Healthy Eating

Eat Your Sunscreen

Focus on these 5 foods to boost your defenses against sun damage and skin cancer.

Eat Your Sunscreen
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Fish don't need sunscreen, but their omega–3 fatty acids go a long way toward protecting our skin. Like antioxidants, omega–3s soothe inflammation. Plus cells made with monounsaturated fats (such as omega–3s) are better able to defend themselves against free radicals than are cells made with saturated fat, says dermatologist Black.
In addition to increasing your "good" fat, cutting your overall fat intake is a safe bet, too. In Black's landmark study—which looked at 115 people who had been treated previously for non–melanoma skin cancer—subjects who cut their fat intake from 36 percent of calories to 20 percent saw their risk of developing precancerous skin growths plummet by 75 percent.

To get the benefits of fish oil, Black recommends eating at least two servings (one portion is the size of a deck of cards) of omega–3–rich fish (herring, mackerel, trout, sardines, or salmon) a week. Studies suggest that fish oil supplements offer the same benefits.

The antioxidants found in dark chocolate, called flavonoids, may safeguard your skin from the sun. In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, German scientists asked two groups of 12 volunteers each to start their day with a cup of hot chocolate. One group's beverage was spiked with 329 mg of total–cocoa flavanols (a class of flavonoids); the other group had only 26.8 mg. At the beginning, middle, and end of the study, researchers tested a small section of each participant's skin for its ability to fend off sunlight and found a 25 percent increase in that ability in those who'd had the flavanol–charged cocoa. Meanwhile, the control group saw no change.

Nibble on 2 ounces of dark chocolate a day, recommends internist Felder. "Don't bother with milk chocolate—the milk prevents the absorption of polyphenols." And don't make your hot cocoa with milk.