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The sun isn’t all bad.
Being out in the sun can have great benefits to both mind and body.
But sun has a bad reputation, for a good reason.
If you think about spending time in the sun without proper protection from UV rays, skin cancer is a real risk. However, spending time in the sun has certain healthy benefits you might did not know.
According to one study that involved almost 30,000 Swedish women, spending time in the sun can have a positive impact on decreasing the rates of cardiovascular diseases. Women who spent the most time in the sun outlived those who avoided sun rays.
Another study showed that if you get sunlight early in the day you can avoid increasing your body mass index, thus manage your weight in an easier way.
Sunlight can also help us adjust our body to a different time zone. If you are a globetrotter, the best way to get your body and mind in balance is to get up early in the morning and spend some time in the sun.
So, the sun isn’t all bad
However, whether due to our poor judgments or irresponsibility, we tend to get only the bad instead of the benefits. But the sun isn’t the only one to blame; summer, in particular, is the riskiest season. There are so many opportunities to plan fun activities outdoors, at the beach or pool, or in the late afternoon in the garden or lake.
Besides sunscreen and proper clothes, there are other ways we can protect our skin from the negative effects.
Powerful UV-blockers are hiding right in your fridge
If you include certain food in your diet and develop good eating habits, you can, in fact, increase your sun tolerance.
However, this does not mean you can spend hours in the sun without protective creams, but rather that you can adjust your diet to include food that can bring another layer of protection to your body, making your organism stronger and less susceptible to burning.
Our diets and eating routines have a lot to do with how easily our skin burns.
Thus, getting enough key nutrients from the food you can increase the level of tolerance.
Let’s talk first about sunburns.
What is a sunburn?
A sunburn is a type of inflammation and skin’s system of defense against the extreme ultraviolet exposure.
According to Jeffrey M. Sobell, an assistant professor of dermatology and director of Photomedicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, this happens when we get sunburns:
“Although infrared radiation gives sunlight its warmth, it is not the heat of the sun that burns skin. A sunburn manifested by cutaneous redness, swelling and pain is an acute toxic reaction caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.
The energy from ultraviolet radiation can damage molecules in the skin, most importantly DNA. One consequence of this is the synthesis of different proteins and enzymes. The effects of these proteins, notably prostaglandins and cytokines, lead to dilation of the cutaneous blood vessels and recruitment of inflammatory cells.
This, in turn, produces a sunburn’s characteristic redness, swelling, and pain. Once the signal of excessive radiation exposure is initiated, it generally takes four to six hours for these proteins to generate. Sunburn symptoms thus don’t appear until well after exposure.
The body does have mechanisms to repair damaged DNA after ultraviolet exposure. But as the frequency of sunlight exposure increases, so, too, does the probability that some of that damage will escape repairing. This mutated DNA may eventually lead to skin cancer.”
This explanation gives a proper understanding of what can happen if we do not protect our skin.
Why does my skin peel?
Our skin is composed of water and organic molecules. Only when molecules absorb UV radiation any chemical damage can happen.
The molecules that absorbs light are chromophore, which includes molecules such as DNA, RNA, and proteins. When these molecules absorb the energy from UV radiation they are in an “excited” state, which means they are losing energy and a chemical change can occur.
The effect of a change is increased pigmentation of the skin.
The peeling of a thin layer of the skin on the damaged area usually starts after a few days or a week because our skin needs to get rid of the damaged cells to be able to heal properly.
Damaged cells pose a great risk to the skin as they can become cancerous
The process of healing will bring a new layer of the skin, which will replace the dead skin. It takes usually from 4 to 7 days for a new skin layer to form. It’s a natural process but if you start to peel the skin on your own before the new layer is formed, you can cause bleeding or scars.
Although the recovery process is fairly fast, the greatest damage that occurs to the cells is related to the genetic material.
Even years after a sunburn, cells may carry damage that can result in certain skin related conditions and problems such as an aged appearance of skin or cancer.
Why do I get a sunburn and some people get a suntan?
Our skin is comprised of several types of cells. The cells involved in the tanning process are melanocytes, which produce melanin. The pigment gives our skin, hair, and eyes the specific color. People with dark skin have more melanin, and people with light skin have less.
Melanin acts as a barrier against UV rays
People who have less melanin are more prone to sunburns.
When the skin is affected by the ultraviolet rays, it starts to produce more melanin to protect the skin, especially the deeper layers. Producing melanin causes the skin to change color. Dark-skinned people usually turn dark brown, while light-skinned people usually turn red.
