NUTRITION FOR SUN PROTECTION
Summer is the time of year that we really need to up our skin protection game. We all need a little bit of sunshine to make vital Vitamin D, the only vitamin we cannot consume, and keep SAD at bay. However a little goes a very long way (on average we only need about 20mins of direct sunshine a day). The skin responds to sunlight by producing melanin, the magical brown pigment that gives us a tan, but whose sole purpose is to absorb damaging UV rays - it’s our in-built protection system. Excessive sun exposure can dehydrate our skin, stimulate free radicals that damage our skin cells, cause inflammation (the major cause of cell damage), sun burn, cellular mutations and degrade collagen. With skin cancer and premature skin ageing on the up, it’s clear that our skin needs a helping hand. According to Cancer Research UK, 10,400 people in the UK are diagnosed with skin cancer each year and shockingly, numbers have quadrupled since the 1970s.
What we eat plays a vital role in the formation, health and protection of our skin. Anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory-rich foods should become your best friends. Anti-oxidants, including carotenoid and vitamins, are wonderful compounds that help fight free-radicals, a greedy set of atoms or molecules that cause premature ageing (and numerous other health problems, including cancer) that are produced or stimulated by sun exposure. These free-radicals move around the body, stealing electrons from healthy cells, hence causing cell damage. Antioxidants are your body's own mini-martyrs, they give up their extra electrons to free-radicals to prevent them damaging other cells. There are 600 different types of carotenoids (the compounds that give fruit, vegetables & fish their colour), but the most common carotenoids in the Western diet include beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein and lutein and zeaxanthin.
So when the sun shines, reach for...
1. Turmeric - one of life’s wonder spices and a phenomenal anti-inflammatory. It has a mild flavour and therefore can be added to almost everything. I drink it with warm water and lemon juice in the morning. Chilli is another great anti-inflammatory. Heat and UV rays cause inflammation which is the biggest cause of skin damage. Laboratory studies suggest that turmeric can help protect the epidermal skin cells from the damage caused by ultraviolet B radiation (UB radiation).
2. Tomato paste - full of all important Lycopene - a potent anti-oxidant which will protect from free-radicals stimulated by UV. Lycopene from processed tomato products (such as tomato paste, tomato juice, and even ketchup) appears to be more bioavailable than that from raw tomatoes, the yeast in the skin of which can also cause inflammation in some people. Studies have shown that just 3 teaspoons of tomato paste can help protection against UV damage, so reach for that homemade Bloody Mary. Further, Lycopene is better absorbed by the body in the presence of beta-carotene, the other great anti-oxidant. Coincidentally, tomatoes also contain beta-carotene. In addition to lycopene and beta-carotene, tomatoes contain Vitamin C, another super anti-oxidant. As a rule of thumb, always reach for the darkest or brightest red foods and you will consume a whole host of anti-oxidants - watermelon, papaya and red peppers are my other all time favourites - and whizzed up they make a great Summer Skin smoothie.
3. Watermelon - The body absorbs water from fruit and vegetables far better than drinking water. Dehydrated skin from sun exposure is a real concern and can lead to peeling. Stock up on thirst quenching fruits that are rich in electrolytes and micro nutrients - and it doesn’t get any better than watermelon, which is also brimming with the all important Lycopene, and unlike tomatoes it doesn’t have to be cooked to get the maximum benefits. Watermelon actually contains 40% more Lycopene than raw tomatoes. These luscious pink globes are also rich in choline, which reduces inflammation (sun burn) and Vitamin C, both of which are also needed for healthy collagen production.
4. Salmon or fish eggs - One of the key roles of Omega 3 is as an anti-inflammatory and fish eggs are one of the best natural sources of DHA & EPA, the best types of Omega 3. They in fact contain more Omega 3 than the fattiest of freshwater fish. However if these are not up your street, salmon is the next best thing. Salmon is also an excellent source of probably the most powerful of the anti-oxidants, astaxanthin. It is 1000 times more effective than Vitamin E and is what gives shell fish and salmon its bright red colour.
5. Green tea - full of antioxidants called EGCGs. Among their health-promoting capabilities: EGCGs stopped genetic damage in human skin cells exposed to UV light in one University of Wisconsin study.
6. Asparagus - Who would have thought these delicious green sticks could be so healthy. They are a great source of Vitamin E and have apparently been found to be very effective at helping to fight certain illnesses - cancer - although there is far more research required on this.
7. Cherries - again 'bright is brilliant’. Cherries are exceptionally high in an anti-oxidant that produces melatonin. Melatonin, which induces sleep, also protects the skin against ultraviolet radiation and stimulates new cell growth, so even if you have existing sun spots and damaged skin, you'll get the benefits. Cherries are also packed with Vitamin C, which builds collagen, our skin’s bricks and mortar.
8. Citrus fruits contain the potent ingredient limonene, associated with a 34 percent lower risk of skin cancer in one University of Arizona study of 470 women and men. Home-made lemonade will not only provide this important ingredient, but will also help alkalise the body.
9. Brazil nuts - nature's best source of selenium. A single nut can provide your daily intake. Also a wonderful source of the anti-oxidant Vitamin E. Selenium is a super beauty nutrient as it helps make special proteins, called antioxidant enzymes, which play a role in the body's antioxidant defence. Other great sources include crimini mushrooms, almonds and shrimps.
10. Sweet potato - my favourite vegetable as they make the most delicious chips - but importantly extremely high in beta-carotene, Vitamin C and are also thought to promote the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, our skin’s natural hydrator that keeps our skin plump and youthful.
11. Dark chocolate - it’s no news that dark chocolate is rich in anti-oxidants but the Flavanoids found in dark chocolate may improve the skin’s ability to protect against some types of skin damage, including UV-induced issues like sun burns. Not only that, flavonoids can help keep skin hydrated, increase oxygen saturation and boost blood circulation. What better than a dark chocolate & avocado mousse?
12. Spinach & dark greens - Full of carotenoids and vitamins, spinach can protect the skin from damage caused by ultra-violet radiation from the sun. Not only are they one of the best dietary sources of beta-carotene, they are also packed with lutein and zeaxanthin.