And I’m not proud, either. I scarf down everything from roquefort turnovers to teeny tiny sushi rolls to bratwurst and mac and cheese. I never met a piece of fried chicken I didn’t like, and I’m waiting for the day that they come out and announce the fabulous health benefits of crunchy Cheetos.
Until that day comes, however, you have to look outside the chips aisle for good-for-you foods with both skin and health benefits. With Thanksgiving coming up this week in the US, and people from coast to coast preparing to loosen their belts in anticipation of a midweek gorge-fest, including some of those skin-friendly foods in your menu might provide a convenient rationalization for indulging in that third helping of spinach casserole. (I’m only trying to help you, you know.)
Fortunately, many traditional Thanksgiving dishes include some of those foods, or can be easily modified to accommodate them. Here are some foods you can feel good about eating:
Sweet potatoes/yams: These are packed full of antioxidants, especially beta carotene. Putting marshmallows on top of them, while delicious, adds nothing to their nutritional value, but the chopped pecans that often accompany the marshmallows also contain the antioxidant vitamins C and E. In fact, pecans are richer in antioxidants than any other nut, so if you’re looking for something to snack on while the turkey is resting, you could do worse.
Turkey: If you’re a meat-eater, you can feel positively virtuous about chowing down on turkey in terms of skin benefits. It is high in two important minerals for skin health: zinc and selenium. Zinc helps maintain collagen and elastin, and selenium boosts skin elasticity, helps neutralize free radicals, and improves hair and nails.
Carrots: It probably won’t come as a huge surprise to you that carrots are high in beta-carotene. The orange color kind of gives it away. But carrots are also a good source of vitamin C, which helps build collagen. Hence the recent upswing in skincare lines and products based on carrots.
Cranberries: If you’re looking for an excuse to avoid the canned, jellied glop that Aunt Martha is likely to bring out, volunteer to make a cranberry compote of your own with real cranberries. Like other brightly-colored berries, cranberries are high in antioxidants, especially vitamins A and C. They can be sweetened by being cooked with oranges (also high in C). The skins are as good for you as the insides, so if they separate from the berries during cooking, don’t throw them out.
Green beans: Pass that casserole over here, thanks. Green beans are high in vitamin K, which works to strengthen capillary walls. If that sounds vaguely familiar, it might be because I mentioned it in talking about how to diminish undereye circles. Yep, adequate amounts of vitamin K help prevent redness due to capillary wall damage in the undereye area. I don’t have anything skin-friendly to say about the fried onion topping (onions do have antioxidants, but I suspect any value that might bring is pretty much canceled out by the delicious, delicious deep-frying) or the creamy soup that holds it all together, but hey, vitamin K is nothing to sneeze at. (Carrots have K too, but I didn’t want to distract from the beta carotene/vitamin C party over there.)
Pumpkin and squash: By now, you don’t need me to tell you that richly-colored vegetable = good source of antioxidants, especially carotenes. Pumpkin pretty much has them all. And, unlike canned cranberry sauce, canned pumpkin is pretty good just eaten straight out of the can.
Spinach: In addition to being a source of vitamin A, spinach is also a good source of iron. Low iron is another thing that can contribute to dark undereye circles or a washed-out complexion. I can even justify one of my favorite indulgences, spinach-artichoke dip, with the knowledge that artichokes are also good sources of iron, and so therefore spinach-artichoke dip is a powerful weapon against anemia. (OK, I’m exaggerating. I still can’t quite justify it. Leave me some of my illusions, please.)
Stuffing: All right, I admit this one is a stretch, but you can up the skin-healthiness of traditional bread-based stuffing slightly by making it with whole-grain croutons. Whole-grain breads are higher in B vitamins, which are important in skin cell turnover, wound healing, and keeping the skin from cracking or peeling. If your feast includes rolls or bread, you might want to opt for the whole-grain variety. Adding onions to your stuffing will also increase the antioxidant quotient, keeping in mind that when you’re at zero, the only way you can go is up. However! If your traditional stuffing is of the oyster variety, you’re in luck. Oysters are a highly concentrated natural source of zinc, and are also rich in iron and vitamin A.
So have a happy Thanksgiving, everyone, and eat pretty!
Do you have your own favorite skin-friendly Thanksgiving foods? Please share them in the comments! (Recipes welcome!)