By Kate Morin
Slathering on sunscreen is never enjoyable. Does that stuff ever blend in completely? While it's always important to spread on at least a thin layer of sunblock (yes, you can go for the easy spray-on, super-blend stuff), some other super powerful UV-blockers are hiding right in the produce aisle.
Shine On -- Your Grocery Guide
Meet the double-duty foods that have been shown to increase the skin's ability to protect against UV damage. Oh, and they're part of a healthy diet, too. Their sunblocking secret: antioxidants. These compounds help fight free radicals, a nasty set of atoms or molecules that contribute to annoying problems like premature aging and can be a product of unprotected sun exposure. Free radicals prowl the body, stealing electrons from healthy cells (in this case, in the skin). Antioxidants are a person's mini-martyrs, running around the body and giving up their extra electrons to free radicals so they stop pestering the healthy cells.
Looking for comestible sun protection? Add these sun-friendly foods to the grocery list. (Sorry, SunChips aren't included.)
1. Omega-3-Rich Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids (found in many foods -- and especially in shellfish and fatty fish) have incredible anti-inflammatory powers. Research suggests these compounds can help protect cells from free radical damage (like that caused by the sun). Another study found that adding omega-3 to the diet (or taking it in supplement form) may help prevent some types of skin cancer.
2. Red And Orange Fruits And Veggies
Lycopene, a natural pigment and carotenoid (read: antioxidant), found in tomatoes and other red and pink produce has been shown to aid in protection against some UV-induced skin irritations like erythema. Lycopene helps rid the body of free radicals. Beta-carotene -- another type of carotenoid found in red and orange produce -- has been linked to reduced reactions to sunburns, and flavanoid-filled orange and pink citrus fruits have also been shown to improve the skin's ability to protect against UV rays.
3. Dark Chocolate
Flavanoids found in dark chocolate may improve the skin’s ability protect against some types of skin damage, including UV-induced issues like sun burns. Plus, the flavonoids can help keep skin hydrated, increase oxygen saturation and boost blood flow. Here’s the green light to add a dark chocolate bar to your beach bag! (Just beware of it melting).
4. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and cauliflower, are packed with essential antioxidants that help fight those pesky free radicals. Bonus points? This family of veggies has also been linked to cancer prevention not only in the skin, but in a number of other organs as well. Research shows that broccoli sprouts, also in the cruciferous family, contain sulforaphane, which is linked to increasing the skin’s ability to protect itself from cancer.
If it’s green and leaf-like, chances are it’s also good for sun protection. Fresh herbs -- specifically parsley, basil, sage and rosemary -- are packed with our free-radical fighting and skin-protecting antioxidant friends. Dark leafy greens such as spinach and swiss chard are all full of antioxidants like polyphenols and carotenoids, which may also naturally protect the skin from sun damage. One study found that eating green leafy vegetables helped prevent the reappearance of skin cancer in people who had previously suffered. (Word of caution: the study also found that “unmodified” dairy products such as whole milk, cheese and yogurt increased risk of reappearance.)
6. Green And Black Teas
Green and Black teas (which actually start as leafy greens -- surprise, surprise) are packed with polyphenols that can help stop cancer development by limiting the blood supply to the cancerous area. Some studies have found that green tea can help prevent non-melanoma skin cancer (in addition to some other amazing health benefits. One study also found that people who drink one cup of tea per day have a lower incidence of melanoma.
What other foods do you eat (or apply) to keep healthy skin? Share them in the comments below!
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Boosts The Immune System
Green tea boosts the <a href="http://health.oregonstate.edu/synergies/2011/mechanism-discovered-for-health-benefit-of-green-tea/" target="_hplink">number of "regulatory T cells" </a>in the body, which are important for the immune system, according to research from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. "When fully understood, this could provide an easy and safe way to help control autoimmune problems and address various diseases," study researcher Emily Ho, an associate professor at the university, said in a statement. The research was published in the <a href="http://health.oregonstate.edu/synergies/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/EmilyHoPDF.pdf" target="_hplink">journal <em>Immunology Letters</em></a>. The researchers specifically focused on the green tea compound EGCG, which is a kind of polyphenol. They said that the compound may <a href="http://health.oregonstate.edu/synergies/2011/mechanism-discovered-for-health-benefit-of-green-tea/" target="_hplink">work via epigenetics</a> -- influencing expression of genes -- rather than "changing the underlying DNA codes," Ho said in the statement.
