Eating the right foods can help us improve our skin from the inside out – even boosting the natural SPF of our skin! Foods that are rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients and omega-3s can help to provide an added layer of protection for the skin from UV damage, and also help to prevent the signs of aging.
Antioxidants such as carotenoids give foods their vibrant colors, and are critical to the photosynthetic process, protecting a plant from damage by light and oxygen. By consuming plants or organisms that contain these pigments, people can gain a similar protective benefit. Antioxidants and other key nutrients protect cells from oxidation, encourage cell growth, fight inflammation and boost our skin’s ability to prevent free radical damage. When the skin is exposed to the sun or other sources of radiation, this causes free radicals to form – which can damage the membranes of skin cells and harm the DNA of that cell. Antioxidants slow or prevent the effect of free radicals and oxidation – which can lead to cell dysfunction. We can see oxidation in action when a sliced apple turns brown. But a little squeeze of lemon juice can prevent the oxidation – providing antioxidant protective-effects. Oxidative stress appears to be an important part of many human diseases – linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, macular degeneration, as well as the signs of aging. In addition to helping fortify cells against free radicals, antioxidants also encourage cell and tissue growth, helping the body to repair itself.
Eating an antioxidant-rich diet – commonly found in fruits and vegetables and other foods – can protect and repair the cellular walls. Important antioxidants for boosting the SPF of the skin include:
An important antioxidant found in egg yolks and vegetables such as kale, broccoli, carrots and spinach that helps us to maintain healthful eyes, teeth, bones and skin as we age.
Another carotenoid antioxidant with skin-friendly properties, shows up in yellow-orange foods such as orange peppers, carrots, and squash.
Perhaps the least well-known member of the carotenoid family, but is poised to be the new superstar of antioxidants with reports suggesting it has anywhere between 10 – 500 times the activity compared to other antioxidants.
Perhaps best known for it’s heart health benefits – lycopene is also from the carotene family, and is an excellent free radical scavenger – it is at least twice as effective an antioxidant as beta-carotene.
Powerful botanical antioxidants, polyphenols offer protection against free radical exposure to help prevent skin aging and boost the skin’s antioxidant protection from the inside out.
Believed to have the ability to diffuse UV light, beta carotene can help prevent burning and counteract the damaging and aging effect of the sun’s rays.
A trace mineral that increases the potency of vitamins C and E and prevents damage from free-radicals.
It strengthens the immune system, and protects all the cells in the body from free radical damage.
Found in fruits and vegetables like strawberries, red pepper, and citrus fruits; vitamin C helps to boost the immune system to fight free radical damage.
It is important to eat a variety of colors of the rainbow – because antioxidants work best when taken in conjunction with each other – they are better absorbed that way, and can magnify each other’s effects. The American Heart Association recommends obtaining antioxidants from a well-balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains rather than just from supplements. The body absorbs antoxidants from whole food sources better than most supplements. But many people can benefit from a good multivitamin as well as a diet rich in whole fruits and vegetables. When supplementing, just be aware that more is not always better when it comes to vitamins – the fat soluble vitamins are not readily excreted like the water-soluble vitamins and can accumulate in the body if too many are taken.
Omega-3 rich foods protect our cells from inflammation, oxidation, and free radical damage, and also offer important heart protective-effects. Research shows that omega-3 fats are inhibitors of development and progression of a range of human cancers, including melanoma. Omega-3s are essential fatty acids – which means the body can not make them, so we must obtain them from the foods we eat or supplements we take.
Omega 3s are important for focus and brain development, mood, and heart health too.
Consuming a diet high in sugar not only contributes to weight gain and insulin resistance, it also damages our skin. When sugar enters the bloodstream, it attaches to proteins to form harmful new molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). These AGEs damage collagen and elastin – the proteins in the skin that keep it looking young and healthy. AGEs also causes the body to covert the more stable form of collegen into collagen that is more fragile and prone to wrinkles and sagging. Finally – AGEs deactivate the body’s natural antioxidant enzymes, leaving us more vulnerable to sun damage. Ideally, no more than 10% of daily calories should come from sugar (which is about 9-10 teaspoons a day for an average woman). The good thing is that reducing dietary sugar consumption can quickly reverse some of the AGEs and collagen damage to result in more youthful looking and functioning skin.
What we put on our plate is important to the overall health and appearance of our skin – and it can boost the SPF of our skin. But it does not mean we can sit in the sun for too long. Consuming the above antioxidants can provide a modest level of SPF. Too much time in the sun can be very damaging. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer affects 1 in 5 Americans in their lifetime – making it the most common form of cancer in the United States. If you plan to be in the sun for an extended period, these 4 tips can help prevent overexposure to the sun:
Because the sun of the best source of vitamin D, wearing sunscreen all the time could have an unintended side effect – it could potentially reduce our vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is a very important nutrient for our immune system and overall health. And low levels may raise our risk for bone fractures and several different cancers.
More research is needed on the topic of sun, sunscreens, antioxidants and omega-3s – but it appears that a limited amount of time in the sun (approx 15 mins. for fair-skinned people), actually could have protective effects against skin cancer because it can boost vitamin D levels (read related blog: Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin).
Whether or not we decide to get a limited amount of unprotected sunlight or not – we can all boost the natural SPF of our skin, and boost our skin’s ability to fight free radicals and the signs of aging – by getting more antioxidants and omega 3s in our daily diets. A diet rich in antioxidants, obtaining the right balance of essential fatty acids, and limiting processed or foods with high levels of sugar, preservatives and chemicals – will help protect our skin, and our overall health.
Note: Article updated on May 22, 2017 to include niacin.
Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
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