Most people know eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables is good for long term health, but unfortunately, not that many actually consume the recommended daily amount. Now scientists at the University of St Andrews in the UK are hoping to appeal to another motivator: vanity.
They report in a study published recently in the American Journal of Public Health, that eating more fruit and vegetables can change skin tone, lending it a healthier glow, within a matter of weeks.
Apparently it is all down to carotenoids, the orangey-red pigments found in fruits and vegetables.
Study supervisor Professor David Perrett and colleagues found that just two extra portions of fruit and veg a day for six weeks was enough to cause a detectable change in skin tone.
For the study, they recruited 35 students and followed their diet and changes in skin colour over 6 weeks. They also monitored how much of a change in skin colour had to take place before it was noticed by others.
The results showed that participants that increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables over the observation period showed a change in skin colour, toward more of a golden healthy glow. Those whose diet went the other way, with less fruit and veg, showed a reduction in skin tone.
In a media statement released this week, lead author Ross Whitehead, a researcher at St Andrews, said:
"People who eat more fruit and vegetables have a 'golden' skin tone that looks healthy and attractive. Our latest research finds that even small improvements in diet produces visible benefits to skin colour."
He said they were very surprised at how quickly the change occured.
"Although skin colour varies markedly across the world, we find similar effects across different cultures - for Asians and Europeans alike a good diet is associated with an attractive skin tone."
"The message that a good diet improves skin colour could improve health across the globe."
The researchers note that 75% of Britons do not eat the goverment-recommended "5 a Day": five portions of fruit and/or vegetables. They say this is particularly shocking when you consider that the UK recommendations are lower than those of many other countries: for instance in the US, the government suggests active men should be eating up to "13 a day". However, the Americans appear to be faring as poorly as the Brits in turning the ideal into reality.
Perhaps it is time to appeal to vanity, or something that will yield tangible benefit in a shorter time, argue the researchers.
Co-author Dr Gozde Ozakinci lectures in Health Psychology at St Andrews. He said:
"Appearance can be a powerful motivator. It is being used in other health campaigns to persuade people to avoid smoking, excessive sun exposure and alcohol consumption, all of which may speed up ageing. Our research points to the different benefits of a diet rich in fruit and vegetables on a healthy skin appearance."
"Most of us know we should eat plenty of fruit and veg, yet we are not sufficiently motivated to actually go ahead and eat a healthy diet.Government strategies aimed at improving diet typically only offer information about why a healthy diet is good for us. These strategies have, so far, had no real impact on the nation's eating habits."
"We hope that by highlighting the rapidly achievable benefits of a healthy diet on our attractiveness will be a stronger incentive for people to eat more healthily. Knowing you are going to look more attractive in a few weeks may be more persuasive than the promise of health benefits later in life," he added.
He and his colleagues conclude:
"This approach represents a novel direction for the field and is potentially suitable for cost-effective, population-level dissemination through the visual media."
The researchers believe eating much larger amounts of fruit and vegetables could make skin take on an even healthier glow in the long run.
They are currently carrying out trials in Scotland, investigating whether people can be persuaded to change their diets if they can see the positive changes that result.
Funds from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and Unilever Research & Development USA are helping to pay for the study, while Perrett leads it under a British Academy Wolfson Research Professorship.