Carla Oates shares the beauty benefits of eating the rainbow
Putting a rainbow on your plate not only looks pretty but also makes sense from a nutritional point of view. Eating foods together can complement and enhance their therapeutic effects for your skin, beauty and overall health.
Wholefoods such as fruit and vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. All these compounds deliver unique therapeutic benefits that nourish the skin as well as boost immunity, vitality and inner beauty. But some foods are even better for you when they are eaten in combination with foods containing complementary compounds that work in synergy to amplify the effects of both foods. Other winning combinations help you better assimilate each other’s nutrients — they’re just meant to be together.
And, to make it easy for us, these food synergies are easy to remember because they usually offer great flavour pairings, too.
Take tomatoes and olive oil. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a fat-soluble carotenoid that reduces your risk of cancer and heart disease and protects your skin from oxidative damage. Carotenoids are free-radical-fighting phytonutrients (plant chemicals) found in red, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. And, because they are fat-soluble, you will absorb more carotenoids from your food when you consume them with healthy, mono-unsaturated olive oil. Genius.
Avocados also contain healthy fats you can eat with tomatoes to make the lycopene more bioavailable. Other good carotenoid-harnessing combos include carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin drizzled with grass-fed butter, ghee, olive oil or coconut oil.
There are many more food matches to help you absorb more nutrients from your food. Leafy green vegies such as kale and spinach contain another carotenoid known as lutein, which helps maintain eye health, fights cancer and prevents cholesterol buildup in our arteries. But, again, it’s fat soluble, so eat your leafy greens with healthy fats and you’ll reap more of their benefits. Try adding avocado or whole eggs, both rich in carotenoids, to your salads, then dressing them with olive oil and sprinkling them with nuts.
Squeezing a little lemon or other citrus juice into your salad dressing or onto your steamed leafy greens also makes sense because the vitamin C (ascorbic acid) in the juice makes plant-based (non-heme) iron more absorbable. (The non-heme iron found in plants is less bioavailable to us than the heme iron found in animal proteins.) Throwing some vitamin C-rich tomatoes, strawberries or broccoli into your salads will also make non-heme iron, important for healthy skin and hair, more bioavailable.
Soaking your oats in orange juice to make bircher muesli is delicious — and also healthier.
Adding skin-loving B6-rich chickpeas or sunflower seeds to your dark leafy greens will help you better absorb the magnesium found in the leaves, too. Magnesium is important for strengthening skin tissues, regulating blood sugar and releasing cellular energy, and also boasts anti-inflammatory power, helping to maintain skin and beauty health.
Soaking your oats in orange juice to make bircher muesli is delicious — and also healthier because, when combined, the phenols in both foods help stabilise the LDLs (low density lipids), or “bad” cholesterol, which help prevent heart attacks. Adding vinegar to sushi rice lowers the blood sugar spike you would otherwise get from the rice. New studies also show that adding coconut oil to white rice, which is high-GI (glycaemic index), linked to skin ageing and acne, helps to turn it from a starch to a resistant starch, so lowering its GI.
Eating a combination of fresh fruits rather than just one fruit at a time delivers more antioxidants. If you’re a fan of golden turmeric lattes, make sure you add a little black pepper to your cup. Curcumin is the anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory active ingredient in turmeric that’s excellent for skin health and wellbeing. But it becomes 1000 times more bioavailable when combined with the piperine compound in pepper.
Eating bananas with unsweetened yoghurt is a clever combination because the insoluble inulin fibre in bananas feeds the healthy bacteria in the yoghurt. Beauty begins in the belly. By supporting and maintaining gut health, you help to improve the lipid balance in your skin, meaning your skin will be more hydrated, moisturised and plumper. Adding a slice of lemon to your green tea will increase the amount of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, heart-healthy and skin-protective catechins you absorb from your tea.
Dark chocolate is also loaded with catechins, so eating it with vitamin C-rich berries makes it even more powerful. And, while it’s a less common combination, research suggests eating dark chocolate and apples together can improve your cardiovascular health. This is because combining the skin-protective and skin-soothing flavonoid quercetin found in apples with the catechins in chocolate helps prevent clotting.
Eating foods rich in the trace mineral selenium (poultry, eggs, Brazil nuts, mushrooms) with foods that contain sulphoraphane boosts their antioxidant effect. Both are impressive skin nutrients for all skin types, from acne to ageing skin — they help protect collagen from free radical damage as well as boost cellular health. Think chicken with broccoli or sprinkling chopped Brazil nuts on your Brussels sprouts.
And there’s a reason your grandma always added rosemary to her roasted meat dishes (although she may not have known the science behind it). Rosemary contains antioxidants that soak up the free radicals and cancer-causing heterocyclic amines (HCAs) formed when meat is cooked at temperatures above 160°C.
Don’t scrimp on your spices, either. Adding spices to slow-cooked meats helps them become easily digested, meaning your body can utilise tissue-building and repairing proteins. Eating protein with enzyme-rich lacto-fermented vegetables also helps your body digest proteins and fats that your gut may struggle to break down, especially if not in balance.
The same goes for bitter veg such as radish and radicchio, dandelion greens and rocket, which help stimulate bile production and help your body digest and utilise skin-hydrating and anti-inflammatory fats, like the omega-3s found in salmon, for example.
The list goes on. Start making perfect matches on your plate to harness the power of whole foods for a radiant complexion, robust health and inner beauty.