What foods can we add to summer meals to protect our skin from the inside? How do we boost the hormones that protect us against melanoma and the inflammatory effects of over-exposure to the sun?
First of all to be clear, we do need some exposure to the sun to produce vitamin D. What we do not need is sun damage. How much exposure we individually benefit from depends on our skin type. With most of your skin exposed to the sun, e.g. in a bathing suit, for half an hour you can expect to increase your vitamin D levels by this much:
- 50,000 international units (IUs) for light skin
- 20,000 to 30,000 IUs for tan skin
- 8,000 to 10,000 IUs for dark skin
Exposure to a moderate amount of sunlight has cancer preventive benefits for certain types: colon cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, and prostate cancer. Some sunlight may even help to treat psoriasis, eczema, jaundice, and acne.
Another advantage, exposure to sunlight allows our brain to release a hormone called serotonin. Serotonin helps boost our mood and helps us feel calm and focused.
Unfortunately, too many hours of fun under the UV sun rays damage skin cells by releasing free radicals. These free radicals have the potential to alter your DNA and the result could be skin cancer. Skin experts recommend wearing a toxin-free sunblock especially between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. An additional way to ensure skin health is to frequently feed your body good quality food very high in antioxidants to neutralize these free radicals and help protect against premature aging and skin cancer.
Here are some foods to alternate in salads, stir frys, sandwiches, and summery desserts to help keep skin healthy and youthful.
Tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, pink grapefruit, persimmons, and red cabbage contain lycopene which helps protect against sunburn. It’s also a collagen booster to help delay wrinkles.
Spinach, kale and other dark green leafy vegetables are packed with folic acid, vitamins A, C and E, and lutein that boost the skin’s natural defense against UV-ray damage. Peas, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, broccoli are also sources of these important nutrients.
Green, black, and white teas all contain types of antioxidants which protect against sunburn, prevent wrinkles, and help to reduce the risk of skin cancer . The ECGC in green tea fights inflammation and improves skin elasticity. Black tea improves our dermis with it’s quercetin.
The beta-carotene in sweet potatoes, spinach, kale, collard greens and yellow and orange colored veggies is another natural sun block. Some of these foods also contain vitamin C, selenium, and copper to boost collagen production and keep skin firm.
Vitamin E, an antioxidant found in nuts, seeds, and avocados, is a powerful defender against sun damage.
The peel of lemons and oranges is rich in an ingredient called limonene that’s linked to reduced risk of squamous cell skin cancers.
The flavonols in dark chocolate are powerful antioxidants that boost hydration and blood flow to skin tissues which decreases incidence of sun damage. But remember, the benefits only come from dark chocolate — the kind with at least 70 percent cacao.
Melatonin, both a hormone and powerful antioxidant, provides natural sun protection by helping to suppress UV damage to skin cells. Foods with melatonin are bananas, pineapple, rice, oats, cherries, and oranges.
Healthy fats, like the omega-3s found in salmon, flax seed, olive oil, and nuts, will help hydrate and plump up our skin.
Astaxanthin is a powerful carotenoid found in microalgae, wild salmon, shellfish, and krill. It is known for several antioxidant benefits including UV-radiation protection.
Most of our vitamin D is formed through exposure to the sun. One form of vitamin D is converted into a hormone that regulates calcium and phosphorous levels to ensure the growth of healthy bone. That’s why it’s important to find a healthy balance between getting enough natural sunlight to maximize your vitamin D production and maintain your optimal health, while at the same time protecting yourself from sun damage that occurs from overexposure. There are only a few food sources of vitamin D, fatty fish, fish liver oil, eggs, certain mushrooms, and fortified foods. Many of us have found that we are deficient in this vitamin and have been prescribed a supplement.
So the best way to use these sun protective foods is to include a few of them in your meal planning each day. For instance, banana and sunflower butter overnight oats with green tea for breakfast, a watermelon, feta, and cherry tomato salad for lunch, wild salmon with grated lemon peel as a dinner protein, and for dessert a few dark chocolate-covered almonds. Keeping your skin healthy this summer actually sounds delicious now doesn’t it ?!