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According to Karen Fischer, nutritionist and author, the best weapon in the fight against ageing skin is your fork. Jane Carstens reports.

“Eating the right foods supplies skin with the nutrients it needs to produce new collagen, fight advanced glycation end products (AGEs), and keep you looking healthier and younger,” says Fischer, who is the author of The Healthy Skin Diet and Younger Skin in 28 Days. AGEs are what Fischer terms the new bad guys in skin ageing. “They are molecules that accumulate in the dermal layer of your skin that partially attach themselves to collagen proteins, and this reduces skin elasticity. Glycation is the chemical process that generates AGEs, and it increases in frequency as you age.”

If AGEs are the enemy of skin, then anthocyanins are important allies. “These powerful antioxidant flavonoids are also nature’s sunscreen, offering mild UV protection, plus they neutralise the enzymes that can destroy connective tissue in the skin,” explains Fischer. While many foods contribute to skin health, Fischer has narrowed them down to her top 12 favourites for younger looking skin.

Purple salad leaves This includes radicchio, red cabbage, purple basil, purple pak choi, purple kale and the baby leaves of beetroot, all of which are packed with anthocyanins.

Red quinoa This healthy gluten-free seed is full of antioxidants, folate, iron, magnesium, zinc, dietary fibre, and protein, which all help the skin retain a youthful glow.

Black sesame seeds These nutritional bombs are rich in protective anthocyanins and a source of protein, magnesium and zinc, which are all essential for healthy skin and new collagen formation.

Blueberries We’ve always known they punch above their weight nutritionally, but they’ve just gone up a notch. Blueberries contain anthocyanins as well as resveratrol, vitamin C and vitamin E, which Fischer says work together to give them strong anti-glycation properties. “There is also promising lab research showing how resveratrol can inhibit chemical-induced skin cancers, making this particular antioxidant of great interest to researchers in anti-ageing and skin care fields.”

Pomegranate “The bioflavonoid antioxidants contained in its seeds protect against free radical production and inflammation, which damage cells,” says Fischer. Commercially prepared pomegranate juice is also a good option: Fischer says it has an antioxidant activity three times greater than that of green tea or red wine.

Red onions While most onions are packed with the potent antioxidant quercetin, red onions also contain anthocyanins which lower blood sugar and activate production of collagen in the skin; they also have strong antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties. “Korean researchers found that the red onion contains the most potent array of antioxidants and anti-glycation activation, which protects against AGE formation in the skin,” says Fischer.

Red guava This little gem contains six times more vitamin C than oranges and is a rich source of lycopene which helps protect the skin from sun damage and skin cancer. “There are also active compounds in this fruit that help to restore anti-ageing antioxidant enzymes,” says Fischer.

Yellow curry powder This contains turmeric, cumin, ginger, powerful spices that protect skin from AGE-related damage. Each spice has its own special face-lift qualities. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, cumin reduces oxidative stress and inhibits AGE formation and cross-linking of proteins which reduces skin elasticity, and ginger inhibits glycation, is anti-inflammatory and boosts levels of important anti-ageing enzymes. Like a symphony, when you put these three together they create a powerful anti-ageing masterpiece.

Cloves This ancient spice prevents AGE formation. Cloves are also antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, anti-diabetic, and anti-thrombotic. “Research shows that a drop of clove oil contains antioxidants 400 more powerful than blueberries,” says Fischer.

Cinnamon This spice is a close second behind cloves at inhibiting AGE formation, and also controls blood sugar levels by slowing absorption of carbohydrates, leading to the body needing less insulin.

Lemons and limes Packed with vitamin C, once digested they are also highly alkalising and great for skin. When added to meals, they significantly reduce AGE formation.

Kumato It may not be the best-known tomato variety, but it has an edge. Kumatos contain AGE-reducing anthocyanins, which are not present in regular tomatoes.

While the quest for younger looking skin fuels multi-billion dollar cosmetic and surgical empires, Fischer has a different take on it. “Many people are still searching for the miracle quick-fix, but overlook the fact that our skin is made from the foods we eat - and this means viewing food as part of our beauty regime.” Fischer backs up her skin research with information and products that support skin health at www.jolieeskin.com.

Karen's top tips

*Eat 1 cup of purple foods daily, to encourage collagen production and reduce AGE formation. 
*Eat ½ cup of red foods daily, to ensure you get enough vitamin C for collagen production. Resveratrol – found in red grapes - can inhibit skin cancers, making this particular antioxidant of great interest to researchers in anti-ageing and skin care.
*Eat a serve of black foods several times a week, to harness the benefits of nature’s sunscreen – anthocyanins.
*Add spices to your diet each day, for their anti-ageing effects.
*Use fresh lemon and lime in cooking, to reduce AGE formation and supply vitamin C for collagen support.
*Look after your skin from as early as possible by wearing a hat and using sunscreen every day, and eating an antioxidant-rich diet. If the damage is already done, then adding omega-3 rich foods to the diet to boost the skin’s oil content is important; good sources are flaxseed, chia seeds, fresh walnuts, and fish, particularly salmon, sardines and mackerel.”