Thanksgiving Food that is Good for Your Skin

Skin Care


Although the details of the link between many skin and nutrition are still being ironed out, there are certain foods that have been established in independent studies to have beneficial properties for the skin. From the traditional Thanksgiving meal, these include:

*Slow-cooked turkey (think from a crockpot, not a stove).

Advanced glycation end products are formed when sugars, fats, and proteins are heated at high temperatures, as when food is grilled, broiled, or microwaved (Larsen). According to the best-selling anti-aging book Ending Aging, advanced glycation endproducts (appropriate acronym: AGE) play an important role in the aging of all of the cells of your body, including within the skin. AGEs come from the processing of blood sugar via the Maillard pathway. The advanced glycation endproduct called glucosepane is believed to be in some part responsible for the toughened, hardened state of aged collagen. However, according to Larsen, slow-cooked meals are prepared at lower temperatures than those from a stove or microwave, and hence should not form as many advanced glycation end products.

*Turkey, starch, and vegetables without the sugary glaze

. The corn or maple syrup glaze contains high levels of sugar, which in turn increases blood sugar levels. By virtue of the basic logic of chemistry, the more blood sugar you have, the more sugar molecules you have forming advanced glycation endproducts.

*Whole-grain (rather than white) bread, stuffing, and starches. According to an article by the Harvard School of Public Health, foods with a high glycemic index, like white bread, cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, while foods with a low glycemic index, like whole oats, are digested more slowly, causing a lower and gentler change in blood sugar. Foods with a score of 70 or higher are defined as having a high glycemic index; those with a score of 55 or below have a low glycemic index. Because a rise in blood sugar is associated with higher formation of Schiff bases and hence advanced glycation endproducts, it seems advisable to keep blood sugar levels lower and more steady by consuming foods with a low glycemic index. An excellent list of glycemic index scores in commonly consumed foods is available from

*…But, for your skin, do not avoid sugars completely.

One study I love to talk about (particularly as I reach for the bread basket): In a 2005 study by Beisswenger, patients were put on the Atkins diet, and it was found that the rate of AGE formation was actually doubled. (The patients were proven to be following the diet and appropriately “in ketosis” by the presence of ketones in their urine.) It seems that ketosis doubles the presence of methylglyoxal (see 3 above) in the body, which react with Amadori products, forming twice the AGE products that would normally be present. It is further notable that methylglyoxal is 40000 times more reactive than blood sugar itself, so it seems that avoiding sugar in hopes of decreasing AGE formation is incredibly counterproductive. It thereby seems to be the best advice to eat a well-balanced diet, with sugars in moderation, but certainly not restricted as in the Atkins diet.

*Steamed or raw artichokes, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, red chicory, red chili, and yellow pepper

In one study vegetables were found to retain 80% of their raw antioxidant capacity when steamed, but just 30% when boiled, on average. In one comparative study the ORAC (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) score of 27 vegetables were compared, and artichokes, beetroot, cabbage, broccoli, red chicory, red chili, and yellow pepper had the highest ORAC score. Antioxidants combat free radical formation and correct some free-radical induced damage; more here.

*Foods spiced with garden sage, majoram, rosemary, garden thyme, cumin, and fresh ginger

In a study of 15 featured herbs and 6 spices, these were found to have the highest ORAC score.

*Lemon balm and marjoram-dressing on your salad.

In the same study, 10 dressings were evaluated and compared; lemon balm and majoram dressing in a concentration of 1.5% were found to increase antioxidant capacity of the entire salad by 150% and 200%, respectively. (What a way to make a super-healthy dish even more beneficial!)

*Drink green tea…

Green tea is amazing, reported in a study by SK Katiyar to exhibit many beneficial effects for the skin when consumed orally, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic and photoprotective properties. Although green tea was found by a study in the Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics to be more effectual against advanced glycation endproduct formation in the aorta than in the skin, drinking green tea has still been proven in numerous independent scientific studies to be highly beneficial for your skin as well as your heart. Plus, the skin is an indicant of good health, so often, what is good for your body is good for your skin! Just watch the caffeine: over 250 mg of caffeine (the amount in about twelve 8-oz. cups) is associated with restlessness, nervousness, insomnia, flushing of the face, increased urination, muscle twitching, irritability, irregular heart beat and psychomotor agitation, and prolonged exposure to caffeine has been suggested by Whitmore and Levine to thin the skin.

*…and maybe some red wine.

There is proof that red wine, grapes, plums, peanuts, and other plant products containing resveratrol may promote the activity of sirtuins, agents that are currently suspected to prolong the life of fibroblasts (collagen-producing cells) by turning off gene expression for unnecessary tasks. When the body wants to keep processes going, it produces additional quantities of nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD), a natural electron carrier that binds to sirtuins and inhibits sirtuin activity. When NAD comes in and attempts to bind to sirtuin, resveratrol has been shown by Howitz. et al in 2004 to inhibit this interaction. However, the amount of resveratrol necessary to provide anti-aging effects is unknown. According to Dr. Sinclair of Biomol Research Laboratories in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, “one glass of wine is enough…within one day of popping the cork,” as resveratrol is highly unstable in the air. However, a differing opinion is live on Wikipedia, where users are advised that the amount of resveratrol present in red wine is “not enough” to inhibit effective amounts of NAD binding. Therefore, red wine may be beneficial for your skin; to what degree, the scientific community has not yet confirmed.

In general, remember, your skin is an indicant of your health, so if it’s good for your body, it’s good for your skin. Slow-cook your meats and side dishes, prepare raw or steamed (not boiled or breaded and fried) vegetables (especially those on the list above), add some lemon balm or marjoram to your salad, drink some green tea, and enjoy sugars in moderation (remember the Atkins study!) Most of all, enjoy the holiday and relax: stress is no good for the skin either, as established in this study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Happy Thanksgiving everyone! 🙂

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