You eat a steady diet of fruits and veggies so you must be getting the most possible beauty benefits, right? Not so fast. Congrats on your healthy eating routine (your body will thank you later!), but there’s even more you can do to increase the prettying powers of your food. When it comes to beauty and wellness, it’s not only what you eat, but how you eat and prepare food, says Jim Perko, Executive Chef at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. Here are twelve expert secrets to maximize the beautifying effect of food:
Pair healthy fats with veggies… “Small amounts of good fats, like those found in olive oil, avocados and nuts, help the body absorb antioxidants and other essential nutrients found in vegetables,” says Janel Ovrut Funk, R.D., author of the “Eat Well With Janel” blog. So, instead of drenching your salad with a processed, fat-free dressing, drizzle a little bit of olive oil and sprinkle some walnuts on your greens to increase the absorption of necessary nutrients. “Healthy fats also provide beauty boosting vitamins and antioxidants, such as vitamin E which helps to moisturize your skin,” says Funk.
…especially sweet potatoes. Beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, is better absorbed with a little bit of healthy fat, says Samantha Heller, R.D., exercise physiologist and author of “Get Smart: Samantha Heller’s Nutrition Prescription for Boosting Brain Power and Optimizing Total Body Health.” In the body, beta-carotene turns into vitamin A, which is great for both your skin and your eyes.
Buy Local. Whenever possible, get your fruits and veggies from produce stands or farmers markets. “Studies have found that some produce loses nutrients the longer it sits on the shelf,” says Toth. Sourcing your fruits and vegetables from your local farmers market will help guarantee they're still jam-packed with beauty-boosting vitamins and minerals when you eat. An added bonus: Fresh produce tastes delicious and you'll feel good supporting your local economy.
Get strategic with C. The iron in plants is not readily absorbed in the body, so it needs help from vitamin C, explains Funk. By adding C-rich foods like citrus fruits, broccoli and bell peppers to your diet, you’ll help increase the absorption of iron, which is important for overall energy. For example, try a spinach salad with grapefruit wedges or sautéed kale with bell peppers. Added bonus of getting more C: “it helps to promote collagen production, keeping your skin looking supple and fresh,” says Funk.
Chew Longer. When you eat cruciferous veggies, like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower, chewing them longer will break down the food, allowing your body to better absorb the nutrients, says Perko. So, make sure you chew plants well instead of swallowing after just a few quick bites. These crunchy veggies are extra important when it comes to longer chewing because they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, so you’ll want to get as much out of them as you can. “Chewing your food thoroughly will make more compounds available to your body,” agrees Heller.
Add avocado to everything, especially salads. This green superfood has serious skin benefits on it’s own due to the high omega-3 content, says Lindsey Toth, R.D., author of the “Fresh Squeezed Nutrition” blog. But, it’s also been found to help your body absorb protective phytochemicals like lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from dark green vegetables when eaten together. “Throw together a spinach salad topped with cherry tomatoes and avocado, and then add broccoli and strawberries for a triple beautification whammy!”
Blend Your Kale. Worried that you won’t get enough nutrients when they come in juice or smoothie form? Actually, the exact opposite is true. “When you put foods like raw kale in the blender, the blender breaks them down and your body will absorb more of the nutrients,” says Perko. Kale, which has as much calcium as a glass of milk, is a beauty powerhouse because it’s filled with antioxidants as well as vitamins A and C. If the thought of adding greens to your smoothie is less than appetizing, try adding a ripe banana. The natural sugars in the banana help sweeten your concoction and blunt the veggie taste.
Eat fruit on an empty stomach. Because fruit is composed of simple sugars, it digests very quickly in the stomach. If you eat fruit for dessert after a heavy meal, it takes longer to digest, and the fruit starts to ferment in your stomach, says Snyder. This can lead to bloating and poor digestion. Enjoy fruit as a stand-alone snack or before your largest meal of the day.
Increase surface area to add spice. If aversions to certain flavors (like fish) keep you from consuming good-for-beauty foods, try this trick: increase the surface area and pile on the spices or flavorings. “If you cut an eight-ounce piece of salmon into six bias cut slices, you can then put more garlic, spices and herbs on it to add more flavor,” says Perko. By adding surface area, you add more seasoning options.
Cook with Coconut Oil. “By far the most beautifying cooking oil is coconut oil, which is a cholesterol-free natural plant oil,” says celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, C.N., author of “The Beauty Detox Solution.” Why? It’s made up of medium chain fatty acids that tend to be converted to energy rather than stored as fat. Cooking with vegetable oils can be harmful to your beauty because they oxidize when heated to high temperatures, thus creating aging free-radicals in the body, explains Snyder.
Steam steam steam. Whether you’re using a microwave, charcoal grill or stove, it’s the heat and amount of time you’re cooking that affect nutrient losses, says Funk. The longer and hotter you cook a food, the more you’ll lose certain heat and water sensitive nutrients, especially beauty boosting vitamin C. “Steaming vegetables is a great way to retain most nutrients in vegetables,” says Funk. One thing to avoid: boiling your veggies, because many of the nutrients leech out into the water (which you then pour down the sink).
Do something to your tomatoes. These juicy red veggies contain the antioxidant lycopene, which has some great inner body benefits (might help fight aging, stroke and heart disease), but it also may keep your skin healthy by protecting against sunburn and sun-induced skin aging, says Funk. The best way to get your lycopene? From cooked tomatoes, canned tomatoes or tomato paste, which can increase the availability of lycopene more than eating tomatoes raw, says Funk.
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