SPF and Food: Where to Find Sunscreen in the Produce Aisle

by Jennifer A. Gardner, M.D. on April 28, 2014

Sun Fighting Super Foods and Their Super Hero Phytonutrients

While we’ve all heard of SPF in a jar or bottle, what about in a meal or snack?

Yes, there are Super Foods that offer edible SPF, a natural armor for our delicate skin. While it is not recommended that you replace traditional sunblock with these foods, consuming them will likely offer additional protection and reduce sun damage for you and your family—all while tasting great.

If you’re looking for foods packed with SPF, a great place to start is with foods rich in lycopenes, an antioxidant with natural sun screen properties (and anti-aging properties too!). And when looking for lycopenes, tomatoes are a smart choice.

Sun dried tomatoes and canned or bottled tomato products (such as tomato paste, sauce, soups, juice, ketchup, and tomato based chili or hot sauces) are all concentrated sources of lycopene. But fresh tomatoes such as in homemade salsa, gazpacho, or tomato salad still offer a respectable dose of good-for-your-skin lycopene.

Other produce rich in lycopenes (think deep red or pink) include watermelon (which actually contains more lycopene than tomatoes!), purple grapes, pink or red grapefruit, apricots, plums, red bell peppers, papaya, and guava. (But not all red foods contain high levels of lycopene—strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, and cherries fall into this category.)

Lycopene can be also found in foods of other colors, such as carrots and asparagus. For a bigger lycopene punch, serve these cooked.

Next on the grocery list are foods rich in betacarotene, another antioxidant that has natural sunscreen properties. It may also help reverse sun damage and reduce sunburn intensity.  And carrots are a great source for betacarotene.

Other betacarotene rich foods include sweet potatoes, apricots, squash, pumpkins, papaya, and mango (think deep orange pigment). You can also find betacarotene in non-orange foods, like mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, beets, beet greens, cabbage, kale, and spinach.

Another category of Super Foods that provide skin protection is food rich in vitamin C, which reduces free radical damage caused by exposure to UV radiation.  (Vitamin C also stimulates collagen production, important for skin’s youthful appearance.) Strawberries, Kiwi, Oranges, and Cherries contain high levels of this key nutrient.

Cherries are a great choice. In addition to vitamin C, cherries contain melatonin, which protects skin from UV radiation and repairs sunburn damage. But be careful when choosing vitamin C rich foods. Limes, also high in vitamin C, can cause the skin to burn more, so be sure to limit exposure to lime juice or peels when heading out in to the sun.

Another nutrient that is important in protecting skin cells from damage is vitamin E. Almonds are a great source of this key nutrient. Vitamin E also repairs skin damage and slows the aging of skin cells.

Looking for more foods providing sun protection?  Eat some walnuts, which are high in essential fatty acids, which may also protect against sunburn.

But don’t stop there. Mushrooms (especially cremini) contain the mineral selenium, essential for the production of glutathione peroxidase. This antioxidant is a free radical warrior. (Dangerous free radicals are produced by skin cells when exposed to the sun’s UV radiation.)

Finally, look to foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is a natural anti-inflammatory that may also protect against sunburn and cellular damage that can lead to skin cancer. Salmon is a great source.  Other fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids include herring, sardines, and mackerel. If your family is not into fish, try green, leafy vegetables, flax oil, and chia seeds.

So if you are heading out in the sun, why not have a glass of orange juice and grapefruit topped with strawberries for breakfast, a leafy green spinach salad with mushrooms and tomato juice for lunch, almonds or walnuts for a snack, and salmon with kale for dinner? In addition to being great sources for essential nutrients, these foods will provide a healthy dose of natural sun protection and skin regeneration.

 As always, we at HealthyKids Co. are wishing that you and your family will Bee Healthy! If you learned something new, please share.

--Dr. Jennifer Gardner

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