Have you ever thought about eating your sunscreen? I don’t mean snacking on the tube of dubious chemicals with the sky-high SPF by the way. What I mean is actually eating foods that can offer sun protection from within.
Have you ever thought about eating your sunscreen? I don’t mean snacking on the tube of dubious chemicals with the sky-high SPF, by the way. What I mean is actually eating foods that can offer sun protection from within. Years ago, I had a friend who would go surfing with only a handful of almonds and half a paw paw as his go-to sunscreen. Despite spending hours in the water exposed to the hot sun, he never got burnt. And did I mention he was also a vegan?
Recently I had cause to ponder this idea of internal sun protection after I had finished a two month raw food detox program. I found myself out (on holiday) in the sun with no sunscreen. I don’t like the stuff much so my policy is to get into the sun for some vitamin D but as soon as I start to feel uncomfortable, get out. That normally doesn’t take very long but this time was different. The sun was strong, I was almost bare, I lingered longer and lo and behold, I did not burn. I just went a healthy pink which deepened to a light tan. I had to ask myself – was it something I ate?
Plants don’t wear sunscreen
Plants don’t wear sunscreen but they spend an awful lot of time out in the sun. It turns out that they produce all sorts of goodies to both harvest light and protect themselves from UV radiation at the same time. It’s a beautiful balancing act and luckily for us, when we eat an abundance of plants, we get the same benefits.
Plants contain thousands of phytonutrients, including polyphenols, vitamins, trace minerals and an astonishing array of antioxidants that do double and triple duty in the plants and the animals (like us) that eat them. These include light-absorbing compounds like flavonoids and betalains, as well as pigments like carotenoids and cyanins. Plants need antioxidants like the carotenoids for photosynthesis to occur and for protection against light and oxygen damage. They use other antioxidants as screening agents against UV radiation to safeguard plant DNA.
Likewise, we need an abundance of antioxidants in our skin to avoid the burn. UV rays cause free radicals which can lead to inflammation and DNA damage but antioxidants come to our rescue by mopping them up. The more antioxidants you have, the less likely it is you will burn because sunburn is, after all, an inflammatory reaction. We also need vitamins like A and C to modulate light absorption and overexposure to the sun.
Eat the rainbow
Anthocyanins, which give certain fruits and vegetables their blue, red and purple hues, are potent antioxidants with more capacity than either ascorbic acid or vitamin E. Berries are a good source (cranberries, raspberries, bilberries, elderberries) but blueberries top the list. Plums, pomegranates, cherries, red cabbage and surprisingly enough, bananas, are also completely full of anthocynanins.
You don’t need to eat exotic foods to get a great dose of antioxidants because even the lowly beet, tomato and carrot have them in spades. And let’s not forget the green leafy vegetables replete with the all-important Omega-3 fatty acid which boosts the skin’s ability to manage sunlight; or the sulfur-rich, cruciferous vegetables (garlic, cauliflower, rocket or arugula, onion) that help maintain beautiful skin by defending its structural integrity; or green tea with its arsenal of polyphenols that can help reverse the damage after UV exposure by reining in the inflammatory response; or nuts, like walnuts, that are also awash with Omega-3 and more antioxidants than any other nut. So many gorgeous foods, so little time.
On a final note, besides eating the rainbow of all things fresh and natural, it’s really important to consider what happens when you stop eating the metabolic poisons like sugar. When sugars and proteins combine in your blood vessels, they form a thick gloopy mess called advanced glycation end products or, appropriately enough, AGEs for short. The more sugar you have in circulation, the more AGEs you have, which equals lots of inflammation and oxidative stress and a greater likelihood of burning to a crisp in the sun, even if you eat your antioxidants.
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