Who’s ready to take full advantage of the summer weather?? After a very long winter in Maine, I know I am. Long walks, kayaking, and going to the beach are a few of my favorites that I’m looking forward to. While some sun is extremely beneficial (hello, vitamin D!), most of us know that too much exposure can lead to sun damage. However, certain foods when eaten regularly during the summer months can give our skin some extra protection. Below is my list of top foods for protecting yourself from the sun, and I also included a refreshing Watermelon, Basil, & Feta Salad recipe to get in some lycopene, one of the nutrients that helps protect your skin from UV damage!
Top Foods for Sun Protection:
- Dark Chocolate: Cacao contains flavanols that act as antioxidants and help protect the skin from sun damage. But don’t just pop a Hershey’s kiss and call it good. We’re talking about the really dark stuff, like 80% or higher, to get the benefits! If you can handle really dark chocolate, I recommend Taza Wicked Dark 95% bar as well as Alter Eco Super Blackout 90% and Eating Evolved Midnight Coconut 100% But if that’s too bitter for your palate, all those brands make yummy 80% and 85% bars, too.
- Orange and Yellow Fruits and Veggies: These foods get there color thanks to the carotenoid beta-carotene, an antioxidant that is a precursor for vitamin A. Beta-carotene has been shown to increase the ability of the skin to protect itself from the sun as well contribute to overall skin health. And while many believe that cooking vegetables destroys some of the nutrient value, it’s quite the opposite for foods rich in beta-carotene – cooking them actually makes the nutrients more available to the body for absorption. Eat up your carrots, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and cantaloupe, among others.
- Leafy Greens: Leafy greens also contain a solid dose of beta-carotene; the orange/yellow pigment is just masked by the green chlorophyll. The same goes for cooking leafy greens to get the most nutrient bang for your buck. Sautéed spinach, kale, mustard greens, and collard greens are all great sources.
- Coffee and Green Tea: The polyphenols and caffeine content found in both coffee and green tea have been shown to make skin more resistant to UV damage.
- Tomatoes: The lycopene in tomatoes has been shown to provide protection against both acute and potentially longer-term aspects of sun damage. And, just like foods rich in beta-carotene, the lycopene in tomatoes becomes more available to the body when cooked.
- Watermelon: Just like tomatoes, this bright red fruit also contains a good amount of lycopene, which is perfect because who doesn’t love the taste of juicy watermelon on a hot summer day?
- Wild-Caught Salmon: Studies have shown that consuming foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild-caught salmon, can offer sun protection and may even lower the risk of skin cancer. Making sure you’re eating foods high in omega-3s is extremely important for a number of reasons relating to overall health, too. Other foods rich in omega-3s include sardines, anchovies, grass-fed meat, and walnuts.
Even though these nutrient-dense foods have been shown to boost the body’s ability to protect itself from sun damage, I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that if you eat a square of dark chocolate and have a cup of coffee, you’ll be immune. These are just some healthy food ideas to eat on a regular basis when you’re going to be out in the sun, or anytime for that matter. Other protective measures should always be taken as well, including:
-Wearing protective clothing
– Using sunscreen (check out these non-toxic varieties)
-Seeking shade before you burn
-Making getting enough sleep a priority. Studies show that when we skimp on sleep and our circadian rhythms are out of whack, our skin doesn’t recover from UV damage as well.
Watermelon, Basil & Feta Salad
- 3 cups watermelon, cubed
- 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
- Pinch of salt
- Juice from half a lime
- Place the cubed watermelon in a large bowl and pour in the lime juice. Toss to combine.
- Add one tablespoon of the crumbled feta cheese, one tablespoon of the chopped basil, and a pinch of salt to the bowl and toss to combine.
- Garnish with the other half of the crumbled feta and chopped basil. Enjoy!
Happy summer, everyone – now get out there and (safely) enjoy the nice weather!