Are you one of the millions of people who use sunscreen to protect your skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun?
Recent studies suggest that some of the ingredients used in these products may be harmful to us by disrupting hormone function or causing sunscreen-related skin allergies.1
But did you know there is another way to protect your skin? You can do this by choosing foods that naturally protect your skin cells. That’s right, some foods have the power to guard your skin from the damage caused by the sun's UV rays.
Let’s take a quick look at what happens to our skin when it is exposed to UV light and then we can talk more about these skin-saving, and anti-aging, foods.
The sun’s rays can do more than just give us a very painful sunburn. Permanent sun damage can result in premature aging by breaking down the elasticity of the skin resulting in sagging, thinning skin. Prolonged sun exposure is the main cause of premature wrinkles and can produce permanent dark spots, affectionately known as age spots. The skin also bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to heal.
Worse yet, damaging UV light rays can alter the structure of our skin cells, causing uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that can result in pre-cancerous or cancerous skin lesions. Melanoma, the most serious form of these cancers, can be deadly if not caught in the early stages. Left untreated, melanoma can spread to other organs and is difficult to control. 2
Although this prognosis may sound dire, there are ways of protecting our skin that can add years to our lives. According to WebMD, a “woman at age 40 who has protected her skin from the sun actually has the skin of a 30-year-old!” 3
It’s no surprise then, that over the years, there has been a proliferation of sunscreen products in the market place. These products effectively prevent the UV rays from penetrating the skin by either physically blocking or deflecting them using minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, or by using chemicals that absorb the UV rays before they reach the skin.
Recent studies suggest though that some of the ingredients used in these products may actually be harmful to us by disrupting hormone function or causing sunscreen-related skin allergies.
That’s where eating healthy, sun-protective foods come in.
And while you should continue to use a high-quality sunscreen, the proper foods can give your body and skin the additional protection and sun-blocking support they need by supplying “inner protection” against sunburn, premature aging, and cancer.
Many of these “sun protection” foods are plants, which is not surprising, since their ability to protect us from the sun comes from the special phytochemicals they produce that protect them from pests and other diseases.
You may have heard of these chemicals referred to as vitamins or maybe anti-oxidants.
Our bodies can’t manufacture these beneficial compounds. We therefore have to rely on our diet to obtain them from the foods we eat. These phytochemicals are then incorporated into our cells and provide us protection, in this case, from the sun.
So let’s take a look at a few of Mother Nature’s natural sunscreen foods.
Carrots are packed with carotenoids, the anti-oxidant that gives them their distinctive orange color.
Carotenoids also lend color to any other red, yellow, or orange fruit or vegetable, so feel free to get some variety! Not only do carotenoids boost the skin’s natural protection from the sun, but they also protect our vision and help prevent macular degeneration. And since carotenoids express themselves with color, the more intensely orange they are, the more anti-oxidant power they supply!
Sweet potatoes are also an excellent source of beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes have so many good-for-you compounds that I could have listed it separately, but I wanted to keep the list to ten! In addition to beta-carotene, they contain vitamin C, another powerful antioxidant. They are also high in magnesium and other compounds which promote the synthesis of hyaluronic acid (HA). Hyaluronic acid is a protein and natural hydrator of the body. It helps keep the skin smooth and supple, but we produce less of this important anti-wrinkle substance as we age.
Strawberries not only work to protect us from the sun’s damage, but can also help treat sunburn once it occurs.
Like sweet potatoes, strawberries contain high amounts of vitamin C that help neutralize the free radicals that are produced when your skin gets too much sun. These free radicals can cause changes to healthy skin cells that that can eventually lead to the formation of cancer.
But strawberries can come to your rescue if you are already suffering from sunburn. They contain tannins that help reduce the pain. Tannins have an anti-inflammatory action that helps soothe and heal the burn. Just rub some mashed strawberries onto the affected area for quick relief. Rinse off with cool water after a few minutes.
By the way, another excellent source of tannins is black tea. Soothe your burn by applying a cloth soaked in cooled black tea. For maximum benefit, allow the tea to sit on the skin before washing off.
Another powerful anti-oxidant identified by its color is lycopene. In this case the color is red.
Tomatoes are an excellent source of lycopene, which works to neutralize free radicals that damage the skin (much like carotinoids.) It is interesting to note the body absorbs lycopene more readily when tomatoes are cooked. It is also more bioavailable if it is consumed with beta-carotene (a form of carotenoid), which is also found in tomatoes! Tomato sauce and paste are excellent sources of this natural sun protection.
Red bell peppers are also a rich source of lycopene, beta-carotene, and Vitamin C, and have similar healing properties.
Spinach, as well as other dark green leafy veggies such as Romaine lettuce, kale and Swiss chard, are excellent sources of the anti-oxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.
