Nothing connotes summer quite like biting into a slice of sweet and juicy watermelon. What you may not realize is that eating watermelon can also help protect your skin from sun damage.
As the temperatures rise and the call of the great outdoors beckons, you may be thinking it’s also time to stock up on sunblock. However, there are other things you can do to help prevent getting burned aside from just slathering on the sunscreen.
Many foods, like watermelon, contain ingredients that have sun-fighting potential and can naturally help protect your skin from harmful rays. They also offer your entire body protection from the sun instead of just areas where topical sunscreen is applied. Plus, they have many other health benefits too!
What to eat: Tomatoes, tomato-based sauces and paste, watermelon, pink grapefruit, papaya, wolfberry and goji.
What it does: Lycopene is the naturally-occurring carotenoid, a pigment responsible for giving plants hues in the orange-red-brown range.
Studies have shown that lycopene, found in tomatoes and watermelon, can help protect humans from sun damage. A study published in 2011, on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website found that tomato paste containing lycopene provides protection against acute and potentially long-term aspects of photodamage.
On an episode of “The Dr. Oz” show that aired in May 2012, Dr. Oz recommended eating several tomatoes or taking 16 mg lycopene a day through supplements for sun protection because lycopene boosts the body’s ability to protect its skin by 33 percent. It also prevents changes to your skin that could be damaging during the summer months.
Tips: Eating raw tomatoes provides a lower amount of lycopene than eating cooked tomatoes such as tomato paste, according to smartskincare.com. To get the recommended about of lycopene you would need to eat about 3.5 ounces of tomato paste a day. Lycopene can also be applied topically when purchased as a skin care product. The only downside is that it may give your skin an orange-red tint.
What to eat: Wild salmon.
What it does: Astaxanthin (pronounced “asta-ZAN-thin”) is a super-antioxidant produced by the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis as a defense mechanism against ultraviolet radiation when its water supply dries up. Currently, this source is known as having the highest levels of astaxanthin in nature. It’s also found in salmon, trout, krill, shrimp, lobster and in the feathers of pink flamingos.
Astaxanthin is a carotenoid like lycopene. Carotenoids are critical to the photosynthetic process and protect a plant or organism from damage by light and oxygen. Astaxanthin is the most commonly occurring pigment in marine and aquatic animals and is what gives marine and wild animals, like salmon and pink flamingos, their color. Science theorizes it’s also what gives salmon the strength to swim up rivers and waterfalls.
Studies have found that people can reap the benefits of this super-antioxidant too. There have been many health benefits linked to astaxanthin including helping to reduce damage caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Along with being an “internal sunscreen,” studies have also found that astaxanthin can help improve the appearance of your skin by helping to reduce the appearance of fine lines, freckles and under-eye puffiness and increase skin tone, elasticity and moisture.
Astaxanthin is the most powerful carotenoid antioxidant when it comes to scavenging for free radicals. It also crosses the blood-brain barrier and the blood-retinal barrier and brings antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection to your eyes, brain and central nervous system. It’s also a potent UVB absorber and reduces DNA damage.
Tips: To get the best form of astaxanthin in fish, Dr. Mercola recommends eating salmon labeled “wild” or “naturally colored,” as natural astaxanthin is 20 times stronger than the synthetic version.
3. Vitamin D
What to eat: Shiitake mushrooms, salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, fortified cereals and eggs.
What it does: Your body creates vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun. Ironically, studies have shown that vitamin D can also help boost your tolerance to the sun.
A study published in 2011 on the NCBI website found that not only is vitamin D an effective inhibitor of UV damage, but it also inhibited skin tumor development.
Other studies have supported that getting the appropriate sun exposure can actually help prevent skin cancer.
In 2008, an Italian study found that outdoor work and intermittent sun exposure was inversely associated with the risk of death from melanoma. The study confirmed that sun exposure prior to the diagnosis of melanoma is associated with improved survival.
Tips: Vitamin D has also been linked to many other health benefits. Vitamin D can be taken as a supplement. If you take it as a supplement the natural form of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is far superior than the synthetic D2.
4. Fish Oil (Omega-3 fatty acids )
What to eat: Salmon, sardines, flaxseed, walnuts, scallop and shrimp.
What it does: Along with its many other health benefits, fish oil may also help protect you from the sun. A recent study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” in February 2013 reported that people who took a regular dose of a fish oil supplement that contained omega-3′s experienced a boosted immunity to sunlight and a reduced sunlight-induced suppression of the immune system, known as immunosuppression. This affects the body’s ability to fight cancer and infection. That’s no fish story.
Tips: For the best nutrition wild caught salmon is recommended over farm-raised fish. A new genetically-modified (GM) salmon (AquAdvantage Salmon) is nearing approval from the FDA. Many people believe that GM products are not adequately tested and may pose potential health threats.
5. Beta Carotene
What to eat: Carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, spinach, turnip greens and butternut squash.
What it does: Beta-carotene is a type of pigment found in plants like carrots, sweet potatoes and other colorful vegetables. It gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A is needed for good vision, eye health, immune system and healthy skin and mucus membranes.
Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant and helps protect the body from the harmful effects of free radicals on various tissues including your skin.
A German study published in 2008, in the “Photochemistry and Photobiology,” found that beta-carotene supplements help protect skin against damage from sunlight. The report included seven studies on the effectiveness of beta-carotene supplementation against sun damage. It found that while beta-carotene may be an effective method for protection against sun damage it took a minimum of 10 weeks before the protection was clinically significant. The report suggested that beta-carotene could be used in conjunction with sunscreen as a method to protect the entire body from the sun whereas sunscreens only protect the area of skin to which they are applied.
Tips: Dried herbs can also be a good source of beta-carotene. Dried basil provides the most beta-carotene followed by dried parsley, marjoram, dried oregano, ground sage and dried coriander
The next time you’re out shopping for sunscreen, make a stop down the produce aisle and seafood section of your local grocery store. By adding more fruits, vegetables and fish to your diet you can help protect your skin from the sun and boost your overall nutrition.