Sure, your diet keeps your body slim and healthy, but its impact doesn’t stop there. The food you eat—from wrinkle-fighting antioxidants in fruits and vegetables to hydrating healthy fats in fish—may matter to your skin almost as much as it does to your waistline. Is your way of noshing helping or hurting your complexion? We asked top docs for their take on the face-friendliness of six popular diets.
Read on to see if yours passes the beauty test, and find out how you can alter what you eat for A-plus skin.
(such as The Mediterranean Diet and The Mediterranean Prescription)
The lowdown: Fish, leafy greens, olive oil, and fruit are the stars of this heart-healthy, waist-whittling diet. But the benefits don’t end there—eating Mediterranean may also protect against melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, a recent Italian study suggests. On the cosmetic front, omega-3 fatty acids in fish help keep skin-cell membranes strong and elastic. And antioxidants in leafy greens and olive oil may protect against ultraviolet light and other environmental assaults that can break down collagen and elastin, the structural supports that keep skin plump and smooth. Result: less sagging and fewer wrinkles later.
Olive oil, tomatoes, and red wine also have antioxidants that help block the chemical reactions that lead to sun damage, explains Dr. Leslie Baumann, chief executive officer of the Baumann Cosmetic and Research Institute in Miami Beach, Florida.
Skin Rx: Red wine contains resveratrol, an antioxidant that’s great for skin—but sip in moderation. Overdoing it can dehydrate you, leaving skin dry. Too much alcohol can also generate free radicals, which can break down collagen, leading to wrinkles, Dr. Baumann says.
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(such as The New Becoming Vegetarian)
The lowdown: Whether you skip meat and other animal products for your health, ethical reasons, or both, you probably eat more fresh produce and whole grains as a result—good news for your skin. The antioxidants in these eats neutralize the free radicals that contribute to wrinkles, brown spots, and other signs of aging.
Plant-based protein sources may also have super skin benefits. For example, beans contain zit-battling zinc and decrease inflammation, a culprit behind redness, pimples, and premature wrinkles, says Dr. Nicholas Perricone, author of Forever Young: The Science of Nutrigenomics for Glowing, Wrinkle-Free Skin and Radiant Health at Every Age. On the other hand, some studies suggest that dairy contributes to acne, Dr. Baumann says; consider other protein sources if breakouts are a problem.
Skin Rx: Veggie diets tend to be low in fat, so incorporate ground flaxseeds and olive and safflower oils to help your skin retain water, making it more supple, Dr. Baumann says.
(such as South Beach Diet and Atkins)
The lowdown: First, the good news: Cutting back on white bread, pasta, and refined sugar in order to fight flab can also lower the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol and minimize breakouts, says Manhattan dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD. Moderate plans that swap in whole grains, fresh produce, and lean meats also up antioxidants, blemish-busting zinc, and collagen-building protein.
But beware of more meat-heavy plans: Getting some cholesterol from red meat will shore up skin cells’ protective lipid layer, but "eating too much animal fat can result in an increased production of free radicals, which are thought to interfere with normal cellular processing," says New York City–based aesthetic dermatologist Dr. Lisa Airan. "This may cause premature cell death," which can lead to sagging skin.
Skin Rx: Drink lots of water to keep skin hydrated. Choose fish and other lean proteins—not just saturated fat–laden red meat. Eat antioxidant-rich leafy greens daily.
(such as Eat More, Weigh Less)
The lowdown: Cutting down on saturated fat—found in red meat and whole milk—is great for your heart and waistline. A diet low in animal fat also stems the production of free radicals that can prematurely age skin, Dr. Airan says.
Still, your skin needs some fat, especially the good kind found in nuts and olive oil. Fat helps your body absorb complexion-friendly antioxidants and fat-soluble vitamins, and strengthens cell membranes—and ultimately your epidermis—for a dewier, more supple face.
Skin Rx: Eat a little fat. "Get at least 20% of your calories from fat, mainly the unsaturated kind," says New York City dermatologist Cheryl Karcher, MD. Saute veggies in olive oil, toss nuts into salads, and keep omega-3-rich salmon, flaxseeds, and the occasional fortified egg in your diet. Linoleic acid, found in vegetable oils, is "crucial for bolstering the skin barrier, which keeps moisture in and irritants out of your skin," Dr. Baumann says.
(such as Raw Food Life Force Energy)
The lowdown: Raw-foodists—who nosh mainly on produce, nuts, and sprouted beans and grains—believe that not cooking food preserves its natural enzymes, aiding digestion, energy, and weight loss. Though these claims aren’t universally accepted by doctors, there’s no denying that these foods make for a happy complexion. What’s more, the healthy oils in nuts, avocados, and olive oil keep skin cell membranes strong and pliant. The downside: "When you eat very little meat, it’s challenging to get enough of the building blocks for collagen," Dr. Airan says.
Skin Rx: Sneak in sprouted beans, sushi, soy, and other raw proteins for collagen, and incorporate healthy fat sources like almonds, flaxseeds, and olive oil to help build firm skin cells.
What About The CarbLovers Diet?
The cornerstone of Health’s signature plan is Resistant Starch (RS), a type of carbohydrate that acts like fiber, moving through the digestive tract without being fully digested, absorbed, or converted to glucose. Piling your plate with RS foods boosts metabolism and keeps you fuller longer, which helps you steer clear of skin-damaging foods, such as fat- and sugar-laden snacks, while lowering blood sugar and insulin levels.
The result: a happy body and clearer skin, Dr. Karcher says. That’s because spikes in blood sugar and insulin can lead to increased oil production and clogged pores, exacerbating acne. CarbLovers also provides lots of skin-smoothing omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidant-packed whole grains, and collagen-building protein.