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Nutritional Sunscreen: Foods That Protect Against UV Radiation

4 min read

It’s summer, and summer in Texas is HOT. It’s the time of year when the sun is at its peak and has greater potential than any other time of the year for damaging the skin. Although sunlight is important, and you need to receive sun exposure every day for a few minutes for vitamin D production, prolonged sun exposure can be damaging to your skin and your body. On top of that, most commercial sunscreen is typically infused with chemicals that have carcinogenic potential.

Did you know that your diet can actually protect you from sun overexposure? Certain nutrients act as internal sunscreens that fight free radical production. Exciting new research reveals just one of the many ways nutrition can protect you from aging and dis-ease.

The Trouble with Conventional Sunscreen

Many sunscreens on the market today mainly protect against UVB rays, which are the “burning” rays. These rays cause burning on the surface of the skin. UVA rays are much longer in length and can penetrate the skin more deeply, causing skin damage and aging as well as harming the cells in the body at a much higher rate than UVB. Also, many sunscreens contain retinol, a vitamin A derivative, and when exposed to sunlight may become carcinogenic. Just think: wearing sunscreen to prevent cancer may actually contribute to cancer risk!

Natural Sunscreen Alternatives

While there are safer sunscreens on the market, nutritional approaches may also prevent sunburn and sun damage. Let’s look into some of the foods you can eat to protect your skin from the sun.

Spinach and Sunflower Seeds

These two nutrient-dense foods are high in vitamin E as well as selenium, two nutrients that have been shown to protect skin cells against UV rays. Vitamin E and selenium have also been shown to contain high antioxidant values, making them important for protecting against the free radicals that are produced through excessive sun exposure. These two foods may help your skin maintain its vitality while also protecting against early skin aging. Almonds are also an excellent source of vitamin E.

Spinach is also high in vitamin A lutein and zeaxanthin, two wonderful nutrients for both your eyes and skin. Vitamin A retinol, which is the best form of vitamin A for your eyes, is found in high amounts in raw animal products, like egg yolk, full-fat dairy, and certain types of organ meats. I usually receive this form through the consumption of egg yolks, personally.

Lemons and Oranges

Lemons are versatile fruits that are high in vitamin C and low in sugar. Oranges are also high in vitamin C, but have a higher sugar content, so it is best to eat in moderation. Vitamin C, however, is a potent antioxidant that may prevent sunburn and help reverse the effects of sun damage on (and within) the skin.

Vitamin C is a collagen-building vitamin, making it an important nutrient to consume if you are wishing to age gracefully. It keeps your skin young and fresh looking, especially if you are receiving the vitamin from a raw, unprocessed, natural source. Vitamin C supplements are great but should not take the place of a healthy diet.

Tomatoes and Olive Oil

Load up on your tomatoes before, during, and after spending some time out in the sun. According to a study by Stahl et al, one group of subjects consumed 10 grams of olive oil and 40 grams of tomato paste for ten weeks. The other group of subjects (the control group) did not consume these foods. During the 10 weeks, each subject from both groups were exposed to a sunlamp to see how the skin reacted after a period of time.

Those consuming olive oil and tomato paste saw 35% less reddening of the skin than the control group. The polyphenols in the olive oil and the lycopene in the tomato paste must play a role in the reduced reddening in the skin, therefore protecting against the sun. Although you can still get a sunburn, it will be less damaging than if you weren’t eating a healthy diet.

What About the Vitamin D?

Sunlight is important for helping our bodies produce vitamin D. This vitamin regulates blood sugar, blood pressure, sleep, mood, weight, protects against certain forms of cancer, and improves memory and concentration. There are a hundred reasons why we need this essential vitamin. That being said, I would never recommend never going out in the sun.

Overexposure, meaning more than half an hour during the spring and summer months without protection, is certainly damaging. Not only does it age the skin, it ages the body on a cellular level by producing oxidative stress. Be smart and load up on a green smoothie or a spinach salad with perhaps some orange or lemon wedges and sunflower seeds before you go outside. Make sure your diet is also healthy afterwards, too, to help reverse any damage.

The Take Home

Loading up on your favorite healthy foods isn’t a substitute for proper sun exposure and protection, but it sure goes a long way in providing some extra protection. So, get some sun, but do it safely! 🙂 Protecting your skin on your face may be the most important, as that skin is much thinner than anywhere on the body. Wearing a hat will also help in keeping your face looking young and beautiful this summer and beyond.

It’s really, really hot right now here. So hot, that I believe it is already in the 100’s+! I’m drinking plenty of green smoothies and also taking cold showers (Katharine Hepburn says cold showers “build character”). I am not baking as much since it is so hot, so I’m looking forward to sharing with you some easy no-bake, no-cook recipes pretty soon. 🙂

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