4 Foods to Help You Stay Safe From Sun Damage

Kale in garden

Many of us already know that plants are rich in antioxidants that protect our insides from DNA damage in a variety of ways. But some people are surprised to discover that these same antioxidant-rich foods can also act like SPF for our outsides, too.

This summer, try adding these foods to your shopping list to harness the power of the plate to protect your skin (and eyes) against harmful UV damage while you’re enjoying the dog days of summer.

Green Tea
Drink up! A recent study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that drinking two cups a day of brewed green tea significantly reduced inflammation and redness after UV exposure compared to controls. Antioxidants in green tea called catechins actually make their way to your skin, where they help neutralize free radicals and reduce the skin’s natural inflammatory response to UV rays. To cool off, brew a batch and stick in your fridge to enjoy chilled.

Teeming with flavonoids and antioxidants – not to mention taste – high quality dark chocolate does more than just promote a healthy blood pressure. German researchers found that women who drank a high flavonoid cocoa each day (containing 329 mg total flavonoids versus 26.8 mg for the control group) for 12 weeks had 25% less reddening after exposure to UV light, as well as enhanced blood flow to the skin, better skin hydration and less scaling and roughness than a control group. Whether powder or bar, look for at least 70% cacao to get more flavonols. If you’re watching calories, keep your portions modest.

Tomato Paste
Summer staples such as tomatoes and watermelon are loaded with the antioxidant lycopene, but concentrated products such as tomato sauce and paste deliver even more lycopene per bite. The antixodant lycopene protects cells’ mitochondria from DNA damage. Researchers from the Universities of New Castle and Manchester found that subjects who consumed 5 tablespoons of tomato paste each day had 33% more protection against sunburn than controls. Swirl some into that summer pasta or in a sauce for grilled fish, or add some to a chilled tomato gazpacho.

Lutein is one of the carotenoids that gives kale its dark green hue. Lutein is most concentrated in our retinas, where it helps protect the delicate eye against UV damage. Diets high in lutein are associated with a lower risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in people over age 55. In fact, data from both The Physician’s and Nurses’ Health Studies have found low intake of lutein from fruits and vegetables associated with higher risk of the development of cataracts severe enough to require surgery. How much do you need? One small study from Harvard found that 6 mg of lutein per day was associated with a 43% lower risk of macular degeneration.  Just 1/2 cup of raw kale provides more than 10 mg of lutein. (Egg yolks and other dark leafy greens are other rich sources).