammatory, turmeric can be used in cooking to help support the skin and other systems by protecting against free radicals. In some studies, it has been shown to protect the skin from the damaging effects of UV radiation, including a reduction in skin inflammation, oxidative stress, and DNA damage.
Walnuts are packed with omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in addition to skin healthy minerals manganese and copper. Since not everyone wants to get their omega-3 fatty acids from salmon or anchovies, walnuts can be a great plant-based alternative. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids suppress inflammation. They could be calming to the skin so be sure to include walnuts as a healthy snack.
A traditional food in Africa and the Caribbean, yams are often mislabeled as sweet potatoes. Though sweet potatoes do have more beta-carotene, yams still offer health benefits in the form of potassium, vitamin C and fiber. Since it is well documented that skin health, including the incidence of psoriasis, is linked to cardiovascular health, eating low-glycemic starchy veggies like yams regularly can support many systems in the body.
What are your favorite foods for supporting the skin? Let us know in the comments!