The human diet contains thousands of antioxidants—nutrients that may help do everything from preventing wrinkles to killing off cancerous cells. But while many foods from chocolate to popcorn promise these health benefits, your best bet for a long, vibrant future begins with produce.
Lycopene, an antioxidant that can combat free radicals (molecules or ions that can damage healthy cells and suppress your immune system), gets the credit for tomatoes’ ability to help protect against some cancers, including lung cancer. If possible, opt for Classica tomatoes—in a study of 13 tomato varieties, Classicas ranked highest in lycopene.
Grabbing some java every morning doesn’t just jump-start your day—that cup of joe has bioactive compounds that may help protect your skin from melanoma (the fifth most common cancer in the U.S.), according to a recent report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers found that the more coffee people downed, the less likely they were to get the disease: Those drinking four cups daily had a 20 percent lower risk of developing malignant melanoma over a 10-year period than non-coffee drinkers.
The summertime fave is loaded with lycopene. “This antioxidant compound gives watermelon and tomatoestheir red color—and helps skin stave off UV damage,” says nutrition pro Keri Glassman, RD, founder of NutritiousLife.com. Researchers believe that the melon contains as much as 40 percent more of the phytochemical than raw tomatoes; that’s the equivalent of an SPF 3, so use it to bolster (not replace) your daily dose of sunscreen.
The seeds of this wonder fruit are bursting with antioxidants, like vitamin C, that prevent fine lines, wrinkles and dryness by neutralizing the free radicals that weather skin. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher vitamin C intake lessened the likelihood of dryness and wrinkles in middle-aged women. Also in the fruit’s arsenal: anthocyanins (which help increase collagen production, giving skin a firmer look) and ellagic acid (a natural chemical that reduces inflammation caused by UV damage).
Boost radiance by popping some of these plump little beauties. Blueberries supply vitamins C and E (two antioxidants that work in tandem to brighten skin, even out tone and fight off free-radical damage), as well as arubtin, “a natural derivative of the skin lightener hydroquinone,” Dr. Zeichner says.
Your fingernails (toenails, too) are made of protein, so a deficiency can turn those talons soft. Keep yours thick and mani-pedi-ready by cracking smart: “Eggs are a good source of biotin, a B complex vitamin that metabolizes amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein,” says Frank Lipman, MD, director of Eleven-Eleven Wellness Center in New York City.
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in the natural oils that keep your hair hydrated) and vitamin E (which helps repair damaged follicles) are two secrets behind strong, lustrous strands—and these nuts are full of both, Dr. Lipman says. All you need is 1/4 cup a day. What’s more, walnuts are packed with copper, which will help keep your natural color rich: Studies show that being deficient in the mineral may be a factor in going prematurely gray.
Like you need another reason to love them: These rich fruits are high in oleic acid, an omega-9 fatty acid that helps skin retain moisture in the outer layer to keep it soft, plump and supple, Dr. Bowe says.