Note: Even if your skin is naturally dark, which means it always tans and almost never burns, it does not mean that you do not need sunscreens.
● Your first choice of protection should always be moderation in exposure
What food can help you protect your skin even more?
It seems natural to increase the intake of food rich in nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties.
What should I eat?
Your diet should include:
- Carotenoids: Lycopene & Beta Carotene
- Omega 3 fatty acids
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
- Good saturated fats
- Catechins (green tea)
The Carotenoids give fruits and vegetables their red, yellow and orange colors. But that’s not all, they also provide protection against excess light for the plants. Their protective characteristics can be used to help people increase protection from the harmful effects of UV lights.
The two well-known carotenoids are lycopene and beta carotene. Both have been shown to help reduce the sensitivity to harmful UV lights, providing protection to a certain extent.
Lycopene is a bright red antioxidant that occurs naturally in different food, thus it is easy to included it in your diet. It is known to help prevent heart disease and different types of cancer. It is one of the most powerful antioxidants that protect cells from damage.
Lycopene-rich food in your diet is an easy way to start eating for sun tolerance.
Note: Lycopene cannot be produced by the human body.
Beta-carotene is a pigment that our body converts into vitamin A. Although taking big doses of vitamin A can be toxic, our body only converts the amount it needs. We need Vitamin A for good vision, immune system, and skin.
As an antioxidant, the most important role of beta-carotene is to protect the body from free radicals that can damage our cells, which in turn can lead to a number of illnesses. It has been shown that regular intake of beta carotene supplement can protect the skin from sunburn, but beta carotene can also be applied topically.
Note: the more intense the color of the fruit or vegetable, the more beta-carotene the food has.
Omega-3s are a type of fat you do not want to cut back on. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are primarily found in fish. Seeds and nuts contain alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Omega-3s are necessary for their protective characteristics. When it comes to sun protection, omega-3s can help decrease the severity of photo-aging, which is a sun-related skin damage. High intake of EPA can increase the skin’s tolerance to UV rays.
Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and thus has good protective characteristics. As one of the most researched vitamin in scientific circles, Vitamin E is shown to have many health benefits. We know that it can protect the skin from environmental pollution, prevent signs of premature aging and it has an excellent wound healing properties. We need Vitamin E because it can enhance the health-related properties of other vitamins.
It is another powerful antioxidant that can help get rid of free radicals. Vitamin C offers more skin benefits as it can boost the production of collagen, which is the connective tissue that holds bones and muscles together. It can also improve absorption of iron and folic acid and increase the production of white blood cells and antibodies, strengthening the cell-protective surfaces. This is important because in this way It helps prevent the entry of viruses.
Good saturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, have many health benefits. Saturated fats are used in different treatments to lower bad cholesterol and cut down on fat. These fats are good for strengthening the immune system, improving brain function and mood.
Catechins in tea
Catechins in tea provide protection from the quenching of free radicals, blocking UV rays. Moreover, catechins in green tea can help reduce harmful effects of UV radiation. Green tea, in particular, is one of the most powerful when it comes to reducing the risks of skin related health problems. It contains between 30 and 40% polyphenols and is abundant in catechins – epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG)) that can also have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health and weight management. White and even black tea also contain EGCG.
What should I eat?
Tomatoes are known to be one of the best sources for lycopene. However, it seems that cooked tomatoes (tomato paste) have even higher levels of lycopene. A few tablespoons of tomato paste a day can provide significant protection against damaging UV rays.
Sweet potatoes have an abundance of beta carotene. If you chose purple sweet potatoes, you will also benefit from higher amounts of antioxidant pigments cyanidin and peonidin, that are shown to have powerful protective properties.
Coconut oil is high in fatty acids and saturated fat. It is almost 100% saturated, and ideal for cooking at high temperatures as it is highly heat-stable. If you don’t mind its peculiar taste, go for about ¼ cup per day. It is a healthier replacement for vegetable oils.
Salmon, herring, mackerel, and trout are rich sources of omega-3s. Wild-caught salmon is rich in astaxanthin, a potent antioxidant that can provide good protection against UV rays. To get enough omega-3 fatty acids you need at least two servings of fish. Fish oil is a good alternative if you do not enjoy fish dishes. You can even include sardines in your diet to get the good amount of omega-3s.
Broccoli and leafy greens
Besides beta-carotene, leafy greens are rich in vitamins A, C, and E and folic acid. Think – sprouts, broccoli, kale, spinach, iceberg, and romaine lettuce. Broccoli and sprouts are also rich in sulforaphane, which is a compound that reduces risks of skin cancer. Most leafy greens are also excellent sources of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin.
