These nutritious foods are a recipe for great hair, glowing skin, and more -- whether you eat them or turn them into topical treatments:
Consider avocado the overachiever of beauty superfoods:
It's rich in protective antioxidants and essential fatty acids, which help keep skin plump and smooth, says New York City dietitian Shari Bilt Boockvar, RD. Eating the fruit can also help replenish the protective layer of fatty acids that surrounds skin cells, keeping moisture in and preventing dehydration, according to Jessica Wu, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California Medical School and author of Feed Your Face. Get your avocado fix by using it in place of mayo on a sandwich, or whip half an avocado and add it to your smoothie or salad dressing recipes.
"An avocado face mask may help slow skin's aging process," says nutritionist Lisa Drayer, RD, who points to a 2006 study published in Phytotherapy Research that found that applying avocado oil to skin can stimulate collagen and elastin production. Make an anti-aging moisturizing mask by pureeing a ripe avocado and mixing it with 1/4 cup sour cream, which has lactic acid to help exfoliate dead skin cells. Spread over your face and leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing with water.
All teas boast skin-boosting antioxidants, but green and white varieties are especially good because they have double the antioxidants of black tea as well as EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), a type of antioxidant that "protects skin from damage caused by exposure to sun and pollutants," says Dr. Wu. Sip up -- but cook with the brew too; it makes a great poaching liquid for chicken or fish.
Tea is a natural hair-color booster that can function as a rinse to bring out highlights in dyed or undyed hair, says Jet Rhys, owner of the Jet Rhys Salons in San Diego. Chamomile revitalizes golden highlights in blonde hair, black tea perks up brunettes, and berry or red teas add oomph to auburn or red hair. Prepare 8 ounces, let it cool, then saturate your strands with the solution. Put on a shower cap and wait for 15 to 30 minutes, then rinse with water.
Going gray? Reach for these nuts. According to Dr. Wu, almonds contain high levels of catalase, an enzyme that may help slow the graying process by preventing a buildup of hydrogen peroxide in follicles that can cause hair to turn gray. Almonds aren't just a snack, though: Pulverize them in a food processor and add to waffle batter, or use as a crunchy coating for chicken.
Go nuts for this exfoliating body scrub recipe from Kym Douglas, the author of The Beauty Cookbook: Grind 1/4 cup almonds in a food processor until superfine, then mix in 2 tablespoons organic virgin coconut oil to make a paste. In the shower, rub the skin-softening mixture over rough areas, such as knees and elbows, and then rinse with water.
"Cocoa has a high concentration of flavanols, plant compounds with antioxidant properties that help protect skin from sun damage," says Dr. Wu. Add a tablespoon of 70% cocoa powder to a cup of BBQ sauce for richer flavor.
A no-cal way to get the skin benefits of cocoa's flavanols: Use it as a bath soak, suggests Ginger McLean, spa director for the Spa at the Hotel Hershey in Pennsylvania. To do, add 1/8 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, which also nourishes dry skin, and 1/3 cup instant fat-free dry milk to your tub.
Get ready to show off your pearly whites!
Spooning up yogurt can help keep your grin gorgeous. "It has calcium and phosphorus that can strengthen tooth enamel and protect your teeth from cavities," says Drayer. What's more, varieties such as Greek-style yogurt are high in protein, which is an essential nutrient for the production of collagen, a fibrous substance that keeps your skin youthful looking, according to Dr. Wu. Score more daily dairy by replacing regular sour cream with fat-free plain yogurt in recipes for salad dressings.
Yogurt contains lactic acid, an alpha hydroxy that's great for sloughing away dead skin cells and unclogging pores, says Dr. Wu. She suggests using full-fat plain yogurt as a mask: Apply a thin layer to clean skin and leave on for 10 minutes before rinsing. You can also whip it into a protein-rich hair mask, says Rhys. Whisk together 1/2 cup full-fat yogurt, 3 tablespoons honey, and 1 egg yolk. Apply to hair, put on a shower cap, and wait 15 minutes before rinsing and washing as usual.
Strawberries pack the double punch of high levels of vitamin C and ellagic acid," says Howard Murad, MD, FAAD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA's Geffen School of Medicine. Vitamin C is essential for the production of collagen and acts as an antioxidant to prevent environmental damage. And a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that high intake of vitamin C was associated with a lower likelihood of wrinkles and skin dryness.
Ellagic acid increases skin's ability to hold moisture and, says Dr. Wu, has been shown to help fade dark spots caused by sun exposure. A new way to work the fruit into your menu: Add a touch of balsamic vinegar to pureed strawberries and use the mixture as a sweet sauce for grilled chicken.
Studies show that both ellagic acid and vitamin C in strawberries help protect skin from environmental damage, so using strawberries as part of an at-home beauty treatment could be beneficial. Try this face mask recipe from Douglas: Puree the berries in a blender and mix in chilled full-fat plain yogurt and a squirt of lemon juice (it has antiseptic properties and may help lighten dark spots). Apply the mixture to your face, leave it on for 20 minutes, then rinse.
Coffee is a well-known pick-me-up, but a cup of joe can perk up skin too. "It has antioxidants to help protect skin from sun damage and help prevent the breakdown of collagen and elastin that leads to wrinkles and sagging," according to Dr. Murad. Aim for no more than one 8-ounce cup a day, as coffee in large doses can dehydrate skin. Another way to enjoy more of the buzzy beans: Use finely ground coffee as part of a spice rub for steak or beef.
The caffeine that's in coffee is a topical diuretic (it pulls water out of skin), so it can help depuff eyelids and is often used as an ingredient in cellulite creams because it temporarily gives skin a smoother appearance, says Dr. Murad. Douglas recommends using cooled coffee grounds as a scrub on thighs and buttocks, where cellulite tends to appear.
"The scrubbing stimulates circulation, and the caffeine in the grounds has a temporary shrinking effect on the cellulite," she explains. A coffee rinse can also deepen and richen the hue of brown hair, says Rhys. Brew 2 cups of strong coffee and allow it to cool. In the shower, shampoo, squeeze out excess moisture, pour the cooled coffee over strands, and put on a shower cap. At the end of your shower, rinse, then condition as usual.
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