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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Both black and green teas contain polyphenols, antioxidants that target free radicals unleashed by the sun. The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology published a study by Dartmouth Medical School researchers who had found that subjects who drank two or more cups of either black or green tea daily were 30 percent less likely to have squamous cell carcinoma than their peers who didn't drink tea. Even better, those who'd sipped tea for 47 years or more saw their odds of squamous cell cancer plummet by an impressive 51 percent.

The polyphenols in tea may also protect the skin against moderate sun exposure, says lead author Judy Rees, M.D., Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at Dartmouth. "But more research is needed." While they originate from the same plant, black and green teas are not created equal. Green tea has more epigallocatechin–3–gallate (EGCG), the most powerful polyphenol of them all. For scientists, the next step is to distinguish the protective differences, if any, between the two teas. Until results are in, play it safe and stick with green tea.

Let tea steep a little longer than normal–about five minutes. The longer it steeps, the higher the polyphenol content.

Savvy eaters know that broccoli and leafy greens like spinach, kale, and chard help ward off lung and colon cancers, but new evidence hints that the protection may extend to the skin. A breakthrough Queensland, Australia, study published in the International Journal of Cancer—and involving more than 1,000 subjects tracked over 11 years—suggested that the blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in green veggies could lower the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by more than 50 percent.

The notion that greens protect the skin from the sun is no surprise to Paul Talalay, M.D., a professor of pharmacology and molecular sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who's been studying the link between cruciferous vegetables and cancer protection for 25 years. Most recently, he and his colleagues discovered that broccoli sprouts house a potent skin cancer weapon—sulforaphane. The anticancer compound increases the body's natural production of the enzymes that protect skin from the sun. "Broccoli isn't a substitute for sunscreen," Talalay cautions, "but the protection you get won't wash off in the pool."

Get in the habit of eating broccoli by steaming a head (or two for a family) every week. Keep it in the fridge and dole out ½ cup servings, and try adding broccoli sprouts to salads or sandwiches.