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A Carrot a Day Keeps the Wrinkles Away

How to eat to age-proof your skin.

When it comes to promoting healthy eating as a means to good looks and longevity, a lot of attention goes to antioxidants—vitamins and other substances that occur naturally in plant foods—because they seek out and destroy free radicals, which are naturally-occurring byproducts of sun exposure, exercise, and normal metabolism that destroy body cells, including skin cells.

Here's what we know for sure: Free radicals contribute to premature aging, and antioxidants fight free radicals. If you don't get enough antioxidants, and other essential vitamins and minerals, you are likely to age faster and die sooner than was your destiny.

But even after years and years of research, no one knows if these same antioxidants, taken in excess of normal requirements, can help us slow down aging and live longer. For sure, we'd all like to pop a harmless pill or two to stay healthy and look great. But at best, it's a "can't hurt but might help" situation and, in some cases, it might actually hurt in the long run to take high doses of some nutrient supplements.

One downside of vitamin megadosing is that when there's an excess of any single nutrient floating around in your body, it's bound to have a negative affect on another nutrient. That's why dietitians and most other nutrition experts continue to talk about balance and moderation, and always recommend getting your anti-aging nutrients from food.

The B vitamins—which aid in energy production and help maintain the integrity of the nervous system, stomach muscles, and mucous membranes in the mouth, nose, eyes—are not considered antioxidants, but are as essential for healthy skin as any other nutrient. Vitamin B-6 in particular has been shown to correct adult acne and is responsible for keeping skin from getting dry and brittle. B vitamins in the diet come from meat, fish, whole-grains, dairy products, legumes, and some fruits and veggies. Some of the best vegetarian sources of B-6 are bananas, Brussels sprouts, avocados, potatoes, and cantaloupe.

Vitamin A (aka beta carotene) found in carrots, sweet potatoes, mangoes, and other yellow, orange and deep-green fruits and vegetables, helps maintain healthy skin, promote skin healing, fights acne, build new skin tissue, and prevent wrinkling.

Antioxidant vitamins C (found in abundance in most vegetables and virtually all fruits) and E (which we get in our diets from nuts, seeds (and nut butters), vegetable oils including nut and seed oils, avocado, whole-grain foods and wheat germ, and fortified cereals) destroy harmful free radicals (substances that damage body cells) that are formed from unprotected exposure to the sun. They also help in the production of collagen, a protein that strengthens skin cells and helps prevent premature aging of the skin.

In the spirit of doing everything you can to stay vibrant and healthy until our knowledge is certain and better solutions come along, the best advice anyone can give you is to make sure you eat lots of fresh, whole foods, especially vitamin-rich fruits, vegetables, and other plant foods (like nuts, seeds, and grains) along with any pills you're popping to supplement your diet. It's the only way to cover your bases.

Susan McQuillan is the author of Low-Calorie Dieting for Dummies.

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