Homegrown Fruits and Vegetables for Sunburn Protection

Reader Contribution by Veronica Worley
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Summer at my house means spending many hours each week outdoors, with most of them tending to my garden and yard. But sizzling in the summer heat means exposure to ultraviolet rays that can cause skin damage. Even while summer is winding down throughout much of the United States, here in Alabama we have steaming heat and lots of sun through September and October.

When we think of protection from the sun, most of us think of sunscreen (30 SPF and above), avoiding the sun between 10 AM and 3 PM on a sunny day, covering up while in the sun, and of course, staying hydrated!  You want enough sun exposure to help your body convert cholesterol to Vitamin D3, but not too much so as to prevent sun damage. I worry that when I slather my skin with suntan lotion, I not only expose my body to toxins, but I will not absorb enough sunshine in order to convert to Vitamin D3.

But what if I were to tell you that there are foods you can grow and consume that will help prevent sunburn naturally? (And better yet, that these are foods that are easily grown in your backyard throughout hot summer months when you need the protection the most.)

Eat Your Vegetables to Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage

Research suggests that certain types of foods can help prevent sunburns and skin damage.  High fruit and vegetable consumption along with certain kinds of fish (Carcinogenesis, 2003), and daily green tea (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2001) may help prevent sunburn and skin cancer, like melanoma. And there is now research showing that slathering the skin with suntan lotions can actually harm the skin, potentially causing cancer as well as preventing Vitamin D absorption (Environmental Working Group).

Sunburn occurs because the body is unable to make enough melanin to protect the skin. When the skin is repeatedly exposed to the sun, causing many burns over a period of time, skin cancer can result. Serious skin cancers often occur later in life, usually as a result of multiple blister-producing sunburns as a teen.  In fact, a study shows that each serious sunburn occurring in adolescence can double the risk of developing melanoma. (Skin Cancer Foundation)

I was one of those teens, staying hours and hours in the sun, and have had many blistering sunburns. Now, I watch my skin carefully and take steps to protect myself in the sun. I still love the sun, and spend many hours out in the yard as an avid gardener. But I do believe that my diet, which consists of eight to 10 servings of vegetables (mostly garden fresh), and lots of fish, and green tea have kept me from any skin cancer to date.

Several studies suggest that vegetables contribute to a diet high in antioxidants and may play a role in helping you avoid sunburn. The more antioxidants in your skin, the less your risk of getting burned by the sun. Although it is unknown exactly how vegetables and fruits protect your skin from sun damage, specialists say that it is most likely related to the antioxidants’ anti-inflammatory properties that fight the inflammatory process the sun has upon the skin. (National Center for Biotechnology Information)

Best Fruits and Vegetables for Sun Protection

The best kind of fruits and vegetables to consume for sun protection are likely those harvested fresh from the garden, because garden-fresh produce most often contains higher nutrient content than store-bought alternatives. The deeper more vibrant the color, the more anti-oxidants these foods contain, providing more nutrients and helping the body become less susceptible to cell damage and disease. Store-bought vegetables often are not ripened in the sun and have lost many of their nutrients by the time they reach your kitchen table — some losing up to 90 percent of their nutrition within the first 24 hours (spinach is often cited for this). (Chicago Tribune, 2013)

Examples of dark leafy greens for sun protection include collards, kale, cabbage, bok choy, broccoli, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuce, as well as many herbs. Also let’s not forget about the deep red, orange and yellow vegetables as well as purple vegetables in the garden: tomatoes, red peppers, radishes, yellow squash, melons, eggplant, even strawberries and blueberries, as well as many more fruits from a tree that come in bright delicious colors. All can be grown and consumed to help cells of the inner and outer skin layers bounce back from damage.

Studies suggest that foods high in beta-carotene, lycopene and Vitamin C, as well as Omega 3 fatty acids are key to preventing sunburn and sun damage. (John Hopkins Magazine)

So, eat up! Now is the time to enjoy your summer harvest, and begin planning on what to plant next season to help prevent sunburn and skin damage. I’ve developed a Superfood Blueberry-Spinach Salad recipe in order to get a lot of these nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables in a single meal.

Veronica Worley is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and avid gardener, who helps men and women overcome chronic illness with functional lab testing, food and lifestyle changes. Connect with Veronica atVeronica’s Healthy Living, on Facebook, Instagram, TwitterandPinterest. Schedule an appointment with Veronica using this link, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWSposts here.

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