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Guide to Protecting Skin from Sun Damage   ( Home | Diet | Foods | Recipes )

10 Super-Foods That Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage

This page of's Guide to Protecting Skin from Sun Damage presents 10 foods that, due to their nutritional profile, can help protect your skin from the harmful ultraviolet radiation the sun emits. If you are interested in more general information on nutrition and what it can do to protect your skin from sun damage and premature aging, visit this Guide's home page or the diet page. For delicious recipes that combine some of the best skin-protecting foods, visit the Guide's recipe page.

#1: Salmon

Salmon is rich in omega-3s and astaxanthin.

Salmon is a real super-food when it comes to protecting the skin. It provides an excellent source of omega 3-fatty acids — a type of fatty acids that are often in short supply in Western diets. Research also suggests that these essential fatty acids can help protect the skin from UV damage and premature aging. In addition to omega-3's, salmon contains another interesting nutrient: astaxanthin. Astaxanthin, a carotenoid that gives salmon its pink color, is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to scavenge free radicals created by skin exposed to ultraviolet rays and to alleviate the pain and inflammation associated with sunburn.

#2: Carrots

You've probably heard that carrots are good for eye sight, but did you know that they can also boost the skin's natural protection against the sun's rays? Carrots are one of the best dietary sources of beta-carotene — a nutrient that is known to help protect the skin against the free radical damage from sun exposure. They also contain vitamin C and a wealth of other nutrients. When buying these delicious root vegetables, choose carrots with the deepest, darkest orange color as they contain the highest levels of beta-carotene. It is also advisable to buy organically grown produce whenever possible as conventionally grown carrots typically contain high amounts of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

#3: Spinach

Most people know that fatty fish such as salmon is rich in the skin-protecting omega-3 fatty acids, but did you know that also spinach contains these healthful fatty acids? In addition, spinach provides plenty of beta-carotene and vitamins that help protect the skin. It is also at the top of the list of foods with the highest concentration of glutathione (313 nM glutathione/g wet weight). Glutathione is a strong antioxidant that has gained the spotlight in recent years and that has been revered as the 'master antioxidant'.

#4: Green Tea

Although not a food, green tea is included in this list of skin protecting super-foods as green tea has been shown to effectively inhibit a number of processes known to cause premature skin aging from sun exposure. The beneficial effects of green tea on the skin are thought to be linked to the high amount of catechins green tea contains. Catechins are compounds that are known to have extremely powerful antioxidant and other health promoting properties. To maximize the release of catechins, choose loose tea leaves instead of tea bags. Be also sure to let the tea steep long enough (for approximately five minutes).

The lycopene in tomatoes is one of the most powerful skin-protecting nutrients.

#5: Tomatoes

Tomatoes possess many properties that make them exceptional at protecting the skin. Their most interesting quality: they provide lycopene which can neutralize the harmful effects of UV light by scavenging skin-damaging free radicals. One study found that 5 tablespoons of tomato paste a day, served with olive oil, increased the protection against sunburn by 33% (estimated to correspond to a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor of 1.3). Lycopene from processed tomato products — such as tomato paste, tomato juice, and catsup — appears to be more bioavailable than that from raw tomatoes. Further, lycopene is better absorbed by the body in the presence of beta-carotene. Coincidentally, tomatoes also contain beta-carotene! In addition to lycopene and beta-carotene, tomatoes contain vitamin C.

#6: Turmeric

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine for centuries due to its beneficial effects on a wide range of diseases and conditions. It has been shown to possess strong anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and laboratory studies suggest that turmeric can help protect the epidermal skin cells from the damage caused by ultraviolet B radiation (UB radiation). This extraordinary root plant of the ginger family is a key ingredient in Indian style curries, but its range of culinary uses is in fact much wider: it can be used to add flavor to fish, seafood, meat, rice, vegetable, and pasta dishes.

Fish roe
Fish eggs contain even more omega-3 fatty acids than fish.

#7: Fish Eggs

A little goes a long way when it comes to fish eggs. Fish eggs are one of the best natural sources of DHA and EPA which are types of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, fish eggs contain even more omega-3 fatty acids than the fattiest fish. A study, which analyzed the roe of fifteen marine animals, found that the roe of lumpsucker, hake, and salmon were the richest in terms of omega-3 fatty acids.

#8: Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are by far the nature's best dietary source of selenium: a single Brazil nut provides more than the US reference daily intake! Due to their selenium content, combined with their high concentration of vitamin E, Brazil nuts are up there at the top of the list of foods for sunny days. It is important, however, to keep in mind that Brazil nuts, like most other nuts, are calorie-dense and should therefore be consumed in moderation, especially if you are concerned about weight gain.

#9: Mustard Greens

Chock-full of carotenoids and vitamins, these delicious greens with distinctly peppery flavor are a great functional food for protecting the skin from damage caused by ultra-violet radiation from the sun. Not only are they one of the best dietary sources of beta-carotene, they are also packed with lutein and zeaxanthin. On top of that, mustard greens are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin E. Mustard greens are available throughout the year in the produce section of your local supermarket.

#10: Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of the oldest vegetables known to man. They are also one of the most nutritious vegetables and an excellent addition to your diet if you want to protect your skin against damage caused by sun exposure. The pink, orange, and yellow varieties are one of the most concentrated food sources of beta-carotene (the more intense the color, the more beta-carotene). In addition, sweet potatoes contain vitamin C as well as unique root proteins which, according to some preliminary studies, have significant antioxidant properties. Furthermore, sweet potatoes are thought to promote the synthesis of hyaluronic acid (HA), a special protein produced by the body. Hyaluronic acid helps keep the skin smooth and supple, but the body's ability to produce this important anti-wrinkle substance deteriorates as we age.

More on Sun, Skin and Nutrition:

For more information on how dietary choices can help protect your skin from the sun and premature aging, see: