You may think of it as the favorite fuel of bodybuilders, but protein is also one of the secrets of a firm, youthful-looking face. In much the same way that this vital nutrient builds strong physiques, protein helps keep our complexions and the underlying muscles and bones in optimal shape.
The Collagen Connection: Facial Fitness
The most abundant protein in our bodies is collagen. This type of protein makes up the bands of connective tissue that enable skin to stretch without wrinkling and sagging. Collagen is also a major component of muscles, bones, and blood vessels. These tissues tend to shrink and weaken over time as collagen production declines. We can help slow and minimize this tissue erosion by getting enough protein.
Dietary Proteins: Restoring Firmness from the Inside Out
How much is enough? According to the Institute of Medicine, we should get at least 10% and no more than 35% of our calories from protein. The composition of protein we eat is as important as the amount. To form complete proteins, our food intake must supply our bodies with nine essential amino acids. (They’re called essential because our bodies can’t make them on their own.) As the building blocks of proteins, amino acids enable our bodies to perform a variety of critical functions including
- Cell formation
- Fluid balance
- Distribution of nutrients
- Tissue growth and repair
Complete proteins are readily available from meat, fish, and other animal products. The tradeoff of these foods is their relatively high content of saturated fat. Plant-based proteins avoid this pitfall but many are deficient in one or more of the 9 essential amino acids. For this reason, vegetarians should ensure their diet includes a variety of foods with different amino acids profiles. Getting enough lysine, an amino acid vital to tissue repair, is particularly important. High-lysine foods like tofu, nuts, seeds, and legumes are all excellent choices for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. If you want to include animal proteins in your diet be sure to stick to lean cuts of meat and keep portions small. The key in either case is to maintain a healthy balance of protein sources.
Topical Rejuvenators: The Anti-Aging Benefits of Plant Proteins
Plant proteins also play an important role in topical skin care. One of the best of sources of botanical proteins is quinoa. Although it’s used like a grain in various cuisines, quinoa is actually the seed of a leafy green plant. As a source of all 9 of the essential amino acids, quinoa is the ideal protein for nourishing, repairing, and protecting the skin from environmental damage. In addition to its firming action, quinoa helps bind moisture to skin cells, resulting in a smoother, more supple complexion.
Quinoa is also packed with antioxidant vitamins and minerals. To increase your defenses against aging, I recommend adding this superfood to a total skincare regime that includes a healthy diet, plant-derived organic skincare products, and facial exercises.