Writing blogs as often as I do, I sometimes run out of creative and interesting ideas. While looking for inspiration for my next blog topic, I decided to do a Google search for the September monthly observances, under the “health” category. Up popped the Department of Health and Human Services listing, and on it I found Fruits & Veggies—More Matters® Month. Now, there’s a topic I can sink my teeth into! (Pardon the awful pun.)

There are many connections to be made between skin health and diet, and my very favorite subject to teach about is how plant foods support and protect the skin. This is a broad topic, so for today I will focus on the basics in hopes of inspiring you to make colorful and delicious plant foods the basis for your diet.

Feed Your Skin with Fabulous Phytonutrients!

Phytonutrients are compounds that plants produce to protect themselves from damage. For example, the apple growing on a tree has a compound called quercetin, which is concentrated in the skin and protects the fruits from the effects of weather and pollution as it grows. Quercetin, and other phytonutrients offer us similar benefits in the way they combat free radicals in our bodies. Think of it as a little war raging inside your body. We are constantly under attack from bad guys (toxins, pesticides, chemicals, radiation from the sun), and these phytonutrients are the bullets that blow up these harmful substances. Without these powerful plant defenders, the invaders settle in and create inflammation, tissue damage and even cancer.

Eat a rainbow

We frequently hear the expression, eat a rainbow for good health, but do you know why we should eat fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors every day? The different colors in our produce represent the unique protective compounds found in the plants. (Remember those phytonutrients?) The chart below offers a simple summary of the colors and their benefits.By eating a rainbow of colors in your diet, you ensure that you cover all of your bases in terms of phytonutrient protection. Sometimes it is easy to get stuck in a rut with our eating. Challenge yourself to try something new on a regular basis. Joining a garden co-op is a great way to get exposed to new things, but you can also pick up interesting in-season veggies in your supermarket and Google yummy ways to prepare them. The takeaway is to be sure your diet is full of color.

Protect Your Skin from UV damage with Plants

I really love this one. Certain phytonutrients from plants can actually create an internal SPF in our skin! Now, don’t get carried away and think that you can skip your mineral sunscreen. It’s not that much protection, but some research suggests up to the equivalent of an SPF 2 if eaten on a regular basis. Why not think of the plants we eat as our internal SPF. The food richest in the following compounds have the best UV radiation-blocking abilities:

Carotenoids—mostly found in orange produce like sweet potatoes, apricots and carrots.
Lycopene—look for red plants like tomatoes (especially cooked) and watermelon.
Lutein—a green colored phytochemical found in dark green leafy veggies like spinach and kale.

I realize that most of us know that it is good to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables very day, but we need some help figuring out how to get these veggies into our daily menu. Some ideas –

  • Sprinkle berries on your breakfast cereal, oatmeal or yogurt.
  • Add avocado slices to your sandwich instead of cheese or mayo.
  • Use spaghetti squash as a base for spaghetti and meatballs rather than pasta.
  • Toss some spinach into your breakfast smoothie with blueberries and pineapple (really…it’s good!)
  • Vegetable soup is delicious and low-calorie. Have a bowl before dinner or for an afternoon snack.
  • Pack a cooler bag with pre-cut veggies and fresh fruit for the day.

What other ideas do you have? Please share in the comments below to help your fellow readers feed their skin with powerful plants during Fruits & Veggies—More Matters ® Monthand every month!

Click here to read Ginger Hodulik Downey’s book The Esthetician’s Guide to Outstanding Esthetics.

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