Contributions by Dr. Saryna Young, Westmed dermatologist
A recent large scale study published in the New England Journal of Medicine was stopped early because the Mediterranean diet was so much better at reducing cardiovascular risk than the comparison diets. The Mediterranean diet is heavy on olive oil, nuts, fruits, vegetables, legumes and fish. It was found that following the Mediterranean approach to eating can reduce your risk of cardiovascular adverse events, such as strokes. This approach will not only help your heart, but benefit your skin.
Oxidative damage to the skin shows up as wrinkling and pigmentary changes, the things that make us look older. The major source of oxidative damage is ultraviolet-induced damage from sun exposure. Oxidative damage ages the skin, as well as contributes to skin cancer. Besides sun protection and avoidance, nutrition is our major source of antioxidants and, thus, our ally to protect and repair skin damage.
The anti-inflammatory mechanism of a diet rich in antioxidants repairs cell damage and hopefully slows aging and cancer progression. The Mediterranean diet is anti-inflammatory. What is lacking in the Mediterranean diet is red meat and processed foods, such as soda drinks and commercially baked goods. These foods promote inflammation though advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Diets high in red meat and processed food can lead to accelerated skin wrinkling and signs of aging, as well as many other diseases.
Olive oil, some nuts, legumes (beans) and fatty fish all contain omega-3 fatty acids, also known as polyunsaturated fats. Deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids has shown to lead to drier skin. Fatty acids are building blocks of a healthy skin barrier. In the winter, snack on some walnuts and eat some salmon. Salmon is also high in Vitamin D, which is often lacking during the cold, darker winter months. Olive oil also has Vitamin E, bringing an antioxidant effect.
The rich and varied colors of fruits and vegetables are a good indicator of their rich antioxidant content. Some antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables include– but are not limited to–anthocyanins (the color pigments), catechins, vitamin C, quercetin, phytochemicals, gallic acid and ellagic acid. Reach for colorful whole foods at every meal.
Remember: The heart and skin can benefit from the Mediterranean diet. From the inside and to the outside, you really are what you eat! So in addition to your sunblock in the morning, grab a handful of berries with breakfast and fill half your dinner plate with vegetables!
 Boelsma E, Hendriks HF, Roza L. “Nutritional skin care: health effects if micronutrients and fatty acids” Am JClin Nutr. 2001 May; 73 (5): 853-64.