Beauty in a Bowl? Eating Fruits and Veggies May Improve Skin Tone

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Pass those peaches — a new study finds that eating more fruits and vegetables may lead to a rosier complexion.

Researchers tracked the fruit and vegetable consumption of 35 people over a six-week period and found that higher intake was associated with perceptible changes to skin color. As participants ate more fruits and veggies, their skin tone looked healthier — and were judged to be more attractive.

Specifically, participants eating more fruits and vegetables saw increases in red and yellow tones in their skin. The researchers attribute the color change to the carotenoids in produce, the compounds that give plants their pigmentation. The study looked at two carotenoids in particular: beta-carotene, which gives carrots their orange color and is also found in yams, peaches, pumpkin, apricots and spinach; and lycopene, which adds a reddish hue to peppers, tomatoes, watermelon, apricots and pink grapefruits.

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During the six-week study, participants filled out three dietary questionnaires to gauge what they ate and how their consumption changed, while researchers recorded their skin coloring. In a second part of the study, 24 observers were shown pictures of four Caucasian faces whose coloring was modified to correspond to varying levels of fruit and veggie intake. The observers were asked to rate the faces based on perceived health and attractiveness, with the goal being to figure out how many servings of produce a day was associated with a noticeable bump in beauty.

“Our study suggests that an increase in fruit and veggie consumption of around three portions, sustained over a six-week period, is sufficient to convey perceptible improvements in the apparent healthiness and attractiveness of facial skin,” lead researcher Dr. Ross Whitehead of the University of St. Andrews school of psychology told HealthDay. “Conversely, those [participants] that worsened their diet became paler.”

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The color changes, while perceptible, were slight — so no one looked like a blazing pumpkin. But while veg-heads have reason to rejoice, it’s important to note that the study shows only an association between produce consumption and better skin, and not a cause and effect. The researchers acknowledge that the study was also very small, with nearly all white participants. More research is needed to see if the findings hold for other ethnic and racial groups.

Still, results like these may give people another good reason to load up on fruits and vegetables — nothing motivates people like vanity. The authors write:

The literature reviewed here suggests potential utility in forming novel dietary intervention strategies. Fruit and vegetable consumption affects skin carotenoid levels; this may lead to skin-color change in a fashion that is known to contribute to the appearance of health. It follows that dietary change may be motivated by illustrating to individuals these beneficial effects on appearance.

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To get the most from your greens, go for whole fruits and veggies instead of juices. Whole produce has a lot of other healthful compounds, including fiber, which will not only help boost your complexion, but also contribute to an overall healthier diet. And keep in mind that carotenoids are present in many fruits and vegetables, even those that don’t outwardly appear to be red or yellow — like leafy greens.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends filling half your plate with fruit and vegetables at every meal. For women, the USDA recommends 1.5 to 2 cups of fruit daily and 2.5 to 3 cups of veggies. Men should aim for 2 to 2.5 cups of fruit daily and 3.5 to 4 cups of veggies.

“[O]nce the word gets out that eating fruits and vegetables can make you sexy, attractive and maybe even look younger, hopefully, the carrots, kale and cantaloupe will be flying off the shelves and into people’s meals,” Samantha Heller, a dietitian and nutritionist at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., told HealthDay.

The new study was published in the online journal PLoS ONE.

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