While growing up, who remembers hearing, “Eat a piece of fruit instead of eating candy,” or “You have to eat your vegetables before you can have dessert?” Once, my father made me sit at the dinner table until I finished my peas. We laugh about it now, but back then it was torture. I’m sure you all can relate. Our parents reasoned that it would help us develop strong, healthy bodies. Little did they know that it would also contribute to guarding our skin against the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun.
Eat for Sun Protection
The first line of defense for protecting your skin from photodamage (sun damage) begins on the inside. Eating foods rich in phytonutrients (plant-derived compounds) have positive health effects on your skin.
Foods that have phytonutrients provide continual whole body UV protection. Clinical studies show them to be effective photoprotectants.1 Phytonutrients perform this task through their antioxidant properties. They protect you from free radical damage, which happens during sunburn.
The phytonutrient heroes are: vitamin E, flavonoids, carotenoids (gives plants their bright color and protects them from sun-induced free radical damage), beta-carotene, lycopene, and lutein. Let’s take a closer look at some of these foods.
- Berries - they are packed with antioxidants to fight free radicals.
- Beta-carotene found in carrots and red bell peppers - is converted to vitamin A in the body, which shields you from sunburn. It’s effective after consuming them for 10 weeks.
- Citrus fruits and strawberries - are high in vitamin C, which reduces your potential for sunburn when taken with vitamin E and they’re antioxidant-rich.
- Dark chocolate – do I really need to give you an excuse to eat chocolate? The antioxidant, flavonoid, is anti-inflammatory and prevents sun damage.
- Dark leafy greens like collards, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and spinach – have an abundance of antioxidants, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin, which helps counter damage from UV rays. They also prevent wrinkles and provide skin cancer protection.
- Grapes – the phytochemical, polyphenol, inhibits skin cancer.
- Green tea – the antioxidant polyphenol, EGCG, has anticancer mechanisms that inhibit cancer cell growth.2
- Lycopene found in tomatoes and watermelons – protect you from sunburn.
- Nuts and seeds like almonds, flax, and walnuts – contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help heal sunburn, vitamin E, which protects and repairs skin from sunlight and fights skin cancer.
- Pomegranate – is antioxidant-rich, which fights free radicals.
- Salmon – full of omega-3 fatty acids, which help heal sunburn.
- Turmeric – antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, helps protect the outermost layer of your skin from UVB rays.
So the next time you’re out in the sun and don’t succumb to sunburn, it may be more than just a good sunblock. Ponder this Mark Twain quote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Thanks Dad for making me eat those peas.