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Sunscreen on Your Plate

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There are ways to protect your skin without spending all of your time hiding in your air-conditioned house. Nothing says "alive to me quite like the kiss of the warm sunshine on my winter-weary skin.

There are ways to protect your skin without spending all of your time hiding in your air-conditioned house. Nothing says “alive” to me quite like the kiss of the warm sunshine on my winter-weary skin. Like many Canadians, I can’t believe that there could ever be too many sunny days, or too much sun.

Unfortunately, we can get too much of a good thing. Overexposure has consequences, including sunburn, skin conditions, and diseases like cancer, as well as prematurely aging and wrinkles. But there are ways to protect your skin without spending all of your time hiding in your air-conditioned house. Research shows that antioxidants found in our food can help to protect us against sun damage.

Antioxidants help our skin to remain strong and healthy by fighting the free radicals that cause so much damage - including sun damage. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of the sun-protective nutrients are the same ones that help build healthy skin in the first place. Selenium, for example, is an essential skin nutrient. Recent studies show that a deficiency in selenium hampers the skin’s ability to prevent damage from UVA rays.

Beta-carotene has been used for more than thirty years for treatment of various photosensitivity disorders. Studies have now proven that beta-carotene can prevent damage as well. Other research indicates that the dietary combination of vitamins E and C along with carotenoids, selenium, and proanthocyanidins prevent sunburn as well as subsequent chronic skin damage. Lycopene and lutein are also good skin protectors. In one study, a group who ate lycopene-rich tomato paste for 10 weeks experienced less sunburn than the group who did not eat the tomato paste. Find your lutein in dark green, leafy vegetables as spinach and kale. EFAs in the form of fish oil can also help to prevent sun damage.

Flavonoids are responsible for the pigments found in plants, and the flavonoid quercetin provides excellent protection against UV light. Look for quercetin in apples, black tea, grapefruit, and onions. Researchers in Russia studied the effect of ingesting the dark pigments from grapes and black tea and found that the pigments also intensively absorbed UV light. And speaking of tea, the polyphenols in green tea have proven to have substantial benefits, including the ability to protect us from the sun.

Foods to Avoid

Some foods contain chemicals known as psoralens, which can exaggerate the effects of sunburn. Avoid citrus fruits, figs, lichens, as well as some wild herbs and plants including buttercup, celery, fennel, and dill before heading outdoors. Medications can also cause sun sensitivities, so be cautious when taking antibiotics, arthritis medications, diuretics, and antihistamines.

Food for Thought

Australian research suggests that a low-fat Mediterranean-style diet might help minimize skin damage and wrinkling. Researchers observed that the subjects who ate the most vegetables, legumes, fish, olive oil, and low-fat dairy had the fewest skin wrinkles. Aren’t we lucky that with the summer sunshine comes the fresh fruits and vegetables that we need to protect our skin?

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