Foods that Support Healthy Aging
Our bodies rely on various nutrients to support the natural aging process. Some nutrients may help slow signs of aging, such as by promoting healthy skin.
Itâ€™s important to note that eating specific foods isnâ€™t going to make you look noticeably younger, and that nutrition is only one aspect of aging well.
Still, adding nutrient-dense foods to your diet can help you look and feel your best as you get older. In general, try to eat:
- healthy sources of protein
- healthy fats
- foods that are rich in antioxidants
Here are 10 nutritious foods that support healthy aging.
1. Extra virgin olive oil
Extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest oils on earth. Itâ€™s rich in healthy fats and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation and oxidative damage caused by an imbalance of free radicals in the body (1).
A diet rich in olive oil has been linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases, including (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7):
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- metabolic syndrome
- certain types of cancer
In particular, monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) make up about 73% of olive oil. Some studies have shown that a diet rich in MUFAs may help reduce skin aging thanks to the strong anti-inflammatory effects of these healthy fats (1, 8).
Extra virgin olive oil is also high in antioxidants, such as tocopherols and beta carotene, as well as phenolic compounds that also have anti-inflammatory properties (9, 10).
In fact, one 2012 study found that people who consumed a diet rich in MUFAs from olive oil had a lower risk of severe skin aging.
Ideally, choose cold pressed extra virgin olive oil because itâ€™s higher in antioxidants and less processed than oils that are extracted using other methods. Try adding it to a salad or dip (10).
Olive oil has strong anti-inflammatory properties that may protect against severe skin aging and chronic disease.
2. Green tea
Green tea is high in antioxidants, which can help fight free radicals in the body.
Free radicals are unstable molecules created as a byproduct of normal cell functioning. They can also form in response to stressors from the external environment, such as ultraviolet (UV) light or tobacco smoke. Free radicals can damage your cells if theyâ€™re present at high levels.
Thatâ€™s where antioxidants come in. These molecules stabilize free radicals so theyâ€™re unable to cause damage. You usually get antioxidants through your diet â€” like from green tea (12).
Green tea is particularly high in antioxidants called polyphenols. Specifically, itâ€™s high in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), catechins, and gallic acid (13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18).
These may reduce your risk of:
- heart disease
- neurological decline
- premature aging
- other chronic diseases
The polyphenols found in green tea may help reduce external skin aging â€” from environmental stressors such as the sun and pollution â€” by scavenging free radicals before they damage the skin (19, 20).
In fact, many skin care products contain green tea extract for its antioxidant and antiaging properties. However, more research is needed before green tea products can be recommended to reduce skin aging (19, 20).
That said, consuming a diet high in antioxidants is associated with a reduced risk of chronic disease and healthier skin. And drinking green tea can be a great way to get more antioxidants into your diet (21).
Green tea has strong antioxidant properties. As such, it may help protect your skin against free radical damage that can occur as a result of external factors like pollution or sunlight. That said, more research is needed.
3. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish is a highly nutritious food that can promote healthy skin.
Its long-chain omega-3 fats are beneficial against heart disease, inflammation, and many other issues (22).
Furthermore, research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids are linked to a strong skin barrier and may help decrease inflammation that damages the skin (23).
Salmon, one of the most popular types of fatty fish, has additional aspects that may help support your skinâ€™s health.
First, it contains a carotenoid antioxidant called astaxanthin, which is responsible for the pink color of salmon (24).
In one study, people with sun-damaged skin consumed a combination of astaxanthin and collagen for 12 weeks.
As a result, they experienced significant improvements in skin elasticity and hydration. However, while these results seem positive, itâ€™s unknown whether the effects were due to astaxanthin, collagen, or both (25).
Plus, salmon and other fatty fish are high in protein, which is important to eat so your body can produce collagen and elastin. These two molecules are responsible for skinâ€™s strength, plumpness, and elasticity. Eating protein also promotes wound healing (24, 26, 27).
Finally, fish is high in selenium. This mineral and antioxidant plays a role in DNA synthesis and repair and may help reduce and prevent skin damage from UV light. Having adequate levels in the body may reduce the severity of skin diseases like psoriasis (24, 28).
Fatty fish, such as salmon, are high in omega-3s, protein, selenium, and astaxanthin, which are all associated with healthier skin.
4. Dark chocolate or cocoa
Dark chocolate is a rich source of polyphenols, which act as antioxidants in the body.
In particular, it contains flavanols, which are linked to numerous health benefits, such as a lower risk of (29, 30, 31):
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- cognitive decline
Additionally, itâ€™s thought that a diet rich in flavanols and other antioxidants can help protect the skin from sun damage and help slow skin aging.
In one high quality 24-week study, participants that consumed a flavanol-rich cocoa beverage experienced significant improvements in skin elasticity and facial wrinkles compared with those in the control group (32).
While these results are promising, other studies have not observed that dark chocolate offers benefits for skin appearance or aging (33, 34).
Remember, the higher the cocoa content, the higher the flavanol content. Therefore, if you want to add dark chocolate to your diet, choose a variety with at least 70% cocoa solids and little added sugar.
Dark chocolate contains flavanols that act as antioxidants in the body. Some preliminary research suggests it may improve skin health, though more research is needed.
Most vegetables are extremely nutrient-dense and low in calories.
They contain antioxidants, which help reduce the risk of heart disease, cataracts, and certain cancers (35, 36, 37, 38).
