Beauty-Boosting Superfoods

Healthy eating is just as important to your appearance as knockout makeup
or that perfect black dress. These foods can help you look your very best.

By Lisa James

July/August 2009

Ask the average woman about her beauty regimen and she’ll tell you how she styles her hair, does her nails or applies her makeup— while never mentioning the kinds of food she eats every day, the most crucial component of them all.

“One of the most important things you can do to keep a youthful, glowing appearance is to eat foods that provide your features with optimal nutrition,” says Lisa Drayer, MA, RD, nutritionist and author of The Beauty Diet (McGraw Hill). “Unless your skin, hair, teeth and nails are getting the nutrients they need, you’re just not going to look your best.”

Drayer, who maintains a private practice in addition to making media appearances (www.lisadrayer.com), tells her own clients “to follow a diet that is calorie-controlled, but rich in beauty nutrients.” Whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy and fresh produce form the core of Drayer’s eating plan, with a focus on what she calls “beauty foods”—those items that provide the biggest nutritional bang for your calorie buck. Here are seven of Drayer’s top food picks.

Blueberries
Nutrients Provided: anthocyanins, ellagic acid, lutein/zeaxanthin, potassium, vitamins C and E
How It Enhances Beauty: Anthocyanins, of which blueberries boast five different types, not only give the fruits their luscious color but also help protect collagen—the basic protein “stuff” of which skin is made—against free-radical damage. Drayer says that anthocyanins also boost the antioxidant effects of vitamin C and strengthen blood vessels. Vitamin E fights free radicals in such fatty structures as cell membranes; Drayer says it is crucial for healthy, smooth skin.

Dark Chocolate
Nutrients Provided: various phytonutrients
How It Enhances Beauty: Dark chocolate’s glamour-girl image belies its serious nutrition content. Its flavonols help increase blood flow, which is as good for the skin as it is for the heart (think healthy glow versus ashy pallor). Drayer says that chocolate may even lend an antioxidant hand against sun damage. The key to chocolate intake is portion size—an ounce has about 150 calories—and type; Drayer suggests looking for a variety that’s at least 60% cacao.

Kiwifruit
Nutrients Provided: phytonutrients, potassium, vitamin C
How It Enhances Beauty: Kiwi’s vitamin C content is impressive—one of these fuzzy little fruits supplies 95% of the Recommended Daily Value. Vitamin C helps build collagen, which explains why it’s often found in topical beauty aids, and is the body’s main water-based antioxidant. In addition, Drayer says that the phytonutrients in kiwis help protect DNA from free-radical damage.

Oysters
Nutrients Provided: copper, omega-3 fats, selenium, vitamin B12 (cobalamin), zinc
How It Enhances Beauty: Oysters are among nature’s richest sources of zinc, a mineral Drayer commends for its role in renewing collagen; this makes it crucial to skin repair. Zinc also helps keep nails strong and the scalp healthy. The omega-3 fatty acids in oysters replenish the skin’s supply of healthy fats, which helps skin stay supple and youthful-looking.

Salmon
Nutrients Provided: astaxanthin, B-complex vitamins, omega-3 fats, potassium, selenium, vitamin D
How It Enhances Beauty: Drayer says that astaxanthin, which gives salmon its characteristic color, helps protect skin against free-radical damage. She also commends salmon’s selenium for its anti-aging effects, saying that this crucial mineral helps skin retain its elasticity. Salmon’s vitamin D is essential for healthy teeth by helping the body absorb calcium. Drayer strongly suggests going with wild salmon instead of their farmed brethren, which are fed dyes and antibiotics.

Spinach
Nutrients Provided: alpha lipoic acid (ALA), beta-carotene, folate, lutein/zeaxanthin, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E
How It Enhances Beauty: Drayer says that the ALA in spinach works with other antioxidants in skin to reduce the inflammation caused by exposure to the sun and that it helps boost cellular stores of glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant. Deficiencies in magnesium have been linked to increases in allergies (including those that affect the skin) and potassium deficits can result in excessively dry skin.

Sweet Potatoes
Nutrients Provided: beta-carotene, vitamin C, manganese
How It Enhances Beauty: The sweet spud’s orange color comes from its rich stores of beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A. Perhaps the premier skin nutrient, vitamin A helps the skin regenerate itself and fights the development of both wrinkles and acne (which can affect adults as well as teenagers). Vitamin A is also essential for strong, healthy hair and nails.

Tomatoes
Nutrients Provided: beta-carotene, calcium, iron, lutein/zeaxanthin, lycopene, magnesium, potassium, vitamins C and E
How It Enhances Beauty: Lycopene, the carotenoid responsible for the tomato’s deep red color, may help defend against sunburn. (Drayer says its the one food that’s better for you after processing, which helps make its lycopene content more readily available.) Another carotenoid, lutein (along with its sidekick, zeaxanthin), is an excellent sun-protection nutrient. Tomatoes also contain calcium, which helps to brighten your smile by strengthening your pearly whites.

Walnuts
Nutrients Provided: copper, ellagic acid, L-arginine, manganese, melatonin, omega-3 fats,
vitamin E
How It Enhances Beauty: L-arginine, an essential amino acid (protein building block), supports improved blood flow through its conversion into nitric oxide, which helps blood vessels relax. Ellagic acid is a potent antioxidant that helps ease inflammation and retard collagen breakdown. Melatonin is a hormone known best as an inducer of sleep, itself crucial to appearance and general well-being. Drayer says that walnuts rank first in the nut-and-seed category for overall antioxidant content.

Yogurt
Nutrients Provided: B-complex vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, probiotics
How It Enhances Beauty: Yogurt’s B vitamins are responsible for energy production as well as proper cell growth and reproduction; Drayer says that vitamin B7 (biotin) is especially vital for healthy skin and hair. Yogurt’s probiotic bacteria, friendly microbes that promote optimal digestive well-being, support all of the body’s organs, including the skin. To get the maximum benefit from yogurt’s probiotic content look for the words “live and active cultures” on the label and check the expiration date.

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