Can food prevent sun damage?
by Grace McCalmon
As summer draws to a close, the beach umbrellas are packed away, the mosquito bites begin to fade, and, for many, the sunscreen gets relegated to the back of the bathroom closet.
But research shows that most UV damage occurs under “non-vacation conditions” – meaning every other day when we’re not slathered with sunscreen. This makes sense when you consider the fact that UVA radiation can penetrate glass – so when you’re inside or driving your car, you’re still soaking up these rays.
If we’re not protecting ourselves from the outside, the only defense our skin has is from inside.
The good news is that there are several nutrients that have been proven to help protect against UV damage. And they just so happen to taste amazing.
VITAMINS C & E
UVA rays cause free radicals to form. These molecules damage DNA and attack the skin’s structural layer, leading to wrinkles, dryness, and other damaging skin conditions. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals. The antioxidant vitamins C and E, in particular, have been shown to be protective against UV damage, and they’re most effective when eaten together.
Whole food sources of vitamin E include spinach, avocado, turnip greens, chard, sunflower seeds, almonds, bell peppers, asparagus, collards, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. It’s important to eat these foods with plenty of fat to boost the absorption of vitamin E, which is a fat-soluble vitamin.
Vitamin C is high in citrus fruits, papaya, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, bell peppers, and strawberries. Heat easily destroys this vitamin, so try and eat these foods either raw or very lightly cooked.
RECIPE IDEA: Try the delicious Blood Orange, Fennel and Avocado Salad with Lemon Citronette, from Cookie & Kate
Astaxanthin is the pigment that gives salmon and shrimp their pink-red color. It’s also one of the world’s most powerful antioxidants that protects against UVA rays. Proteins that are high in astaxanthin include sockeye salmon, red trout, red seabream, lobster, shrimp, crawfish, crabs, and salmon roe.
This antioxidant is abundant in tomatoes and has been shown to help reduce sunburn by up to 40%. Unlike many antioxidants that are damaged by heat, lycopene content increases when cooked. All the more reason to dig into some pasta this summer!
RECIPE IDEA: Try sautéing cherry tomatoes in olive oil with fresh, chopped garlic and a few basil leaves. Serve over pasta or grilled chicken. Add some broccoli for extra vitamin E.
When we get sunburned, UVB rays cause inflammatory markers to be released. This is what makes our skin red. The omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil are powerful anti-inflammatories, and research shows that a diet rich in fish oil does help protect against UVA and UVB damage.
The best ways to get this kind of anti-inflammatory fat into your diet is from certain kinds of sea algae and fatty, cold-water fish including salmon, sardines, and mackerel. If you don’t like fish, you can supplement with a high-quality omega 3 fish oil like the kind in our gummies.
This saturated fat has been all the rage lately. People are using it for everything from frying potato chips, to removing stubborn eye makeup and improving oral hygiene. Some research in animals shows that saturated fat may also help protect against serious skin damage. In addition to internal protection, coconut oil also has a natural SPF of about 8.
RECIPE IDEA: Since coconut oil is nearly 100% saturated, it is highly heat-stable, making it ideal for cooking at high temperatures, like pan-frying.
LIFESTYLE TIP: You can use coconut oil as a natural, non-toxic body and face moisturizer. And since it’s anti-bacterial, it can help fight the microbes that cause skin breakouts – both inside and out.
From weight loss to enhanced brain function, it seems this beverage helps with almost everything, including sun damage. Several studies in animals have found the ancient brew to be protective against UV damage. Others show it can improve skin elasticity, which has the potential to prevent skin sagging and wrinkling.
RECIPE IDEA: Whether you make it hot or cold, the health benefits of green tea are the same. For a less bitter, less caffeinated tea (that’s a lot more refreshing), brew your green tea cold. Just leave your tea bags to soak in cold water for two hours. Add some fresh berries, lemon slices, or mint sprigs to give it a little extra flavor.
In yet another show of her infinite wisdom, Mother Nature has made it so that vitamin D – which we get from exposing our skin to sunlight – may also help protect us from sun damage.
The most natural way to make vitamin D is to leave off the sunscreen and expose your skin to UVB light, but this can be tricky to gauge. The amount of vitamin D you make depends on your skin tone, the time of day, the time of year, and where you live. If you want to avoid the confusion, and the inevitable skin damage, you can keep your sunscreen and supplement. Just make sure it’s vitamin D3 – this is the kind our bodies make (and the kind we use in our gummies!)
FOODS TO AVOID
It probably goes without saying, but if anti-inflammatory, antioxidant foods are the ones to eat, then pro-inflammatory foods are the ones to avoid. These include processed foods; vegetable oils like soy, sunflower, corn, canola, cottonseed, and safflower oil, and refined sugar.
KEEP THE SUNSCREEN ON HAND
Just because these foods have some potentially sun-shielding properties, doesn’t mean you can roast yourself like a Christmas turkey. The smartest skin-saving strategy is to incorporate these and other anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant foods (think: fish, fruits, and veggies) into your diet and use a mineral sunscreen like those recommended by the EWG. If you’re going to be in the sun for longer than an hour, make sure you’ve got coverage for your face, neck, and torso, which are your skin’s most sensitive areas. Lastly, enjoy all the time you can outdoors, but, whenever possible, seek out the shade.
Know someone who likes to get their New Jersey bronze on? Share this with them!
Are you a sun worshipper or do you burn like a lobster? Let us know how you do your sun salutations in the comments below!
Posted on August 12, 2015
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Grace is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a graduate of Duke University. She received her nutrition certification from the Nutritional Therapy Association, and her training is based on the work of Dr. Weston A Price, as well as the latest peer-reviewed, scientific research.