The antioxidants help soak up damaging chemicals in the body.
A healthy diet filled with fruit and vegetables makes people look more attractive.
The diet changes the skin to a golden colour, which looks more attractive to others.
Dr Ian Stephen, who led the research, said:
“Most people think the best way to improve skin colour is to get a suntan, but our research shows that eating lots of fruit and vegetables is actually more effective.”
People in the study who ate more fruit and vegetables developed a more golden coloured skin due to a substance called carotenoids.
Carotenoids are an antioxidant that help soak up damaging chemicals in the body.
They are also the substance that give tomatoes and carrots their colour (among other fruits and vegetables).
Dr Stephen said:
“We found that, given the choice between skin colour caused by suntan and skin colour caused by carotenoids, people preferred the carotenoid skin colour, so if you want a healthier and more attractive skin colour, you are better off eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables than lying in the sun.”
While the study was carried out on Caucasian people, other research suggests the same result might be seen in darker skins colours.
This is because there is preference for yellowness in the skin of African populations.
Professor David Perrett, who heads the Perception Lab, said:
“This is something we share with many other species.
For example, the bright yellow beaks and feathers of many birds can be thought of as adverts showing how healthy a male bird is.
What’s more, females of these species prefer to mate with brighter, more coloured males.
But this is the first study in which this has been demonstrated in humans.”
The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior (Stephen et al., 2011).