For the Chinese, trotters are a delicacy. As Britain's spending on cosmetic surgery soars, Fiona MacDonald Smith suggests it's time that we chopped and changed our diet instead.
Pigs' trotters are the latest anti-ageing food? That's right, you heard it here first. In New York, the most talked-about new opening of the past couple of months has been a Japanese restaurant called Hakata Tonton, where 33 out of the 39 dishes contain pigs' feet. The reason for this, according to its owner, Himi Okajima, is that they are rich in collagen, the protein responsible for skin and muscle tone, more recognizable to beauty addicts in the form of face creams and fillers.
"Collagen helps your body retain moisture," says Okajima, who has introduced a chain of restaurants specializing in collagen cuisine in Japan. "Your hair and skin will look better, but it's not just for looking beautiful now. If you begin eating collagen in your thirties, you will look younger in your forties."
Maybe this sounds a little improbable ("it's news to me," sniffs Lisa Miles of the British Nutrition Foundation. "I've certainly never heard of eating collagen."). But Okajima believes he is on to something. Figures published last month show that British spending on cosmetic surgery is the highest in Europe , hitting nearly £500 million in 2006, four times more than in 2001.
Isn't there a cheaper solution? Couldn't eating the right foods, in the right way, be a simpler, and ultimately more long-term way to stay looking and feeling younger? "You are what you eat," says nutritional therapist Ian Marber, aka The Food Doctor. "You can't turn the clock back but you can slow things down. Every cell replicates from RNA and DNA. In order to keep the DNA in good condition, you want to protect cells from harmful free radicals. And for this you need to eat fruit and vegetables, which contain vital anti-oxidants like vitamins A, C, E and zinc. "It doesn't have to be expensive," he adds. "I know people go on about so-called 'super foods' which have a greater concentration of anti-oxidants, but two apples a day will give you plenty of vitamins and fiber. You just need to ensure a varied diet."
"The key is to remember we're omnivorous," agrees nutritionist Christian Lee, who is the national trainer for the Dr Nicholas Perricone cosmetics and Nutrition Empire. "Have you ever noticed how women age more rapidly than men? That's because they don't eat enough protein. The days you don't eat protein are the days you age. The body can't store protein, but it needs it for cellular production and function.
"At each meal you should be able to hold up three fingers and say 'I've got a good source of protein (lean fish or poultry, nuts, seeds or tofu); an essential fatty acid ( Omega 3 or 6, so that's coldwater oily fish, flaxseeds, linseeds ) and a low glycaemic carbohydrate ( fruit, vegetables, and whole grains like quinoa, buckwheat and oatmeal )'.. If you can say that, you're on the right road."
Perricone, a dermatologist, became America's most famous anti-ageing specialist with his "Three-Day Nutritional Face Lift", which extolled the virtues of eating wild Alaskan salmon twice a day, claiming its essential fatty acids would banish puffiness and tighten the skin. Uma Thurman, Heidi Klum and J-Lo are all fans.
In his new book Ageless Face, Ageless Mind, which has yet to reach the UK, Dr Perricone's team assert that up to 40 per cent of wrinkles are caused by dietary sugar. "When you eat high glycaemic carbohydrates like bread, cakes and pasta, they turn into sugar in the blood so fast that the pancreas can't respond with enough insulin and the blood becomes saturated with sugar," argues Christian Lee. "The sugar needs to go somewhere so it attaches itself to the cell membranes.
When it does this to collagen molecules in the skin, it causes the collagen to become stiff and immobile and that's the birth of the wrinkle. The bad news is that it doesn't end there - the sugar then pumps out free radicals, causing a double whammy of damage. The good news is you can prevent it - either by cutting out sugar or by taking a supplement of alpha lipoid acid, which is 400 times stronger than vitamin C and E combined."
So ditch the sugar, but don't forget the pigs' trotters.