As you probably already know, lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits are high in vitamin C. The daily diet that includes the right amount of vitamin C and vitamin E can significantly protect from damaging UV rays. Citrus fruit also contains limonene, a compound that is shown to lower risks of skin cancer for 34 percent.
One of the significantly nutrient-rich vegetables, carrots are packed with beta-carotene and also provide a significant amount of vitamin E. Cooked, steamed, raw or in any other way, carrots are versatile when it comes to cooking.
Pick any tea, black, white or green, and you will find good amounts of important protective compounds polyphenols and catechins. Green tea, however, has the highest amount of compounds that can protect our skin from UV rays, the most powerful polyphenol EGCG. Moreover, green tea also contains tannic acid, which helps calm down sunburn pain.People who drink one cup of tea per day have a lower incidence of melanoma.
On the other hand, matcha, a bright, powdered green tea popular in Japan is “137 times greater than the amount of EGCG available from China Green Tips green tea, and at least three times higher than the largest literature value for other green teas.” So if you can find matcha tea in a store, don’t hesitate to buy even though it’s a bit expensive.
Whole grains have many health benefits; they are a particularly good source of omega-3s, fiber, and lignans, antioxidants that have potent benefits against cancer. Of all whole grains, flaxseeds are the most powerful ones that can protect the skin and make it stronger. Moreover, according to one meta-analysis, flaxseed oil can also protect the skin against UV rays and keep it moisturized. If you add 2 tablespoons to your smoothie, you can reap many benefits of the oil.
Cacao is the most powerful ingredient in chocolate. If you eat dark chocolate that has over 70% cacao, it means you will increase the intake of phenols and catechins by 4 times. According to studies, you will benefit from a 25 percent increase in sun tolerance.
Almonds are one of the best sources for vitamin E. If you eat only 20 almonds a day you will have “less sunburn when exposed to UV light than their almond-abstaining counterparts.” Almonds are also high in quercetin, a flavonoid that can protect skin against UV damage. Go with raw as they are the healthiest.
Pomegranate seeds are rich in antioxidants, while the flesh contains ellagic acid that can help protect the skin and prevent cell damage from sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Pomegranates can also increase glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant known to prevent free radical damage. Besides protection, pomegranates help prevent the breakdown of collagen and stimulate its production.
Watermelons are not only one of the best sources of water that keep your body hydrated, but they are also high in lycopene, containing 40% more lycopene than tomatoes. These delicious summers snacks are packed with vitamin A and C.
Red grapes contain phytonutrients that can slow down the formation of destructive oxygen in skin cells, which has been linked to sun damage and skin cancer. Proanthocyanidins and other polyphenols in the grape’s seeds are also very powerful compounds as they can inhibit skin cancer induced by UV rays. Quercetin in grapes can lessen oxidative DNA damage and protect the skin from inflammation, as published in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.
The number one reason why you should eat an apple a day is that apples have the highest concentration of polyphenols of any fruit. These plant-based compounds are not only good for skin care, but they also help with inflammation, oxidative stress, and strengthen the immune system. When you strengthen your immune system, you also provide necessary protection for your skin.
Cherries are a rich source of Vitamin C and melatonin. If you are already familiar with the important role of melatonin, you should not be surprised why cherries are a must in your diet. Melatonin protects the skin from UV rays and stimulates the growth of new cells. It builds collagen, and we all know that collagen is great at preventing wrinkles.
What food should you avoid?
In a word, you should avoid food groups that are plentiful in our standard diets:
● Processed food
A diet that contains food high in sugar can significantly contribute to the formation of AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). The problem is that AGEs can lead to a breakdown of cells, and speed up aging of connective tissues. This is how wrinkles and cellulite appear.
According to one study, UVA rays are far more toxic to skin that has an excessive buildup of AGEs.
Note: grains, bread, pasta, cereals, and potatoes also contain sugar.
Most processed food only provide cheap omega-6 fatty acids that have, unfortunately, displaced the healthy omega-3s. There’s nothing healthy that our body gets from processed food, only calories.
Balanced healthy diets that include a significant amount of vitamins and minerals from vegetables and fruit can help us reduce the risk of sunburn and sun damage, and in the long run, skin cancer.
Note: A diet should not be a substitute for sunscreen
Health nutrition which includes nutrients that protect against ultraviolet rays is another protection layer that in fact will not get wash off in the water.
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Last article update: 3/26/2019