By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
It’s summertime, and I don’t know about you, but I love to get some sun. But with the rate of skin cancer out there, I usually spending most of my time in the shade, covered with sunblock. But then there’s the conversation about sunblocks and how some are better than others—so what to do? What if I told you that the food you’re eating can also help to protect your skin from sun damage? Yep, that’s right: What you put in your mouth can also influence how your body fights damage from the sun. And what’s more, the foods that are photo-protective are also super good for you too.
Many different plants contain nutrients that can help to repair damage that’s caused to our skin by the UV rays that the sun gives off, and some of them also help to prevent various forms of skin cancer and sun damage as well. This summer, in addition to wearing your sunblock, try including these eight foods, which will help keep your skin healthy and safe in the hot summer sun, in your diet.
Both plant- and animal-based foods like fatty fish, chia seeds and walnuts are rich in omega 3 fatty acids that contain anti-inflammatory properties that can help to repair damage done by the sun and may even protect against certain types of skin cancer (fatty fish in particular).
Tomatoes are seasonal to summer, and may also help to protect the skin from damage from the sun. Researchers found that women who had tomato paste every day for three months were more protected against sunburn than those who didn’t; this is because tomatoes (particularly cooked or stewed like in the case of ketchup or tomato paste) contain lycopene which may offer long-term protection against UV radiation and sunburn. Try this roasted tomato recipe.
Carrots often get a bad wrap, but in fact they make for a great snack or addition to any meal and may also help to protect against sun damage. For example, researchers found that those who consumed 30 mg of beta carotene daily for three months experienced more protection from sun damage. Try this watermelon carrot juice recipe.
Sweet potatoes are another favorite because they’re tasty, and they’re also good for protecting your skin from damage from the sun. Sweet potatoes are a good source of beta carotene that may help to protect the skin from sun damage. Additionally, sweet potatoes are also a source of ellagic acid, a nutrient that can prevent tumor growth. Try these easy sweet potato and carrot “fries.”
Dark green leafy vegetables like chard, collards, kale and spinach are delicious and light summer veggies that are plentiful and also rich in beta carotene (even though they’re not orange!) and polyphenols. These both act as antioxidants, helping to repair damage from the sun. As well, beta carotene has been found to help prevent sun damage on its own. The darker the green leafy vegetable the more nutrients it contains—so pick the ones deepest in color for the most nutritional benefit. Try this spinach lemonade juice.
Bell peppers are another warm weather favorite (although they’re delicious all year long!) because they can be used in salads, as snacks and in your favorite cooking dishes. Not only are they tasty, but they’re also a source of beta carotene (especially the red, yellow and orange ones). Bell peppers are also hydrating due to their water content—so enjoy them in the heat to help keep you cool and energized.
Watermelon is a fresh and seasonal summer fruit that’s loaded with heart-healthy magnesium and is also hydrating. On top of this, watermelon is also a source of lycopene, a nutrient that can help to protect the skin from sun damage. Unlike tomatoes, which need to be cooked for the lycopene to be absorbable, we can actually absorb watermelon’s lycopene in the raw form. Try this hummus and watermelon recipe.
Not just any chocolate, but a minimally processed, 70-80% dark chocolate, is a source of flavonoids that may help to protect the skin from sun damage. Try nibbling on very dark chocolate for the best benefit or add cacao powder to a smoothie or recipe. Try this chocolate peach smoothie.