Can a healthy diet keep you young?

We know there are a multitude of benefits that come from eating a healthy diet, but does it include keeping us looking young?  If you explore this topic on the internet you will be bombarded with foods that you should eat to look young.  But is there any science to back this up? 

Looking through the literature, there are a couple of small studies that demonstrate a significant improvement in the skin after just 2 weeks when subjects take a certain blend of nutrients (including the likes of soy isofavones, lycopene, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, fish oils, fish protein polysaccharides, and extracts from white tea, grape seed, chamomile to name just a few).  Sounds good, right.  The problem is that there is no way of knowing from these studies which nutrient or combination of nutrients is doing the magic.  These studies also didn’t control for topical skin care products being used by the participants, which may or may not have made a difference to the results. 

So where does that leave us?

Everyone can look younger and healthier by changing what they eat.  Diet affects your day-to-day appearance and plays a significant role in how well you age.  If you want to have the clear, glowing skin, less wrinkles, sparkling eyes, glossy hair and strong nails, then a healthy diet is fundamental.  The key is to get out of faddish nutrition thinking and bring your diet back to basics with these simple points.

Get addictive foods out of your kitchen and diet
These foods are the ones with refined carbs, unhealthy fats and added sugars and salt.  They are foods that physiologically make your body crave more of them.   It’s not difficult to get over these cravings.  Simply cut these foods out of your diet and eat regular balanced meals throughout the day focussing on having the majority of your calories during the day rather than at night.  If you can get through the first 3 days, then you will be well on your way.

Add plenty of vegetables to your meals
With over 400 vegetables to choose from, it would take hours to talk about the benefits of each of them.   By including a variety of vegetables (when you think variety, think colour) you will get the maximum skin benefit and thereby look younger. 
  • Vegetables contain antioxidants which protect against the breakdown of collagen (for e.g. lycopene in tomatoes)
  • Vitamin C aids in collagen synthesis which improves skin elasticity (e.g. peppers)
  • Carotenoids help protect against the harmful effect of UV rays (e.g. carrots and sweet potatoes)
  • Vitamin K helps prevent shadows under the eyes (e.g. kale)
  • Sulforaphane protects against the aging process (e.g. cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage)
Also remember to incorporate beans and lentils regularly as they are high in plant protein, iron, zinc (helps with the renewal of skin cells), and folic acid, which are all important for optimum cell functioning as well as reducing inflammation.  Inflammation is the underlying cause of wrinkling and cellular damage.

Include fruit regularly in your day
As with vegetables, you cannot go wrong with any fruit.  Berries are particularly high in anti-inflammatory antioxidants which help to repair oxidative damage (such as fine lines and spots) faster and better.  Pomegranates are also full of antioxidants and vitamin C, thereby helping with collagen production.  Pineapples contain bromelaine enzymes which support collagen production and help protect against acne, which deteriorates your skin.  Avocados contain glutathione (an antioxidant which counteracts aging) as well as oleic acid (which keeps your skin moisturised and soft).

Eat nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are great to add into meals (porridges, salads, vegetables) or to have as a snack.  Include different varieties of nuts and seeds for a range of flavours and benefits. Brazil nuts, walnuts and flaxseeds contain copper which maintains the colour of your hair and is believed to prevent premature greying; pistachios contain an anti-inflammatory that strengthen the skin; almonds (with the brown skin layer) contain antioxidants that reduce oxidative stress and thereby reduce skin aging; chia seeds contain vitamin E which helps against UV damage; all nuts and seeds have fatty acids that prevent the drying and dryness-induced aging of the skin.

Cook with lots of herbs and spices
Herbs and spices have antioxidants and are anti-inflammatory.  They help keep you young by strengthening cells, joints, muscles, veins, blood and organ; making eyes, hair and nails shine; and healing skin.  Use parsley, coriander, dill and other leafy herbs (fresh or dried) in soups, salads, casseroles etc.  Garlic and turmeric have hormone-balancing, anti-inflammatory properties.  Cinnamon increases the production of collagen which helps with elasticity and ginger protects you from UV rays.

Keep hydrated
Water is a part of the nutrition that the skin needs to be soft, smooth and elastic.  Without water the skin is dry, the pores are more prone to be clogged and aging effects occur more readily.   Green tea too has some potential qualities as it has been found to prevent oxidative damage, thus helping to revitalise the skin.  And a regular glass of red wine, with its proanthocyanidins (antioxidants) can also reduce oxidative damage of the skin.

Healthy eating is a lifestyle.  We cannot expect to look young and vibrant by only eating healthy for a (short) period of time.  Similarly, taking a supplement is not a substitute for an unhealthy diet. You can't eat lots of unhealthy foods and then expect a supplement to balance it out.  Get into better, long term habits from today.  Any little bit will help to bring out your young you.

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