Ageing is a fact of life, but how soon those tell-tale wrinkles appear depends a lot on how well you look after yourself. Get healthier-looking skin by adding these foods and drinks to your diet, says nutritionist Amanda Ursell.
1 Dark chocolate
It’s rich in naturally occurring compounds epicatechin and catechin. When experts gave women a cocoa drink that was extra-rich in these compounds over a three-month period, their skin improved, revealing better hydration and reduced roughness and scaling. This special cocoa brew isn’t yet available in shops, but there are other drinks, such as black and green tea, that are rich in catechins.
- Try our recipe: Gluten-free dark chocolate cake
The orange tinge that fair-skinned people can get when they eat a lot of carrots is down to the pigment beta-carotene, also found in mangoes, sweet potatoes and apricots. Scientists have found it seems to help protect against sun damage, too. One theory is that it acts like a parasol in the skin, helping to scatter harmful rays and boosting the action of sun-protecting creams.
- Try our recipe: Thai carrot soup with crispy tofu
While all fluids will add to your daily total, opting for water or herbal teas means that you’re not adding calories while maintaining good levels of hydration – vital for keeping our skin looking plump. You can tell you’re drinking enough by the colour of your urine: it should be a pale straw colour.
Tomatoes are bursting with the red pigment lycopene. People given 40g tomato paste daily, which is just over 1tbsp and provides 16mg lycopene, showed a reduction in skin redness triggered by ultraviolet rays in the sun. You get lycopene in fresh tomatoes, but it’s best absorbed when tomatoes are cooked, especially with a little oil. Using tomato purée and canned tomatoes in dishes such as spaghetti bolognese or chilli con carne is an ideal way to up your intake of lycopene.
- Try our recipe: Roasted tomato and lentil pasta with ricotta
In Italy researchers have shown that taking a supplement with 10mg of the yellow pigment lutein, which is found naturally in spinach (its yellowness is hidden by the more dominant green pigments present), helps to improve skin elasticity. In theory, the more elastic the skin, the more it springs back into place after making facial expressions, and the less prone it may then be to fine lines and wrinkles. Eating just one 80g portion of kale gives us 17mg lutein. Spinach, spring greens and watercress have 10mg per 80g serving, while one red pepper provides 14mg.
- Try our recipe: Beef and mushroom stroganoff with garlic spinach and beans
Tofu, soya milk and soya yogurt are all rich in isoflavones. These super-nutrients are similar to the female hormone oestrogen, which helps skin to make good-quality collagen and lubricating oils. From the work that’s been done on isoflavones so far, skin experts believe they may help to slow down the thinning in our skin, a process that encourages the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.
- Try our recipe: Sesame tofu on Asian veges
Fresh tuna, mackerel and other oily fish such as salmon give us omega-3 oils – essential fats that may be especially helpful for anyone with dry, red and itchy skin caused by conditions such as psoriasis. All fish is great for protein, which is important for making collagen.
- Try our recipe: Chilli tuna, couscous and slaw salad
8 Orange juice
Drinking 150ml orange juice a day is an easy way to get lots of vitamin C, which is vital for helping our bodies to make collagen and repair damage from pollution, sunlight, cigarette smoke and car fumes. We need to eat good sources of this vitamin every day as we can’t store it. Along with oranges (which also give us the protective yellow pigment lutein; see no. 5), grapefruit, strawberries, peppers and dark green leafy veg all provide vitamin C.
Any cereal made with oats – such as porridge, oatmeal, Oatibix and oat- based mueslis – will give us silica, a trace mineral that herbalists have used for years for a beautiful complexion. Our skin contains the highest amount of silica anywhere in our bodies, indicating its importance to skin health. Silica seems to be needed to make the spongy cells that lie between collagen fibres, helping to prevent them getting tangled – a process involved in the thinning of the skin.
- Try our recipe: Bircher muesli
Prawns give us copper, a trace mineral that our skin needs to make melanin, the natural dark pigment that helps protect against sun damage. Copper helps us make collagen and another important skin component called elastin, which allows our skin to stretch and ping back into place after smiling, laughing and so on, without leaving deep, ageing expression lines.
- Try our recipe: Prawn and bean tacos
For more advice on healthy ageing, we recommend: What to eat to slow ageing or What to eat to add 10 years to your life.