If you're thirsty, tea can do the trick for hydration -- even though it contains caffeine, according to a 2006 review in <a href="http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v61/n1/full/1602489a.html" target="_hplink">the <em>European Journal of Clinical Nutrition</em></a>. "Studies on caffeine have found very high doses dehydrate and everyone assumes that caffeine-containing beverages dehydrate. But even if you had a really, really strong cup of tea or coffee, which is quite hard to make, you would still have a <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/5281046.stm" target="_hplink">net gain of fluid</a>," study researcher Carrie Ruxton, of Kings College London, told BBC News. The researchers <a href="http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v61/n1/full/1602489a.html" target="_hplink">wrote in the review</a>: <blockquote>It is a common perception is that caffeine-containing drinks cause a net loss in fluid and may lead to dehydration. Again, many of the studies investigating this have used high doses of caffeine, often as a bolus. When caffeine is given in this way, there is indeed evidence of a diuretic effect but this is not relevant to normal use of caffeine-containing beverages where the caffeine would be consumed with 200-250 ml of fluid.</blockquote>
May Lower Risk Of Heart Disease
The same <em>European Journal of Clinical Nutrition</em> review showed that drinking three or more cups of tea per day is linked with a <a href="http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v61/n1/full/1602489a.html" target="_hplink">lower risk of coronary heart disease</a>, potentially because of the amount of antioxidants found in tea. The University of Maryland Medical Center also reported that research has shown that green tea and black tea have <a href="http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/green-tea-000255.htm" target="_hplink">atherosclerosis-preventing effects</a>, although the FDA has yet to allow teamakers to claim that green tea can affect heart disease risk.
Could Shrink Tumors
Scottish researchers found that applying a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/08/22/green-tea-benefits_n_1821929.html" target="_hplink">compound in green tea</a> shrinks tumors in lab tests. The compound is a flavanoid, called epigallocatechin gallate. "When we used our method, the <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-08/uos-gtc082212.php" target="_hplink">green tea extract</a> reduced the size of many of the tumors every day, in some cases removing them altogether," study researcher Dr. Christine Dufes, senior lecturer at the Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, said in a statement. "By contrast, the extract had no effect at all when it was delivered by other means, as every one of these tumours continued to grow."
Potential Prostate Cancer Treatment
Who knew that green tea and gold could be so powerful against cancer? University of Missouri researchers found that the two worked in tandem to <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/07/16/green-tea-and-gold-to-treat-prostate-cancer/" target="_hplink">fight prostate cancer tumor cells</a>. Green tea compounds were the delivery mechanism, bringing the radioactive gold nanoparticles to the tumors. The gold was then able to kill the cancer cells, ABC News reported. The research, published in the journal <em>Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</em>, showed that this method was able to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/07/16/mens-health-green-tea-prostate-cancer-treatment_n_1678141.html?just_reloaded=1" target="_hplink">reduce tumor size</a> by 80 percent in mice, HuffPost UK reported.
Boost Functioning In Old Age
Drinking green tea could help you <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/green-tea-functioning-old-age_n_1258028.html" target="_hplink">function better</a> -- meaning you don't need help doing basic activities like bathing or dressing -- as you get older, according to a study in the <em>American Journal of Clinical Nutrition</em>. The research, which included 14,000 adults ages 65 and older over a three-year period, showed that the ones who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/08/green-tea-functioning-old-age_n_1258028.html" target="_hplink">drank the most green tea </a>had the best functioning in old age compared with those who drank the least. "Green tea consumption is significantly associated with a lower risk of incident functional disability, even after adjustment for possible confounding factors," researchers concluded in the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Drinking black tea could slightly <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/01/26/drinking-black-tea-may-cut-blood-pressure/" target="_hplink">decrease blood pressure</a>, according to a study in the <em>Archives of Internal Medicine</em>. Reuters reported that participants drank either black tea, or a non-tea beverage that had similar caffeine levels and taste, for six months, thrice daily. The researchers found that those assigned to drink the black tea had a <a href="http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/01/26/drinking-black-tea-may-cut-blood-pressure/" target="_hplink">slight decrease in blood pressure</a>, though not enough to bring someone with hypertension back into a safe zone, Reuters reported. "Those are small changes and are nothing like what you would see if you took a blood pressure lowering medication," Dr. Joseph Vita, of the Boston University School of Medicine (who was not involved in the study), told Reuters.
Aids Weight Loss
Drinking green tea could help you reach your weight loss goals, according to a study in the <em>Journal of Nutrition</em>. Researchers found that <a href="http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20409937,00.html" target="_hplink">drinking five cups a day</a> is linked with weight loss, particularly in decreasing belly fat, Health.com reported.
The Health Benefits of Tea
Learn how tea can help you lose weight, fight disease and beautify your feet!