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5 Foods that Enhance Your Natural Sun Protection

Summary: Why is it so important to stay protected from the sun?
Air Date: 6/12/15
Duration: 10
Host: Leigh Vinocur, MD
Guest Bio: Dana James, MS, CNS, CDN
Dana James, MS, CNS, CDN is a nutritional therapist, writer and founder of Food Coach NYC. She holds her Masters in Clinical Nutrition and is trained in nutrition biochemistry, functional medicine and cognitive behavioral therapy. Her goal is to help women break their antagonist (and often obsessive) relationship with food and their body.

Dana coaches one-to-one, runs workshops in NYC, and holds retreats that help women lead more beautiful and balanced lives.

Dana is also a speaker, and frequent guest on TV shows. Dana contributes to Elle.com, Well + Good, The Coveteur, Shape Magazine, Women's Health, Fitness, The Cut, Eat this, Not That, Buzzfeed, and more...
5 Foods that Enhance Your Natural Sun Protection
Protecting yourself against the summer sun might be an important prevention protocol for you and your loved ones.

Even though you may have educated yourself on the difference between UVA and UVB rays, and which sunscreen SPF works best on your skin, did you know you can enhance protection from the sun by eating certain foods?

It's true what doctors say: foods have the power to heal your body, as well as protect it. Certain foods can boost your skin's ability to ward off the damages of UV exposure.

So, what are these five foods that can help protect against the sun?

  • Heirloom tomatoes
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Watermelon
  • Bell peppers
  • Wild salmon

Dana James, MS, CNS, CDN, shares the five foods that naturally enhance protection against the sun.

RadioMD Presents:Dr. Leigh Show | Original Air Date: June 12, 2015
Host: Leigh Vinocur, MD

RadioMD. RadioMD.com. It's time for the Dr. Leigh Vinocur show. Here's Dr. Leigh.

DR. LEIGH: Hi, welcome to the show. We have a very interesting show today. My next guess, Dana James, is a nutritional therapist. She has a Master's in Clinical Nutrition, and she is going to talk about five foods that actually can enhance your natural sun protection. Welcome, Ms. James. Thank you for being here.

MS. JAMES: Thanks, Dr. Leigh, for asking me on the show.

DR. LEIGH: So, this is interesting. Let's run down the list of these foods and talk a little bit about it. And what is interesting to me when I look at this, it seems like it's all about the color. We talk about the color of fruits and vegetables, and that's because there really are chemicals that create the color that are healthy for us. Right?

MS. JAMES: Absolutely right. So, what we want to think about is the plant-based foods because they provide that natural protection. If you think about plants, they don't glump on sunscreen. So, instead they create these polyphenols and flavonoids and antioxidants, which provide them with that natural protection from the sun. And so, when we ingest those, we also get the added benefit of that.

Now, where the research has been done has really been on foods that contain those red pigments, and in particular the lycopene. There was a study that was done several years ago on tomatoes, and it was done in Britain, and it showed that when you consumed the equivalent of about a cup of tomatoes, then that would enhance your SPF by about 50 percent so that you could actually decrease that UV damage if you consumed those tomatoes on a regular basis.

Now with all types of studies that's just looking at one particular point – and that's the tomatoes – so from my viewpoint, as a nutritionist, it's "Well, let's take that research on the lycopene and also have a look at what other foods contain the lycopene and other types of antioxidants that would protect the skin from UV damage. And then when you consumed those, it's also going to provide you with that enhanced protection."

DR. LEIGH: When you talk about this enhanced protection, it's really the antioxidants in it that are kind of repairing the skin from the UV damage, per se. Is that pretty much how these lycopenes and phytochemicals are working?

MS. JAMES: That would be one of them. The other side is not just the repair but also the protective mechanisms, so that when you are exposed to those UV rays, you've got like a barrier because you have more antioxidants in the body.

DR. LEIGH: Okay. So, what are the five fruits or vegetables – well, actually, when I look at the list, one's not either fruit or vegetable – but what are the five foods?

MS. JAMES: Tomatoes is the first one. And with those tomatoes the way you want to be eating them is with a little bit of olive oil, because olive oil helps the absorption of the lycopene because it's a fat-soluble nutrient. So, that's a great one.

DR. LEIGH: Do they have to be raw tomatoes or can you cook them?

MS. JAMES: You can cook them. When you cook the tomatoes, then you intensify that lycopene. You do get that with the raw tomatoes. When we're going into summer, most of us aren't going to be eating cooked tomatoes; we're going to be eating more raw tomatoes in a salad.

