Good skin is an inside job. Yes, of course there are environmental factors and ways to improve it and maintain it from the outside, but everything we consume contributes positively or negatively to our skin health. Despite the multitude of nutraceuticals and supplements available that seem like they’d be good shortcuts, researchers find again and again that optimal nutrition comes from whole foods—think vegetables and fruits, whole grains and nuts— and they’re good for every part of your body.
Here are a few foods to grab on your next shopping excursion for a beauty boost that works from the inside out:
Fish: Fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, black cod, anchovies and halibut are rife with Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which help protect the skin from environmental damage such as sun and pollution. The Omega-3s also help improve immune function and reduce inflammation.
Try it like this: Mix salt, pepper, ground rosemary, lemon and olive oil and coat both sides of the fish, then broil or grill.
Avocados: Some vitamins are great on their own, but even better in tandem. Avocados have vitamins C and E: Together they team to mitigate damage from UV rays, heal wounds and encourage collagen production.
Try it like this: Mash a half avocado with olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt, cilantro, lime and red pepper flakes and spread on whole-grain toast.
Eggs: Eggs pack a powerful protein punch, along with vitamins A and D and iron. Combined, all that helps to generate new skin cells, strengthen existing ones, hasten healing and optimize oxygen delivery.
Try it like this: Make a frittata from lean meat, vegetables (leftovers are perfect for this!), cheese, salt, pepper, herbs and olive oil mixed into beaten eggs. Pour into greased cast-iron pan and bake at 350° about 20 minutes or until big bubbles form and the top begins to brown.
Olive oil: The vitamin E and other antioxidants and phytonutrients in olive oil help to protect against sun damage. The compound hydroxytyrosol goes into battle fighting harmful free radicals.
Try it like this: For a flavor infusion, combine fresh herbs, garlic or lemon peel in the blender, then add to organic extra virgin olive oil. Let it stand for a day, strain out the solids and refrigerate. Use on salads, fish and anywhere else you’d like a flavor punch.
Soy: Soy and its derivatives (think tofu) are full of isoflavones, which help to thicken the skin, increase collagen, improve elasticity and resist wrinkling.
Try this: Heat avocado oil in a skillet; add a drop of sesame oil, a splash of soy sauce, grated ginger and a clove of chopped garlic. After a minute, add blanched or steamed vegetables and firm tofu that has been cut into bite-size chunks. Stir-fry on high heat until vegetables are tender but not too soft.
Green tea: Green tea’s polyphenols provide antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and cancer-fighting compounds that protect and repair skin. The tea tastes bitter if it steeps longer than a minute or two. For a stronger cup, opt for two teabags in hot (but not boiling) water.
Try this: Blend a frozen banana or pineapple chunks, avocado, spinach or kale leaves, green tea and coconut milk together for a green-goddess smoothie.
Pumpkin: It’s not just for Thanksgiving! Pumpkin is practically a perfect food, rich in vitamins B and C; carotenoids, such as beta-carotene; and a multitude of minerals such as copper, iron, manganese and potassium. This symphony of nutrients in pumpkin (opt for the unsweetened kind if you’re buying it in a can) helps to protect skin from sun damage and may even reverse it, as well as improve skin tone and elasticity. In order to make the most of your carotenoids, though, pair them with fat (ghee, avocado oil or coconut oil are good choices) so they’re absorbed into your body.
Try it like this: Use unsweetened canned pumpkin in place of half of the butter and oil in baking recipes for a healthier, more flavorful version of whatever you’re cooking up.
Dark chocolate: As if we need another reason to love chocolate, studies show that the flavanols found in cocoa combat UV-ray damage, increase the blood flow to the skin, and improve skin density and hydration.
Try it like this: Microwave dark chocolate in 30-second intervals until it’s almost melted. Stir the chocolate into a thick liquid state, and then dip in strawberries, orange slices, raspberries, pretzels, potato chips and/or any other snack item that could use a chocolate boost. Let cool on a sheet of wax or parchment paper in the refrigerator.