By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN
Pregnancy is a beautiful thing, but who knew that the foods a pregnant woman eats during this exciting time can enhance a natural pregnant glow? New research is emerging from the growing field of nutricosmetics which shows that one way you can stay looking your best while pregnant is by eating! All beauty-promoting foods also contain important nutrients that a woman needs during pregnancy, which is an added bonus to including them in her diet. Here’s the inside scoop on three key foods that steal the spotlight in the field of nutricosmetics and how they help women to stay healthy and beautiful throughout their pregnancies.
Orange and red fruits and Vegetables
Lycopene, found in high concentrations in fruits and vegetables that are orange or red. Lycopene is a carotenoid (type of antioxidant) that a growing body of science supports as a superstar when it comes to promoting beauty. Unlike other caratonoids, lycopene does not get converted to vitamin A in the body, so its health benefits are attributed mainly to its amazing antioxidant capacity by fighting a free radical called singlet oxygen.
These red-orange foods create a quite opposite effect on the skin than their color suggests. British researchers reported that consuming a lycopene-rich tomato paste may protect against sunburn and sun-induced skin ageing. Subjects who consumed tomato paste were found to have 33% more protection against sunburn compared to the control group. What’s great is that the amount of lycopene that subjects consumed in the study can be easily replicated in anyone’s lifestyle simply by eating a diet rich in tomato-based meals.
Additionally, tomato-based products are an excellent source of vitamin C which is necessary for a developing baby’s ability to make collagen, a structural protein that's a component of cartilage, tendons, bones, and skin. Vitamin C also helps the mother’s body absorb iron (another important nutrient in a baby’s development) from other foods consumed in the diet.
Co-researcher Professor Lesley Rhodes stated, "If you can improve your protection through your diet then over several years, this may have a significant effect.” So pile a little extra tomato sauce onto your pizza or whip up a zesty salad dressing with ketchup to make your meals redder- not your skin.
Blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, and pomegranates
Ellagic Acid, a polyphenol antioxidant found in high concentrations in blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, strawberries, and pomegranates is now making headlines as a super skin-protector against UV exposure. A recent study with human skin cells showed that ellagic acid may prevent the degradation of collagen, a protein that maintains skin structure and as long as it’s strong and healthy, prevents the formation of wrinkles. Not only did the polyphenol halt the UV-B-induced toxicity of these cells, but it also prevented the degradation of collagen that is associated with wrinkle formation. Though this study only looked at a topically applied form of ellagic acid, researches stated that “Topical or dietary interventions with berries and pomegranate…are promising strategies in curtailing skin wrinkling and cutaneous inflammation associated with chronic UV exposure leading to photoageing.”
What’s more is that some of these fruits contain manganese, a mineral that helps form a baby’s developing bone and cartilage. It's also a component of enzymes that play a role in the formation of carbohydrates, amino acids, and cholesterol. As part of a powerful antioxidant called manganese superoxide dismutase, it helps protect cells from damage (also why it helps fight aging and promotes wrinkle-free skin). Pregnant women need 2 mg which is easily obtained through food sources- no supplement needed. A half cup of raspberries contains 0.4 mg and a half cup of sliced strawberries contains 0.3 mg. So in addition to your daily application of SPF 15 or higher, a cup of fresh berries and tall glass of pomegranate juice may be just what the dermatologist ordered.
Fish, nuts, avocados, flax, canola and olive oils(Flax and Borage Oils)
A little “healthy fats” goes a long way when it comes to skin health. The essential omega-3-rich alpha linolenic acid (ALA) found in flax seed oil and the omega-6-rich Gamma linolenic acids (GLA) from borage oil were found to decrease skin roughness and “scaling,” according to findings published in the British Journal of Nutrition. When researches induced skin-reddening in women, a significant decrease in reddening was seen in women taking flaxseed (45% decrease) and borage oil supplements (35% decrease) as compared to baseline value while no differences were recorded in a placebo group. The roughness and scaling – dry peeling skin – was also decreased significantly after 12 weeks of flaxseed and borage oil supplementation.
Not only can consuming these healthyfats give us better skin, but omega 3 fatty acids are also critical during pregnancy to promote fetal neurodevelopment and may also be important for the timing of gestation and birth weight. During pregnancy, the dietary goal for omega-3 fatty acids is 650 mg, of which 300 is DHA.
A supplement is not necessarily needed to obtain the many benefits of these healthy fats, as a wide array of food sources will supply you with your daily requirement to promote flawless skin and a healthy pregnancy. These include fish (3 servings of low mercury varieties/week), nuts, avocados, flax, canola and olive oils. If you don’t eat fish, a fish oil supplement is recommended as the plant forms aren’t as well absorbed. A supplement should contain 400 to 550 mg of omega-3 PUFAs (EPA and DHA), of which about 225 mg should be DHA.