Many vegetables are also high in carotenoids, like beta carotene and lycopene. Some research suggests that a diet high in carotenoids may protect the skin against the sunâ€™s UV rays, which are the main cause of premature skin aging (39, 40).
Some of the best sources of beta carotene are:
- sweet potatoes
Many vegetables are also rich in vitamin C, which is a potent antioxidant. Vitamin C also plays a crucial role in collagen production. Collagen is a key building block of the skin, but its production begins to decline after the age of 25 (21, 41).
Vegetables with the highest vitamin C content include leafy greens, bell peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli.
Itâ€™s important to eat vegetables of different colors, as each color represents different antioxidants that can benefit your skin and overall health (42).
Aim to have at least two vegetables at each meal and always protect your skin using sunscreen.
Vegetables are rich in antioxidants that can help protect your skin from sun damage and help support healthy skin renewal.
6. Flax seeds
Flax seeds offer impressive health benefits.
They contain lignans, which are a type of polyphenol that has antioxidant effects and may lower your risk of developing a chronic disease, such as heart disease and breast cancer (43).
They are also a great source of an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Consuming a diet rich in omega-3 fats helps support a healthy skin membrane by helping your skin stay hydrated and plump (44, 45).
In high quality studies from 2009 and 2011, women who consumed flax seeds or flax oil for 12 weeks showed increased hydration and smoother skin. However, newer research is needed (46, 47).
Flaxseeds contain types of antioxidants known as lignans, which help fight free radicals in the body. Furthermore, theyâ€™re high in an omega-3 known as alpha- linolenic acid (ALA), which supports a healthy skin membrane.
Like most fruits, pomegranates are full of healthy nutrients.
Theyâ€™re high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin K, which help support a healthy heart. Theyâ€™re likewise rich in antioxidants, such as flavonols, tannins, phenolic acids, and lignans (48, 49).
Some human and animal studies suggest that the antioxidants found in pomegranates may also help support healthy skin aging by decreasing UV skin damage and brown spots caused by sun exposure (50, 51).
These antioxidants also help protect the skinâ€™s existing collagen and promote the skin to make new collagen (21, 50).
Though more research is needed, pomegranate seeds and their juice can provide a quick, nutritious source of antioxidants in the diet.
Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants that may help with skin repair and protect the skin against sun-related damage.
Avocados are rich in heart-healthy fats, fiber, and several vitamins and minerals that are essential for health (52, 53).
Their high content of monounsaturated fat may help promote healthy skin by supporting a healthy skin membrane, while their high antioxidant content may fight free radicals that damage and age the skin (21).
For example, one study showed that a diet rich in plant-based fats was linked to better skin health in older adults (54).
Considering the delicious taste and versatility of avocados, adding them to your diet is an easy way to get in extra nutrition for healthy skin.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants, which help support a healthy skin membrane and prevent free radical damage that leads to aging.
Tomatoes provide many impressive health benefits, several of which can be attributed to their high lycopene content.
Lycopene is a type of carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color. It also acts as an antioxidant to help reduce the risk of chronic disease (55, 56).
Studies in human skin samples show that lycopene may also provide a small amount of protection from the damaging rays of the sun. However, this protection is significantly lower than using sunscreen (40, 57).
In one study, women who drank an antioxidant-rich beverage containing lycopene, soy isoflavones, fish oil, and vitamins C and E every day had a measurable decrease in wrinkle depth after 15 weeks (58).
However, the study cannot directly tie lycopene to these skin benefits, as the beverage contained several other ingredients (58).
Pairing tomatoes with healthy fats, such as olive oil or avocado, significantly boosts the bodyâ€™s absorption of lycopene (56).
Tomatoes are high in lycopene, which may provide minor protection from the sunâ€™s UV rays.
10. Collagen peptides
Collagen is the bodyâ€™s most abundant protein. In particular, itâ€™s found in high amounts in the skin and joints.
As we age, our body begins to break down collagen and produces it less effectively. This can lead to gradual signs of skin aging, such as wrinkles and sagging skin (59).
While this process is inevitable and a natural part of aging, consuming foods that support collagen synthesis can help keep your skin healthy for longer. These include protein-rich foods and vitamin C (59).
Avoiding activities that accelerate collagen breakdown can also help. These activities include sun tanning and cigarette smoking (59).
Furthermore, human studies have shown that consuming hydrolyzed collagen peptides â€” a smaller form of collagen that your body absorbs much more efficiently â€” may improve skin elasticity, moisture, and firmness while reducing wrinkles (60, 61, 62, 63, 64).
That said, many studies donâ€™t take other lifestyle factors into account, such as protein intake, overall diet, and smoking. Plus, the body uses protein from collagen wherever itâ€™s needed, which doesnâ€™t guarantee it will be used by the skin (65).
Ultimately, it appears that consuming a diet rich in protein is key to healthy skin. Focus on eating a diet rich in protein and then take a collagen supplement if youâ€™d like to boost your intake further (21).
Healthy protein-rich foods to eat regularly include:
Many studies in humans have shown that consuming hydrolyzed collagen peptides improves skin hydration, elasticity, and firmness. However, limitations in the studies warrant more research.
The bottom line
The foods you eat can play a role in the health of your skin, including in how your skin changes as you get older.
In particular, foods that are high in protein, healthy fats, and antioxidants are linked to the most skin benefits.
Along with eating a nutritious diet full of whole, plant-based foods, consider protecting your skin with other habits, such as wearing sunscreen, avoiding smoking, staying physically active, and using appropriate skin care products.
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