DR. LEIGH: Right, but tomato sauce, I guess if you made your own sauce it would be better than buying say jarred sauce. But by having the sauce actually too, it enhances it. Is that what you're saying? It concentrates it?

MS. JAMES: Well, it would be a very small amount and you'd want to be thinking about the high fructose corn syrup that's in most of the sauces. So, my assumption here would be that you would lose that benefit because of that. Because we know that sugar accelerates the aging process.

DR. LEIGH: Right, right. But if you were making your own tomato sauce, and boiling down the tomatoes, that would be a good way.

MS. JAMES: Perfect. Yes. Absolutely wonderful.

DR. LEIGH: And you mentioned heirloom tomatoes. Those are really better than your run of the mill tomatoes?

MS. JAMES: Yes, they are!

DR. LEIGH: Why is that?

MS. JAMES: They contain more of those antioxidants and body nutrients. So, if you think about a tomato that's been vine ripened and you get them from Florida versus an heirloom tomato or one that you picked from your garden. Very different in taste and the density of those nutrients.

DR. LEIGH: Okay. Next on the list: pomegranate seeds?

MS. JAMES: Pomegranate seeds: these are fantastic. Not only do these polyphenols that protect the skin from UVA and B free radicals, but what they can do is they also inhibit pigmentation. Here, you just want to be snacking on about a cup of those pomegranate seeds. Similar to what we were discussing about tomatoes before, I'm not really advising somebody to go out and drink a whole lot of pomegranate juice with sugar in it.

DR. LEIGH: Right, and it's interesting. First of all, they make it very easy now. I hated opening the pomegranates and everything, but you can buy at a lot of stores – for instance, even Trader Joe's – will have pomegranate seeds already deseeded. You can throw them on anything you want. Makes it really easy for people.

MS. JAMES: Yeah, exactly. I've never opened a pomegranate in my life. I grew up simple.

Another one that's really beautiful with us going into summer is watermelon. All we need is about 3 cups of watermelon for their UV effectiveness to come in. That one there, you can absolutely have that in a juice because most of the watermelon there is water. So, enjoy that one.

DR. LEIGH: I love watermelon.

MS. JAMES: Another one is bell peppers. They contain a different type of antioxidant called capsiate and that decreases the inflammation from the sun exposure. And the same type of thing, just toss some red bell peppers into a salad.

DR. LEIGH: These are not necessarily the hot peppers that have that capsaicin; all peppers have it. Maybe it's a little more concentrated in hot peppers.

MS. JAMES: Correct. That's right.

DR. LEIGH: Okay. So that's great. And the last one you talked about was wild salmon. It has to be wild. You can see the difference in color of the two salmon. Is that part of it?

MS. JAMES: That's part of it, but also the wild salmon has a richer component of those Omega 3s versus the farm salmon. This mechanism here is slightly different from the plant-based reaction that we were discussing. Here, the Omega 3s decrease the inflammation from the UVB rays, but they also inhibit an enzyme that causes the formation of those wrinkles. So, slightly different mechanism there but still advantageous for the skin.

DR. LEIGH: Right, and people think, okay, preventing – and with the caveat of this, you are still recommending that people go out and use sunscreen if they're going to be at the beach, right? It's not just bringing salmon to the beach in your set, correct?

MS. JAMES: [laughing] Right, absolutely. You want to be doing that. If I have time I'll share a story. One time I was at the beach, I was away in Mexico, and I thought I put sunscreen on my face. And I came back and I have been out walking for hours and hours, and I was like, "Why is my face really red and tight?" Then I looked down at the supposed sunscreen and I had put moisturizer on my face as opposed to sunscreen, and I was like "Oh no!" Then the next morning I woke up – completely gone.

DR. LEIGH: Really? You had a lot of salmon that night. [laughing]

MS. JAMES: Well, it's just more that I consistently eat this way. So, it's not just that night, but I consistently eat a plant-based diet or I've got sufficient Omega 3s in my diet.

DR. LEIGH: That's really interesting. So, besides bringing your sunscreen, make sure you eat all your fruits and vegetables while you're on your beach vacation because it's important. I think people should realize, too, that it isn't just the burning that we're worry about. A suntan is a little bit of damaged skin, and that's what leads to dreaded wrinkles. So, in my book a suntan is just as bad as a burn, especially if you're going to end up with wrinkles.

I want to thank my guest. It's been fascinating. This is the Dr. Leigh Vinocur Show, It's Health from the Outside In, on RadioMD. Where feeling good starts with looking good. Stay tuned into your health.