Scientists say antioxidants are the key. Using a camera that measures close-up changes to the skin’s redness, yellowness, and lightness, they found that skin pigments change significantly in people who increased their intake of produce. Substances thought to have the most dramatic impact are lycopene, which gives tomatoes their red color and watermelon its pink hue, and beta-carotene, which is found in carrots, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, broccoli, kale, and spinach. Skin color can also be affected by polyphenols, which cause blood to rush to the skin’s surface. They’re found in a variety of healthy foods, including dark grapes, cherries, plums, blackberries, blueberries, tea, and dark chocolate. Antioxidants also act like natural bodyguards to fend off compounds that damage skin, including free radicals produced by stress and exposure to sun, pollution, cigarette smoke, and pesticides.
The take home message: that old phrase ‘you are what you eat’ couldn’t be more accurate. Fortunately eating your fruits and veggies leads to a laundry list of other health benefits, and it can be easy to hit the recommended two daily fruit and three daily veggie servings. For example:
Always include fruit at breakfast
If you’re on the run grab a mini banana or some unsweetened dried fruit. If you have more time add berries or frozen, thawed pitted cherries to your oatmeal or cold cereal, or whip frozen fruit into a smoothie with almond butter, organic skim or non-dairy milk (almond, soy, hemp), rolled oats and cinnamon.
Make veggies the main attraction at lunchtime
Make salad your lunch staple. Mix it up by using different types of greens and raw veggies and adding a variety of lean proteins (lentils, beans, tofu, chicken, shrimp), whole grains (cooked, chilled quinoa, wild rice, corn), and healthy fats (avocado, nuts or seeds, pesto, or extra virgin olive oil).
Include fruit at snack time
Munch on seedless grapes and almonds or enjoy a few tablespoons of nut butter with fresh apple or pear wedges.
Build your dinner meal around veggies
Think of veggies first and build your meal around them. Grill skewered veggies like mushrooms, onion and bell peppers, roast eggplant or tomatoes, stir fry veggies in garlic, and sesame oil, use spaghetti squash in place of pasta, or whip up a veggie soup or bean chili loaded with a variety of chopped vegetables.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S. Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.