When Hippocrates wrote, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” he was probably worrying about the pesky plague epidemic of 430 BC—not thinking about how a handful of almonds might ward off a girl’s pre-period headaches or how green tea might give her thicker, lusher hair. But those things may in fact be true, and scientists are beginning to figure out how food helps the body run smoothly inside and out. “People absolutely underestimate the importance of nutrition when it comes to appearance,” says Michael Roizen, M.D., chief of the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Center and coauthor of YOU: Being Beautiful. The prescription is simple—and mercifully easy to swallow. Read on, dig in, repeat as necessary.
What’s so special about antioxidants like the vitamin C found in grapes? They act as your skin’s bodyguards, repairing and even preventing premature dryness, fine lines and sagging caused by tiny molecules called free radicals, by-products of normal cell function that wreak havoc on your skin, says Dr. Roizen. One to one and a half cups of grapes deliver close to 20 percent of your daily C needs, and will also supply a chemical that helps preserve the protein elastin, which keeps your skin plump—not prune-y. (And, yes, red wine has it too.)
When you’re blue, you probably crave sweets, and there’s a biological reason why: Simple carbs prompt the brain to secrete serotonin, the calming hormone that can ease stress and depression, says Kelly O’Connor, R.D., of the Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. But after the initial spike in mood, sugary treats set up the body for a blood sugar crash that can make your bad mood worse. A better food group for a boost in spirits: complex carbs like chickpeas, lentils and whole-grain bread.
What you don’t want: anything made with white flour, especially refined, processed carbs like white bread and sugary cereals. (One study found that these foods triggered more breakouts than a diet rich in fish, fruit, whole grains and legumes.) What you do want, according to Nicholas Perricone, M.D., adjunct professor of medicine at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine: “Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help control inflammation throughout the body, including inflammatory acne,” he says. That means halibut, walnuts, flaxseeds—and especially salmon, which Dr. Perricone believes should be the one food on every woman’s clear-skin plan.
We think of nails as one layer, the one that gets buffed and painted during a mani. But your nails are actually made up of layers of a protein called keratin—and eating protein may strengthen those layers. If your nails are weak, for a lot of women, the easiest fix is protein. Researchers from the University of North Carolina who studied the growth of big toenails (no, we’re not kidding) found that nail growth rates have increased by almost 25 percent since the 1930s, possibly because protein-rich foods are more available. But some women today still don’t get enough because of chronic dieting, says Susan Kraus, R.D., of Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Most of us require between 45 and 65 grams per day, so try to eat some protein, like lean beef, poultry, fish or nuts, at every meal. Don’t forget breakfast: Just two eggs provide 12.5 grams—roughly 20 percent of your daily requirement.
Breath mints may be a quick fix, but they don’t combat the main cause of bad breath—a buildup of bacteria on your tongue, in between your teeth and in the back of your throat (often caused by food left behind from not brushing thoroughly enough). In fact, if your breath mint contains sugar, it’ll actually feed those microbes and can make odor worse in the long run, according to Kraus. But Japanese research has found that eating plain, sugar-free yogurt may help get rid of the stinky sulfur compounds.
The benefits of green tea keep piling up, and here’s another one: The caffeine in tea slows the production of a chemical that shrinks hair follicles and results in thinner strands, says Dr. Roizen. He recommends two to three cups of tea daily. (Coffee drinkers, your morning cup of java can have the same effect.) But if you’re plagued with dry, flaky scalp or hair loss, it may be a sign that you’re not getting enough zinc, says Lisa Drayer, R.D., author of The Beauty Diet. Meet your 8 milligram daily quota with a variety of zinc-rich foods like crabmeat, yogurt, baked beans, green peas and pumpkin seeds.
When women don’t get enough calcium, they may experience more severe cramps, mood swings and bloating, says New York City endocrinologist Susan Thys-Jacobs, M.D. Her research found that 1,200 milligrams of calcium a day (the amount in about two slices of Swiss cheese plus a glass of skim milk and a yogurt) can cut premenstrual symptoms by as much as 48 percent. If you tend to get headaches during your period, you may be low in magnesium. A quarter cup of almonds or cashews can help you meet up to 30 percent of your day’s needs for the mineral.
For: More Energy, Try: AN APPLE WITH PEANUT BUTTER
The antifatigue snack experts have recommended to Glamour more often than any other: an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter. Unlike a quick Oreo fix or other treat, the apple combo has fiber-rich carbohydrates with a little protein, which takes more time to digest than carbs alone, so you’ll stay energized longer, says Keri Gans, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. It’s fail-proof—and delish. If all you have at your disposal is the office vending machine, choose a protein-rich bag of peanuts