Life Table Talk

Monday 15 September 2014

10 foods that prevent sun damage from the inside out

Stock up on these 10 essentials before you hit the beach for that summer tan

Rozanne Stevens

Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30

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Fried Mackerel
Fried Mackerel
Rozanne Stevens
Sliced watermelon
Sliced watermelon

People-watching in Dublin Airport recently, I was horrified at the amount of scorched and peeling faces - obviously, fair-skinned sun worshippers who had fried themselves to a crisp on their beach holiday. While a few minutes of sun a day is important to get our dose of Vitamin D, excessive exposure to UV rays activates free radicals in the skin. These free radicals cause accelerated ageing at best, and at worst, skin cancer.

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We have all experienced sunburn, from a mild stinging and red skin to full-on lobster effect. Sunburn is inflammation, which is an immune system response to the damaging effects of UV rays. Excessive exposure to UV rays causes the free radicals to go wild, puncturing and tearing apart the skin cells, which you see as wrinkles. This process is called oxidation and can be compared with metal rusting.

The immune system plays a very important role in protecting the skin against the harmful rays that cause inflammation. So in conjunction with proper sun protection and reduced exposure, antioxidant and nutrient-rich foods can help protect your skin from the inside out.

The amount of antioxidants in your blood decreases when your skin is exposed to the sun, so another good reason to include antioxidant-rich foods in your daily meals and snacks. These top 10 foods are readily available and super healthy, so stock up this summer for healthier skin and a better immune system.

Green tea

Make a big pitcher of iced green tea your drink of choice this summer. Scientists have discovered an antioxidant in green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), that does wonders for the skin. It fights free radicals, reduces inflammation from the inside out, and may help to prevent skin cancer. EGCG is 100 times more potent than Vitamin C and 25 times stronger than Vitamin E, both potent antioxidants that protect the skin. A 12-week study on green tea showed that women who drank green tea saw improvements in rough, dry skin and skin elasticity and firmness.

Dark chocolate

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I'm sure you don't need any encouragement to eat chocolate! But it's only the dark variety with at least 75pc cocoa that will give you all the antioxidant benefits. There are over a hundred compounds in chocolate that scientists are studying for their numerous health benefits. But it's specifically the flavonoids that help protect the skin. Limit consumption to no more than 175g a week and enjoy with other antioxidant-rich foods such as strawberries or red wine.

Tomatoes

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Tomatoes and tomato-based foods are a major source of lycopene, a very powerful antioxidant that is probably most well-known for its prostate cancer-prevention abilities. Lycopene is also well established as offering long-term protection against UV radiation damage. The lycopene from tomatoes is easier to absorb when the tomatoes are cooked and combined with a little olive oil. In a 10-week study, subjects ate 40 grammes (about three heaped tablespoons) of tomato paste with a little olive oil every day. The group was 40pc less likely to get sunburn.

Watermelon

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Like tomatoes, watermelons are extremely rich in lycopene. But they do not need to be cooked to get the maximum benefits. Watermelon actually contains 40pc more lycopene than raw tomatoes. Also rich in choline, which reduces inflammation and Vitamin C, both are needed for healthy collagen and sun damage repair.

Almonds

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Almonds and other nuts and seeds contain high levels of Vitamin E and selenium, both important antioxidants for the skin. Vitamin E helps neutralise the free radicals that cause inflammation and damage. One of the best-known anti-ageing vitamins, it helps slow down the formation of wrinkles. If you have any scars, stretch marks or acne scars, Vitamin E is one of your best bets.

Oily Fish

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Salmon is an excellent source of an antioxidant known as astaxanthin. It is 1000 times more effective than Vitamin E, which is traditionally used for anti-ageing, repairing UV damage and keeping the skin youthful. The omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish - such as salmon, mackerel, trout, herrings - and sardines are powerful protective anti-inflammatories. This helps reduce the risk of sunburn and UV damage to the skin. Oily fish also helps keep the skin looking radiant and hydrated and therefore youthful.

Cherries

Cherries are super rich in an antioxidant that produces melatonin. Melatonin protects the skin against ultraviolet radiation. The darker your skin tone, the more melatonin naturally present in your skin. Hence fair-skinned people are more prone to sunburn.

Melatonin also stimulates new cell growth, so even if you have existing sun spots and damaged skin, you'll get the benefits. Cherries are also packed with Vitamin C, which builds collagen. Collagen is like the bricks and mortar of the skin and a great wrinkle preventer.

Carrots

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The beta-carotene in carrots not only prevents sun damage but may also reverse it. In a recent Korean study, women received a daily dose of 30 milligrams of beta-carotene (roughly six carrots) for three months. The subjects showed a significant increase in protection from photo-ageing - premature wrinkling of the skin caused by exposure to UV rays - and repaired cells.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates offer excellent sun protection, with their potent profile of antioxidants which ward off sun damage, skin cancer, the visible effects of photo-ageing and can even relieve sunburn. They have amazing cell regeneration properties, stimulating cellular regeneration in the deepest layers of the skin. Along with this cell renewal, pomegranates help prevent the breakdown of collagen in the skin and also stimulate the fibroblasts that produce the collagen and elastin. Antioxidant anthocycanins in pomegranates protect the skin from environmental stress and damage, protect DNA and promote healing. So pomegranates really earn their stripes as a superfood for skin.

Skin superfood snacks

If it's too hot for a cuppa, serve iced green tea as a summer cooler. Add some fresh mint and frozen berries to keep it chilled instead of ice blocks. To help your dark chocolate treat go further, break up dark chocolate into pieces and mix in a bowl with dried cranberries, candied orange peel and Brazil nuts.

For antioxidant lycopene, enjoy a 'Virgin Mary' made with tomato juice and a good splash of Worcstershire sauce, Tabasco and celery salt. Serve a refreshing summer salad of diced watermelon, mint leaves, finely sliced red onion and crumbled feta cheese. I like some freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and raspberry vinegar.

For a healthy snack, push a whole almond into a dried fig. Dip into melted chocolate. Grate over fresh orange zest and allow to set so that the chocolate solidifies. It sounds odd, but just try it! To make mouthwatering mackerel paté, mix smoked mackerel with cream cheese, a good squeeze of lemon juice and a grating of fresh nutmeg.

Make an easy cherry compote for pancakes and porridge by heating pitted cherries with orange juice and zest with a little cinnamon or vanilla. For an oldie but a goody, mix grated carrot with orange juice, crushed tinned pineapple and poppy seeds for crunch for a delicious carrot salad. Pomegranate seeds are super versatile in salads and as a garnish. Especially good stirred through couscous, quinoa and on top of lamb chops or a tagine.

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