In addition to protecting the eyes, these phytochemicals can be found in skin cells. Lutein, in particular, helps filter out high-energy wavelengths of visible light, which slows down the formation of damaging free radicals. 4
Red grapes can be a sweet addition to any summer fruit salad, but they also offer great skin protection due to the polyphenol (a type of anti-oxidant) known as resveratrol that they contain.
Resveratrol has been touted as an “anti-aging” compound because of its ability to reduce skin inflammation and prevent cell damage. Studies show it also plays a strong role in the prevention of degenerative diseases, particularly cardiovascular diseases and cancers. 5
I mentioned black tea with its anti-inflammatory tannins earlier, but green tea protects us from sun damage using another health-promoting compound, an anti-oxidant known as EGCG (a type of catechin.)
In one study conducted at the University of Wisconsin, EGCG was shown to stop genetic damage done to skin cells exposed to UV light. It also has demonstrated cancer-fighting properties. Another study found in the Journal of Radiation Research, showed that ECGC might be "used as a cosmetic ingredient with positive effects on skin hydration, moisture retention, and wrinkle formation, in addition to radical scavenging activity and reduction of melanin generation.
Here’s a food that isn’t plant-based, and protects us for reasons other than phytochemicals. But it still helps fight the damage caused by oxidation and free radicals.
Salmon is rich in a good-for-you fat, Omega 3 fatty acid. While you may already be familiar with the benefits of omega-3’s for reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, this essential fatty acid is also great protection from the harmful rays of the sun. When we consume this fat as part of a healthy diet, it is deposited into our skin cells, among other cells of the body. Higher fat concentrations allow our skin to be exposed to longer periods of the sun’s rays without burning. 6
Omega-3’s also appear to protect the skin from early markers for DNA-damage that can lead to skin cancer.
Other seafoods rich in Omega-3’s include mackerel, sardines, and mussels.
Need more reasons to eat salmon? It contains a health dose of protein, a building block of healthy skin.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids are not only found in animal foods; a different form can be found in plants as well. One excellent source is walnuts. More plant-based sources of this healthy fat, it can be found in spinach, red peppers, and flax seeds.
Almonds make the list because of the high levels of Vitamin E they contain.
Vitamin E protects and repairs the skin from sunlight damage. A quarter cup of almonds contain almost half the daily requirement of Vitamin E we need. Other great sources of Vitamin E include sunflower seeds, spinach, and avocados.
But almonds also contain quercetin, a powerful anti-oxidant, which has been shown to protect against UV damage and the breakdown of collagen, another building block of healthy skin that keeps it elastic and prevents wrinkles and sagging.
Contrary to popular belief, watermelon is more than a sweet, juicy summer treat!
Relatively speaking the sugar levels of watermelon are fairly modest compared to other fruits. And natural sugars do not cause the same inflammatory response in the body caused by added refined sweeteners because they are bound up with fiber which helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
In addition to keeping us hydrated on hot summer days, watermelon is also high in lycopene, the same anti-oxidant found in tomatoes but in higher concentrations!
Now that you know how these foods work to keep our skin healthy and young-looking, here are a couple of recipes to help you incorporate them into your diet!
Looking forward to hearing from you. If you have any recipes to share, please send them on to me and I will publish them in our next newsletter!
Yours in Health,
Grilled Salmon and Avocado Salsa
Now that it’s finally warm out, I love to grill. It’s a great way to add extra flavor to your favorite fish, poultry or meat. I pick up wild fish and fresh corn from my local farmers market. Grilling a delicious salmon is easy and the perfect summer-time meal when paired with avocado salsa!
Grilling the Salmon
2 lbs Wild Salmon, cut into 4 pieces
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground garlic powder
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
- In a small bowl mix the spices together – salt, coriander, onion, paprika, garlic, and black pepper.
- Check salmon filets for any small bones, then pat dry and rub spice mixture on each salmon filet
- Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate for 30 minutes.
- Pre-heat the grill to medium high.
- Grill salmon to desired tenderness (a one-inch piece will cook in 6-10 minutes). Flip half-way through the cooking time.
2 large ears, fresh yellow corn (preferably on-GMO from your local farmer’s market)
2 avocados, peeled, pitted and cubed
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 red onion, finely diced
1 Tbsp minced garlic
Juice from 2 limes
2 Tbsp olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
2 tsp sea salt
Pinch of cayenne (if desired)
- Refrigerate until salmon is ready to serve.
- Combine tomato, onion, corn, lime juice, garlic, olive oil, and salt to a bowl.
- Stir in avocado and cilantro, add cayenne if desired.
- Add to the top of the salmon once grilled, serve and enjoy!
Watermelon and Tomato Gazpacho...or Cocktail!
|Get Recipe Here!|