We all know that fruits and vegetables are good for us, but can the phyto-nutrients in vegetables protect us from sun damage?
Plant constituents such as carotenoids and flavonoids are involved in the light-protecting system in plants and contribute to the prevention of UV damage in humans. As micronutrients they are ingested with the diet and are distributed into light-exposed tissues where they provide systemic photoprotection. beta-Carotene is an endogenous photoprotector, and its efficacy to prevent UV-induced erythema formation has been demonstrated in intervention studies. Lycopene is the major carotenoid of the tomato and is a very efficient singlet oxygen quencher in the group of carotenoids. Following ingestion of lycopene or tomato-derived products rich in lycopene, photoprotective effects have been demonstrated. After 10-12 weeks of intervention a decrease in the sensitivity towards UV-induced erythema was observed in volunteers. Dietary carotenoids may contribute to life-long protection against harmful UV radiation.
Institut für Biochemie und Molekularbiologie I, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf, P.O. Box 101007, D-40001 Düsseldorf, Germany.
It looks like they may help, but they are not as effective as the sunscreen lotion you apply to the skin. The phyto-nutrients that seem to be the most helpful for sun protection are carotenoids, especially lycopene which has a reddish pigment. Lycopene occurs plentifully in tomatoes, so feast on them fresh, add generous amounts of tomato sauce to pasta, add it to soups, or bake some stuffed tomatoes. Don’t take lycopene or other carotenoids in pill form though, since in isolation they can be either useless or even toxic. Other good sources of lycopene are papaya, guava, and pink grapefruit.
Dietary sun protection isn’t meant to replace sunscreen lotion. Apply sunscreen generously to your skin before venturing out during the day, even on cloudy days, unless you want to your skin to age prematurely or increase your risk of skin cancer.
Even if eating certain fruits and vegetables didn’t help protect from sun damage, there’s a thousand other reasons to eat more of them anyway.