I can tell what my five-year-old daughter has been snacking on because it's visible all over her precious face. Would you be surprised to learn that the telltale signs of what you have been eating -- or avoiding -- are equally noticeable just by looking at your face? It's true. Dermatologists explain that our skin is a window into our overall health and can show clues of what's going on under the surface.
New research reported in the British Medical Journal states that enjoying a Mediterranean-style diet including a combination of olive oil, seeds, nuts, fresh fruits, vegetables - and only moderate alcohol intake - can improve overall health and longevity. And when we look at the faces of men and women from Mediterranean countries, who consume large amounts of olive oil, we see fewer wrinkles and firmer skin (despite avid sun-worshipping). And they not only have beautiful skin but cleaner arteries (on average) to boot!
Examining the faces and diets of many Asians shows that a diet rich in green tea can help the skin remain clear and blemish-free for decades longer than people who sunbathe, smoke, or otherwise rob their skin of "free radical-fighting power." Green tea is rich in polyphenols, which have antioxidant properties to neutralize the toxic effects of what we call reactive oxygen species.
To cut through the biochemistry lingo, simply understand that by simply breathing in oxygen, we create unstable molecules called free radicals, which are responsible for the visible and invisible signs of aging. Environmental factors that stimulate free-radical production include UV rays, radiation, cigarette smoke, automobile exhaust, and pesticides.
We also cause free-radical damage by not getting enough rest or sleep, not properly managing our stress responses, and not eating healthfully. Free radicals can damage the very DNA of your skin cells (and every other cell in your body) and destroy the collagen and elastin that provide tautness and elasticity to skin. From wrinkles, dryness, and sensitivity, to vibrant and glowing, your skin broadcasts your inner state of health to all the world.
So if vanity will prompt you to finally look at your diet seriously, I say, welcome to the new generation of empowered people! Here are five of my favorite Super Foods for age-defying beauty and overall vitality:
Okay, so it's not technically a food, but dermatologists, surgeons, and primary care doctors agree, dehydration is so detrimental to the human body and skin that it should be given a lot more attention. If you want your skin to "glow from within" and keep its youthful appearance longer, then drink more water. And if you drink the recommended "half of your body weight in ounces" of water each day, you'll automatically limit the amount of soda, coffee, and sugary, acid-laden drinks that accelerate the aging process. Water helps the body to flush away toxins and renew from within.
Flavonoids and polyphenols, including those found in green tea, are considered to have free radical-neutralizing and cancer-fighting properties. Boost your body's natural ability to bounce back from stress, illness, and fatigue by drinking two to four cups of authentic green tea every day -- and enjoy the skin-protective benefits, too!
Antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies
Squinting and frowning increase deep furrows and wrinkles on the face. So stop squinting and prevent the onset of blindness and cataracts by eating more dark-colored fruits and vegetables. Several studies report that consuming antioxidant-rich foods (such as dark berries, cherries, spinach, etc) is associated with a decreased risk for cataracts. Vitamins E, C, and the B vitamins niacin and riboflavin (vitamin B2) may protect against cataracts, too. Carotenoids, especially lutein (found in egg yolks and bright yellow vegetables) and zeaxanthin (found in dark green, leafy vegetables), may also help prevent macular degeneration, the most common cause of irreversible blindness in the elderly. Vitamin E has been shown to counteract these conditions that often lead to blindness.
Extra virgin olive oil
This monounsaturated fat has proven benefits for lowering bad cholesterol and even slowing the progression of some tumors, but it also has the ability to provide a healthy glow to our skin. Extra virgin olive oil, produced by pressing olives without the use of heat or chemical treatments, contains phytochemicals that are otherwise lost in the refining process. According to the FDA, you may reduce your risk of heart disease by consuming about two tablespoons of olive oil a day. And rather than simply adding more olive oil to your diet, it is best to substitute olive oil for saturated fats you would otherwise have.
Natural sweeteners - Stevia plant
Very few of us can totally abstain from adding a little sugar to sweeten coffee, tea, or baked goods. But basic table sugar is a pro-inflammatory, age-accelerating molecule! The higher the sugar content of our diets -- whether from processed foods, soda, or the sugar we add to drinks -- the more AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, we make. AGEs accumulate during the normal course of aging and at an accelerated rate during the course of diabetes and high blood sugar states. AGEs play a role in the development of several other chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer's, arthritis, atherosclerosis, and kidney failure. AGE formation changes the chemical and biological properties of proteins inside and outside of the cell, which leads to cellular dysfunction and cell death.
So if you want your skin to be smooth and wrinkle-free for many years to come, limit your use of table sugar and opt for stevia (a root) which does not add inches to your waistline, either. Although some claim it does not taste exactly like table sugar (glucose), studies show that your taste buds can adjust over time.
Andrea Pennington is an integrative medicine physician in private practice in Washington, DC and Beverly Hills, CA. She is seen regularly on television and hosts an Internet radio show called Empowered for life. Learn more about her practice by visiting AndreaPennington.com.