Daily rides can put your skin under a huge amount of stress—just think of all that sweating and exposure to the sun’s beaming rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans will develop a form of skin cancer by age 70, most of which is associated with UV radiation from the sun. And let’s not forget: While UVA and UVB wavelengths aren’t visible to the naked eye, it doesn’t make them any less harmful to the health of our largest organ.
By now we all know to slather on the sunscreen and toss on a rimmed cap and dark shades for the greatest degree of protection when working up a sweat in the great outdoors. But there’s one crucial step in your sun-protection routine that you might be overlooking: what you eat. Research shows that certain foods may help protect your skin against skin cancer, wrinkles, and other issues.
While a salad is no substitute for using sunblock regularly, these healthy eating habits are a solid way to give your skin some relief.
1. Eat more Mediterranean foods
Switching from a standard American diet to a Mediterranean style one isn’t just good for your heart, it can also be an ally in the battle against a serious skin disease. A report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition discovered that women who followed the Mediterranean diet most closely over a period of 15 years benefited from a lower risk of skin cancer, particularly melanoma and basil cell carcinomas. Another study supported this outcome: It found an association between improved adherence to the Mediterranean diet and a 72 percent lower risk of skin cancer in adult men and women. Researchers found fruits and lower-fat dairy to be particularly helpful for skin health.
The Mediterranean diet is centered around consuming plants—fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts—and monounsaturated fats. This ensures people consume ample amounts of foods containing antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, which provide a protective component to our skin, particularly against damage caused by the sun and other environmental factors including pollution, according to Jennifer O’Donnell-Giles, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D., owner of Eat 4 Sport.
2. Snack on grapes
Here’s news that makes grapes an even sweeter treat: People who consumed a powder of freeze-dried grapes every day for 14 days—the equivalent of 2.25 cups of fresh grapes a day—had a significant increase in polyphenol antioxidants in their skin. This is likely why they were nearly 75 percent more resistant to ultraviolet light-induced sunburn, according to a recent study in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Remember that sunburn raises the risk for developing skin cancer down the road.
Biopsy findings also revealed an association between grape consumption and less skin-cell damage and fewer inflammatory markers after UV light exposure. Polyphenols found in grapes may help repair UV-ray damage and also reduce inflammation.
Future research needs to determine if certain varieties of grapes are more protective against sun-induced skin damage, but it’s been shown that concord and purple grapes have a greater concentration of polyphenol antioxidants (beneficial compounds that we get through certain plant-based foods) than green or red grapes. As a bonus, Giles says the natural sugars you get from eating a couple handfuls of nature’s candy after a sunny ride can help restock your carbohydrate energy reserves and aid with recovery.
Giles notes that raisins, which are simply dried grapes, also contain high concentration of polyphenols. And don’t overlook other fruits such as cherries, blueberries, and blackberries that also contain a cocktail of polyphenols that may help out your skin.
3. Make your plate colorful
An investigation in the journal PLUS ONE determined that an increased intake of carotenoids (bright yellow, red, and orange pigments in plants)—found in bright vegetables like sweet potato, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, and bell peppers—over six weeks can have a beneficial impact on reducing UV-induced skin reddening and other discoloration. Researchers witnessed the skin benefits with just three servings a day of carotenoid-rich veggies and fruits.
New research also suggests that carotenoids, like beta-carotene and lycopene, can limit skin cell oxidative stress and inhibit inflammatory cytokines (small proteins important in cell signaling) that degrade skin collagen (a protein responsible for healthy joints and skin elasticity).
“Carotenoids can accumulate in the epidermis of our skin where they are efficient in halting the formation of cancer cells,” Giles says.
To make carotenoids work harder for your skin, Giles says it’s best to consume them with a source of dietary fat, considering they're fat-soluble. Adding a drizzle of olive oil or sliced avocado to a salad should do the trick.
“Ideally, you want to eat a variety of different colored vegetables and fruits each day to ensure that many different carotenoids are available to you,” says Giles.
4. Go fish for salmon
Salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids that can offer some natural protection from the rays of the sun. As reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at the University of Manchester found that people who supplemented their diets with omega-3s and then were exposed to the equivalent of either 8, 15, or 30 minutes of summer midday sun experienced up to 50 percent less sunlight-induced immune system suppression— which affects your body’s ability to fend off skin cancer and infection—than participants who did not take the omega-3 fats.
The level of omega-3 consumption was equivalent to about 6 ounces of oily fish daily, so it remains to be determined if lower intakes can also help keep our skin healthy.
What’s more, a large review also showed that including more fish in your diet, as well as noshing on more fruits and vegetables, could help prevent acne development.
5. Crunch on almonds
The main cause of wrinkles and changes in skin pigmentation is photoaging, which is damage to the skin caused by exposure to sun and its ultraviolet light. Since most rides happen during the day, it might be a good idea to keep your pantry well-stocked with almonds.
An investigation from the University of California-Davis suggests that a daily almond habit might benefit skin health by improving measures of wrinkle width and severity. The total amount of almonds the postmenopausal women in the study consumed was about 2 ounces daily for four months. It’s not known if lower amounts of nut intake in other demographics will also benefit skin appearance. However, the researchers are optimistic that the nutritional stew in almonds—including beneficial fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants—can have skin-benefiting powers for all.
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