Yes it really is true, chocolate is good for you and your skin! A 2015 Korean study found that supplementation with cocoa had positive effects on skin elasticity and wrinkle reduction in women aged 43-86*. Other studies have demonstrated reductions in UVB-induced wrinkle formation and collagen degradation following consumption of cacao powder, with evidence indicating that cocoa may alter the expression of genes linked to skin wrinkling*. This is not surprising, as raw cacao is one of the richest sources of antioxidants of all foods, being particularly high in a type of antioxidant called flavanols. As well as having strong protective effects, cocoa flavanols help maintain healthy blood flow, which tends to decline with age and is essential for delivering oxygen and nutrients around the body, including to the skin. Other proven benefits include reducing heart disease risk in post-menopausal women and protecting cognitive function and memory in the elderly*.
It is important to go for the good quality kind though – the best sources are raw cacao powder or raw chocolate, followed organic dark chocolate, containing at least 70% cocoa.
This sweet, tasty, summertime fruit is a top source of lycopene, an antioxidant linked with reduced ageing of the arteries and eyes, lowering cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of various diseases. In fact, watermelon contains 40% more lycopene than tomatoes. Lycopene protects skin against free radical damage and UV damage, which are two of the top causes of ageing. Its high water content (92% water) make it a great hydrator, especially in the hot weather or post exercise. High potassium levels can also help regulate water balance and have anti-bloating effects. In addition, it is a good source of vitamins C, A and B6.
As lycopene is fat soluble, combining it with fats will greatly improve its absorption; try combining with a few pistachio nuts as a snack or in a summery salad, it is delicious paired with feta and avocado.
The anti-ageing secret of the Japanese Okinawa population who regularly live to over 100 and maintain excellent health into old age. These colourful veggies are a super source of antioxidant anthocyanins, also found in other purple foods such as blackberries, aubergines and red cabbage. Purple sweet potatoes contain three times more antioxidants than blueberries. Health benefits include protecting blood vessels, lowering blood pressure* and reducing inflammation by suppressing the production of inflammatory chemicals*. There is some evidence that they can encourage weight loss by reducing fat accumulation and modulating energy expenditure. Beneficial effects on cholesterol levels, kidney and liver function have also been observed*. Also high in vitamins A and C, plus manganese and fibre. They can be used in exactly the same way as white or orange sweet potatoes, making great jackets, wedges and colourful mash. You could even try making the Japanese speciality of purple sweet potato ice cream!
Contains a substance called curcumin, which has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In India it has long been used as a facemask, mixed with honey for it’s anti-ageing properties. Turmeric helps protect skin against ageing, as it not only acts as an antioxidant itself, but also boosts the activity of the body’s own inbuilt antioxidant enzymes, so its actions against free radicals are two-fold. Turmeric also supports liver detoxification enzymes, which has benefits for the skin and overall health and vitality. Turmeric supplements have been shown to improve blood flow, blood vessel health and to boost heart health in middle aged and older adults (aged 45-74) after just 12 weeks*. There are also benefits for mood with studies showing improvements in work-related stress, fatigue, depressive symptoms, anxiety and quality of life (9,10) Other benefits include improving joint health, lowering cholesterol, protecting the bones and preserving memory function.
You can add turmeric powder to curries, soups, daal and even smoothies and lattes. Grated fresh turmeric root also makes a fantastic energising tea.
Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and other berries are rich in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that protects the skin against free radical damage and ageing. Berries are also an excellent source of vitamin C – 1 cup provides more than 100% RDA – which is needed for healthy collagen formation. Heart-healthy blueberries have been scientifically proven to help lower blood pressure and keep blood vessels healthy; 3 or more servings a week has been linked to a 32% lower risk of heart attacks. Berries are good for keeping the eyes healthy and protecting the eyesight against damage and ageing. Regular berry consumption among women is also associated with an 18% reduced risk of the age-related condition type 2 diabetes*. Furthermore, the polyphenols in berries have been shown to promote healthy brain ageing by improving the communication between brain cells, protecting learning and memory and reducing age-related cognitive decline*.
Ideally, include at least one serving of berries every day. They are great with oats for breakfast or as a healthy and portable snack.
Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel and sardines are well known for being the top source of omega-3 fats, which have strong anti-inflammatory effects, moisturise skin from within, and provide protection against a range of health problems. Less well known is a substance called astaxanthin, a carotenoid (from the same family as beta-carotene), the pigment that gives salmon its pink colour. This wonder nutrient has been the subject of much recent research and has been linked with a host of benefits including reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system and benefiting eye, skin and joint health*. As far as skin in concerned, astaxanthin has been shown in studies to reduce wrinkles and improve skin elasticity*. It has also been shown to reduce mental and physical fatigue, improve clarity of thinking, concentration, motivation and mood*. Another study has found promising potential benefits for dementia sufferers*.
DMAE is another skin saving nutrient found in fish, especially salmon. It acts like an antioxidant, preventing the production of a substance called arachidonic acid, which causes wrinkles. It also stimulates the nerve impulses that tell facial muscles to contract, helping skin look firmer and may also help ward off cognitive decline.
Include at least 2 servings of salmon in your weekly diet and cook it gently, either baking no higher than 180°C or poaching to retain maximum benefits.
Nuts form an integral part of the healthy Mediterranean diet, known to increase health and longevity. They are one of the most nutrient dense foods, being a top source of healthy fats, the minerals magnesium, selenium, copper and manganese, a decent dose of iron and zinc, plus vitamin E, B vitamins, fibre, high quality plant protein and a host of phytochemicals. Unfortunately, nuts gained a bad rep during the low fat diet craze for being high in fat and calories. While this may be true, regular nut consumption is actually associated with lower body weight. In fact, studies show that including nuts in the diet does not lead to weight gain, despite increasing the overall energy content of the diet*. Nuts can even help people lose weight, by virtue of their high satiety value, meaning they keep you feeling full and satisfied. Other health benefits of regular nut eating include lowering cholesterol, protecting the heart and reducing diabetes risk*. Nuts have strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities, which contribute to their anti-ageing powers, along with added benefits if they displace some animal protein in the diet, which has ageing effects on the body.
Substitute a serving of animal protein for a palm-full sized serving of nuts every day to reap the benefits.
Another major area of research at the moment is into the gut bacteria and the massive influence they have upon our health. Once thought to mainly affect digestion and the immune system, new roles are being discovered all the time and we now know they affect factors including weight management, skin health and even our psychological health*. For example, one study found that probiotic supplements boosted skin elasticity and hydration, while reducing wrinkles in women aged 41-59, after just 12 weeks*. There is also preliminary evidence that probiotics may help reduce stress and exhaustion, although further research is needed to confirm this (21). We do know that age alters the balance of gut bacteria, with the species associated with good health declining and that taking measures to minimise this should be of benefit. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), kimchi (fermented vegetables with spices) and kombucha (fermented tea) are one of the healthiest ways to improve the balance of your gut bacteria as they contain live probiotics.
Including these as a regular part of your diet is therefore advisable, ideally at least 3 or 4 times a week.
You’re probably aware that green tea is an anti-ageing superfood, but white tea is actually even better. It has all the benefits of the green variety, but more of them! Both green and white teas come from the same plant, camellia sinesis, but white tea is harvested younger and undergoes less processing, so it retains more of the natural antioxidants. This means it is one of the best dietary sources of antioxidant polyphenols, which neutralise the free radicals that contribute to the ageing process. These can help protect skin against ageing and damage, including UV damage, which is the biggest single contributor to skin ageing. Other health benefits include protecting the heart, helping lower cholesterol and encouraging weight loss*. White tea also contains less caffeine and has a milder taste, being less bitter than green tea.
Upgrade your black or green cuppa to white for its anti-ageing benefits.
This may be another surprising one but more and more research is emerging to indicate that coffee can contribute to healthy ageing and reduce the risk of various age-associated conditions. A study published this month stated that drinking three coffees a day is the optimum amount for lowering the risk of death from all causes. Other studies have linked 1-2 cups per day with a lower risk of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s* and 2-3 daily cups with lowering heart disease risk by 20%. Coffee is a rich source of protective polyphenols, including chlorogenic acids, which can help regulate appetite, blood sugar and insulin levels. The benefits have to be weighed up against the caffeine content though, which can cause problems such as sleep disturbances and anxiety in some people. Green coffee is an alternative option, which is raw, unroasted coffee beans and has been shown to have many of the health benefits without the caffeine. The roasting process actually destroys some of the beneficial ingredients such as chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid, which have also been shown to help people lose weight and lower blood pressure*.
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