Could food be the next best sunscreen?

Could food be the next best sunscreen?

First, a confession: I've been avoiding sunscreen most of this summer, and I live in sunny Colorado at an elevation of 5,000 feet, and I spend as much time as possible outside, and I’m fair skinned.

Am I crazy? Perhaps.

Am I going against the grain? Most certainly.

I don't necessarily recommend my path, but I have my reasons for following it: I’m pregnant, and I don’t want to put chemical sunscreens on my skin that could end up in my body and affect my developing baby. And I don’t trust nanotechnology just yet, and some natural sunscreens use nano-scale particles. There’s no official way of telling which ones use nano and which ones don’t. Still, I have occasionally slathered on trusted brands of natural sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but I mostly rely on hats and clothing to block the sun.

And diet. Yep, you read right.

Surprisingly, I haven’t noticed a dramatic difference in my skin from previous years when I applied sunscreen each and every day, several times a day. My skin has not burned. Or maybe, after reading recent research on the diet–skin cancer connection, I shouldn’t be surprised. I eat a ton of berries, vegetables, yogurt, beans and whole grains as well as a bit of certain types of fish, and I drink my fill of water. According to a recent study, ingesting those very foods as well as red wine (which I’m not indulging in for obvious reasons) helps “fight the oxidizing effect of the sun.”

The researchers say that antioxidants, especially carotenoids—fruit and vegetable pigments like red from tomatoes and watermelons and orange from carrots and pumpkins that accumulate in the skin where they serve as a first line of protection—delay damage that can lead to skin cancer.

Although it may be tempting to load up on supplemental vitamins and minerals to ward off the sun’s rays, Dr. Niva Shapiro of Tel Aviv University’s School of Health Professionals cautions that foods are better than supplements for this purpose. “In foods, many vitamins and various antioxidants and bioactive ingredients work to support one another and the body’s natural protective mechanisms,” Shapiro said. “Synergies between the nutrients in your food, which make a significant contribution to health, may contrast with the relative isolation of a vitamin supplement.”

Also, Shapiro points out foods to avoid for sun protection. Steer clear of too much red meat, processed foods and alcohol (red wine is preferable), and be wary of foods that contain the photosensitizing compound psoralen, such as parsley, celery, dill, cilantro and figs.

The researchers recommend using diet in addition to regular applications of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing. Diet has become my first line of defense. What is yours?

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