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We know that fruits and vegetables are staples for a healthy body. What you may not be aware of is that certain fruits and vegetables are essential to healthy, glowing skin.

Skin is the human body’s largest organ. Other than the obvious protection it provides for our insides, skin regulates body temperature, excretes toxins, prevents the loss of essential body fluids, provides sensory awareness, helps with vitamin D synthesis, and even provides immunological function.

Nutrients vital for healthy skin are: antioxidants such as beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body; other carotenoids, the plant pigments responsible for bright red, yellow and orange hues in many fruits and vegetables; vitamins C and E; and selenium, an essential trace mineral found in mushrooms and sunflower seeds.

Antioxidants are manmade or natural substances that inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that can produce free radicals, which can damage cells and are believed to accelerate the progression of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and age-related illnesses. Simply put, free radicals are the bad guys, and the antioxidants get rid of them.

To achieve all this, include the following fruits and vegetables in your diet:

Avocados

They offer healthy fats to help skin stay flexible and moisturized. They contain vitamins C and E, which together provide protection from environmental and sun damage. This powerful antioxidant combination is also necessary to create collagen, the main structural protein that keeps skin healthy and strong.

Carotenoids

Sweet potatoes, winter squash, spinach, and carrots are members of this family and provide beta-carotene, a nutrient in plants that converts to vitamin A in the body. Diets high in these types of vegetables offer protection from ultraviolet light damage.

Peppers

Red, orange and yellow bell peppers provide beta-carotene and vitamin C. Vitamin C helps increase collagen production, improving skin elasticity and reducing wrinkles.

Broccoli

Broccoli provides a variety of vitamins and minerals important for skin health, including zinc, vitamins A and C, and lutein, another carotenoid.

Tomatoes 

Tomatoes contribute vitamin C and major carotenoids, including lycopene, for protection against sun damage and premature wrinkles. Remember to enjoy a bit of olive oil, nuts, or avocado as your healthy fat, for best absorption.

Kiwi to apricots

Kiwi, blueberries, strawberries, citrus, cantaloupe, and apricots contain vitamins C, E, and A. Their antioxidant protection slows the aging process by offsetting the free radicals. Vitamin C stimulates collagen synthesis, which keeps skin taut and smooths fine lines. A diet high in vitamin C is associated with less dryness and fewer noticeable wrinkles.

Blueberries also contain anthocyanins, naturally occurring pigments that give red, purple and blue plants their deep color. Anthocyanins, or collagen defenders, have been reported to help reduce the aging effects from UV rays and inhibit inflammation.

Other foods important for skin health

Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring) contain omega-3 fatty acids, necessary healthy fats. These help skin stay supple and moisturized and reduce inflammation, which may contribute to redness and acne.

Walnuts are another good source of essential fatty acids, zinc, vitamins C and E, selenium and protein necessary for healthy skin.

Dark chocolate makes the list because of the high antioxidant content of cocoa. Choose at least 70 percent or higher cocoa content and look for low-sugar varieties. About an ounce, or one square, is enough to help protect against sunburn and may help improve skin appearance and texture.

Water hydrates your body, plumping up the skin so it appears less wrinkled. Water is the beverage of choice over sugary drinks, which over time contribute to sagging, wrinkled skin.

Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com.

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