Take a bite of sun protection this summer….what? Yes, it is true. Have you ever considered that eating plants could offer you protection from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays? Plants naturally develop skin-protective compounds to protect themselves from conditions such as UV radiation, and when we eat these plants, the nutritional compounds they provide protect us. Phytochemicals are these skin-protective plant compounds we are referring to. Phyto means plant in Greek. Some of these phytochemicals include polyphenols, carotenoids, isoflavones to name just a few. It is still important to use sun protection; however, why not reap the benefits of sun protection in addition to the abundance of additional health benefits from consuming these foods. Phytochemicals have the capability to absorb damaging UV rays which decreases likelihood of sunburn while others provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds that protect skin cells from damage that may lead to premature aging and skin cancer. Today, more than ever, promising research points to the protective benefits of consuming a variety of colorful plant foods that can protect your skin this summer. Read on!
1. Go Red
Watermelon, tomatoes and red bell pepper have been shown to decrease the skin’s sensitivity to UV light and thus reducing the likelihood and intensity of sunburn. These foods are high in the antioxidant lycopene which is responsible for the protective qualities. Cooked tomato products such as tomato sauce and stewed tomatoes offer a higher concentration of lycopene. One research study found that people who consumed a serving of tomato paste (a little over an ounce) with olive oil (about 2 teaspoons) over 10 weeks resulted in a 40 percent reduction in sunburn.
2. Bring on the Citrus
Citrus fruit, kiwi, strawberries are excellent sources of vitamin C. It is well known that vitamin C plays an integral role in maintaining skin integrity and can offer protection in reducing sunburn.
3. Give Me an E!
Vitamin E! Like vitamin C, vitamin E is essential for skin health. Sunflower seeds, almonds, vegetable oils, wheat germ and avocadoes offer a healthy dose of vitamin E. Consuming vitamin E rich foods regularly can help replenish some of the vitamin E that is lost from UV exposure. Synergize the potential protective benefits by consuming vitamin C and E rich foods together. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds atop a cup of berries or try an avocado and strawberry smoothie prepared with almond milk and a sprinkle of wheat germ.
4. Green Tea
Green tea is an excellent source of polyphenols which is a plant compound that provides protection against skin cancer. Research indicated that polyphenols protect the skin from unfavorable effects of UV radiation by stifling or reversing the process of skin cancer formation. Antioxidants called EGCG’s present in green tea help reduce damage at the cellular level when skin is exposed to UV rays. Hot drinkers were noted to have significantly lower risk of skin cancer compared to non-drinkers. Aim for two cups of hot green tea daily.
Genistein, an isoflavone and antioxidant found primarily in soybeans, shows promise in preventing sun damage. Tofu, tempeh, soy beans, soy milk, edamame are all foods you can eat to get more of soy’s sun protective properties.