Signs of aging in your internal organs are often a mystery, but the body’s largest organ – skin –betrays your age all too readily with wrinkles, dry skin and puffiness.
Eating “heart healthy,” and adding bone-building calcium to your diet are customary prescriptions to stay healthier with advancing age. And while many people slather creams on their skin, sometimes the best help for aging skin comes from what you eat.
Selva Wohlgemuth, an acute-care clinical dietician with a private practice in Bellingham, says skin can be impacted by diet, environmental pollutants, smoking and stress as people grow old. People’s skin can be an initial indication of nutritional deficiencies, she says, and while wrinkles are a fact of growing old, what people eat can worsen or ease their wrinkles.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet
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Chronic inflammation, which can affect your heart, gut and other organs, also can increase wrinkles. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet with healthy fats, including olive oil and avocado, along with lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, can help reduce inflammation.
Eliminating high sugar, saturated fat and other processed foods also reduces inflammation throughout the body, including your skin, Wohlgemuth says.
Include protein with meals
Researchers have found a correlation between women over 40 who have meals rich in protein, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin C, and decreased wrinkles, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Wohlgemuth recommends quality protein at every meal, including lean meats and pasture-raised eggs. In addition, at least half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables.
The survey also found that women who had low amounts of linoleic acid, found in safflower oil and some nuts and seeds, as well as healthy amounts of vitamin C, were found to have drier skin.
It’s not just drinking water that can keep you hydrated, Wohlgemuth says. People who eat healthy amounts of fruits and vegetables are also helping to hydrate their bodies and skin cells, which can keep skin fresher and smoother.
Water is just one part of staying hydrated, Wohlgemuth says. Consuming a proper balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids is necessary for skin cells to hold onto water molecules. Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids include wild salmon, sardines, black cod, flax seeds and walnuts.
Get your vitamin C
Eating fruits and vegetables daily and getting natural doses of vitamin C helps the body produce collagen, a form of protein found in muscles, bones and tendon, which naturally decreases with age.
Tasty natural sources of vitamin C include broccoli, bell peppers, citrus, papaya and berries. They also are great sources of antioxidants, which the body uses to counter free radicals, which can damage skin and other cells.
“Although creams with vitamins E and C can help reduce inflammation topically, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce systemic inflammation and therefore also support healthy skin,” Wohlgemuth says.
Enjoy tomatoes with olive oil
New research has pointed to the benefits of lycopene in the diet for shielding the skin from the damaging effects of the sun. Lycopene is found in red and orange foods, including tomatoes, carrots, grapefruit, watermelon and papaya.
While not a substitute for sunscreen, adding such foods to your diet may help your skin reduce the impact of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Typically, the body needs healthy fat to help absorb lycopene, Wohlgemuth says, so tomatoes dressed with olive oil are an ideal salad to protect your skin.
Keep your gut healthy
An anti-inflammatory diet with healthy fats, fresh fruits and vegetables and cultured foods such as yogurt, can help keep your gut healthy, which enables the body to efficiently absorb and process nutrients needed for healthy skin.
“Ensuring a healthy gut not only supports healthy skin, but also optimal aging,” Wohlgemuth says.
Chia seed pudding
This provides tons of fiber as well as skin-healthy vitamins A and C. For more healthy recipes, see Selva Wohlgemuth’s blog, poppiesandpapayas.com.
½ cup nut milk, such as almond or cashew.
½ cup full-fat coconut milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon spirulina (blue-green algae supplement)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
Pinch of sea salt
2 ½ tablespoons chia seeds
Optional: 2 tablespoons hydrolyzed collagen and ¼ teaspoon probiotic powder
Diced fresh papaya, strawberries, or other fruit
Fresh mint, finely minced
In a medium bowl add the nut milk, coconut milk, vanilla, spirulina, maple syrup, lemon zest, and sea salt.
Whisk until combined and the spirulina is dissolved (Some spirulina will remain in small clumps; it will dissolve over time.) Add chia seeds, optional collagen/probiotic powder, and whisk some more. Pour into an airtight container and store in refrigerator overnight or at least eight hours, to let the chia seeds plump up.
Or, put all of the ingredients in a Mason jar, screw the lid tight, and shake vigorously for a minute or two.
To serve, divide the mixture into bowls or into small melons, and top with papaya (or fruit of choice), and sprinkle with fresh mint.