You are (protected by) what you eat

Whether you’re a full-time gardener or an after-work and weekend gardener, odds are you’ve been caught outside on a hot and sunny day without sunscreen (and maybe paid the price for it). We’ve all been there, and although a little sun is a great way to get your vitamin D, boost your mood, and improve your health overall, too much and you’re left aching for days.

It turns out that food is a powerful tool and when used to our advantage, many food items can aid in protecting us from the sun. When you’re spending any lengthy amount of time in the sun, it’s always important that you pair your sun protective food items with a natural sunscreen, so before we run through the food list, here’s why you should go natural with your sunscreen.

Avoid chemical sunscreens for the planet and your body

It’s important to choose natural sunscreens, as commercial sunscreens are filled with chemicals that affect the health of coral reefs, green algae, mussels, fish, dolphins and other aquatic life.

Where there’s been debate on how these same chemicals affect humans, recent studies have dug deeper and found that oxybenzone has been shown to stimulate the overproduction of estrogen in the body and disrupt our endocrine systems (our hormonal systems), which affect our reproductive health and our immune systems.

Thankfully there are environmentally friendly mineral sunscreens comprised of non-nano zinc oxide and vitamin E, or you can DIY a sunscreen by buying those two active ingredients and mixing them with coconut oil (SPF properties), shea butter (skin protector), jojoba oil (some natural protection, but mostly moisturization), and essential oils for scent (avoid citrus oils as they increase sensitivity to sunlight).

Now that you’re covered, here are some common food items that can aid in your sun protection so that you can keep enjoying the summer days without an achy burn.

1. Foods high in copper

Copper has often been overlooked, but recently it’s been getting lots of love for being a powerful antioxidant. It works to fight off or neutralize the free radicals that our bodies produce in response to cellular damage caused by exposure to sunlight. Once they’re neutralized, they stop attacking cells and your skin can retain the tissues that keep it healthy.
Eat: Liver, oysters, spirulina, shiitake mushrooms, cashews, Brazil nuts, crab and lobster, salmon,and beans

2. Foods high in vitamin C

These foods are also great at helping kill off those free radicals that your body produces while also being a great hydration boost for the middle of summer.
Eat: Tomatoes, citrus, strawberries, kiwi and peppers

3. Foods high in Vitamin E

Foods filled with vitamin E—yes, exactly the same ingredient found in your external sunscreen—can prevent photo-damage to the skin, which is what causes darker pigmentation and can lead to skin cancer.
Eat: Avocados, salmon, rainbow trout, red peppers, mango, Brazil nuts, turnip greens, cod, lobster, broccoli, mustard greens, spinach, Swiss chard and olives

4. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids

Foods that are high in omega-3 have the potential for protecting against skin cancer, and although studies are slow moving, so far they’re showing that a continuous low level from eating omega-3 rich foods can reduce an individual’s risk of skin cancer over their lifetime.
Eat: Eggs, hemp seeds, mackerel, salmon, oysters, flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and soybeans

5. Foods which provide UV protection

There are a surprising amount of foods that provide overall UV protection, including dark leafy greens, red and orange fruits and veggies, green tea, as well as consuming healthy oils like avocado, coconut and olive oil, which can also be applied topically to block about 20 percent of UV rays.

As always, when choosing your food items, be sure to purchase environmentally responsibly raised, caught and grown foods. No matter if you eat a vegan diet, a paleo diet, or the gardeners diet, there are sustainable and healthy foods that can fit well into your existing meal choices while also helping to protect you from the sun.