In addition to proper skin care and sun protection, what we eat also plays an important role in the health of our skin and in preventing and treating sunburn. This may come as a surprise, but your diet may actually help keep you from getting burned!
Your mother was right when she told you to eat your broccoli. The little green vegetable has been the focus in recent research on UV damage. Early research studies indicate components of broccoli may reduce the risk of UV skin damage and reduce the growth of cancerous tumours caused by UV rays.
Vitamin C-rich foods may help to prevent dry skin caused by aging. Vitamin C is an important anti-oxidant that scoops up free radicals in our bodies. Eating whole foods is much more powerful and effective than taking a single nutrient supplement and you can easily get more than enough vitamin C from your diet. Vitamin C rich foods include parsley, broccoli, peppers, strawberries, oranges and other citrus fruits, papaya, kiwi and leafy green vegetables.
Botanically, the tomato is a fruit but most people think of it as a vegetable. Tomatoes are high in lycopene, an anti-oxidant that has received press for lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer. This fruit also shows promising results for reducing erythema, the redness caused by sunlight. While further research is needed, eating tomatoes regularly is a step in the right direction toward healthier skin. Tomato sauce, ketchup and fresh tomatoes are all delicious ways to get these nutrients. Try a yummy tomato salad with your favourite low-fat cheese such as feta or bocconcini. Instead of asking for extra cheese on your next pizza, ask for extra tomato sauce!
Seeds, nuts and vegetable oils are an important source of vitamin E, an essential antioxidant. Nuts are also a good source of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid that, like vitamin C, may assist with reducing dry skin.
The sun is an important source of vitamin D, an essential vitamin that helps prevent cancer and bone disease. In Canadian winters, vitamin D is not readily available from the sun and in summer, the risk of skin cancer from harmful UV rays means that we must protect our skin, therefore limiting how much vitamin D we get all year round. To make sure you get enough vitamin D, eat more fatty fish and be sure to read the label and look for products that are fortified with it such as milk, milk alternatives (soy and rice beverage), calcium-added orange juice, and other dairy products. Foods fortified with vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol), a non-vegetarian source of vitamin D, appear to be more effective than foods fortified with the vegetarian source D2.
The Canadian Cancer Society recommends consuming 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day during the fall and winter, or all year round if you are older, have dark skin, or wear protective clothing or sunscreen when outside. This amount would be difficult to consume from food alone so a supplement may be needed.