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Quick Tips: Does vegetarianism improve your skin?

Could veggies improve your skin?
Could veggies improve your skin?

It's no secret that you should eat your vegetables. Packed with antioxidants and nutrients, veggies (and fruits) have proven health benefits including cutting your risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers [Source: Harvard School of Public Health]. But how do they stack up when it comes to your body's biggest organ—the skin?

Many people think that being a vegetarian will improve your skin, but that's a myth, according to Jessica Wu, M.D., a Los Angeles-based dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face. "There's no scientific evidence to support this theory," she says. "In fact, some of my vegetarian and vegan patients find it difficult to eat enough protein, which is essential for building strong collagen and elastic tissue."

Also, if you're eating dairy products in place of meat, you may also be doing your skin a disservice. Though there's not a proven cause-and-effect relationship between dairy and acne, anecdotal evidence suggests that cutting milk and cheese out of your diet may improve your complexion.

The secret to healthy skin is eating a well-balanced diet, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. This means filling half your plate with vegetables and the other half with protein and good-for-you carbs (like whole wheat pasta and quinoa).

"You want to stay away from a Western diet that's rich in sugary and starchy foods," says Zeichner. "This type of diet has been shown to have several negative effects on the skin including acne and wrinkles." The reason: Sugar molecules may attach to collagen, making it stiff and easily breakable. When this happens, the skin loses its elasticity and becomes loose and wrinkled.

Still, certain vegetables can help your skin. For example, tomatoes have been shown to fight sunburn and sun damage, says Wu. Although the reason isn't certain, it could be due to the high lycopene content in tomatoes. In one study, volunteers who consumed five tablespoons of tomato paste daily for three months had 33 percent more protection against sunburn [Source: Newcastle University]. Green and yellow vegetables have been associated with fewer wrinkles, especially crow's feet around the eyes. And fruits high in vitamin C, such as citrus fruits, kiwi, papaya and strawberries have been shown to help build collagen, which keeps skin strong and thick.

The bottom line: Being a vegetarian won't necessarily improve your skin but upping your intake of fruits and veggies (a healthy habit everyone can benefit from) will help you look and feel better in the long run.