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They may not come with an SPF rating, but many veggies help defend our skin from sunburn and other conditions. Here are four ways veggies do it.


A tomato should be something our kids like to eat, not something they look like after a long sunny day.

Fortunately, eating one can help prevent the other. Tomatoes, carrots and many other veggies are a super-healthy way to guard a child’s skin from sunburns and other sun ailments.

And in the process of protecting skin, veggies also benefit kid health. They deliver a variety of antioxidants that strengthen bones, improve memory and fight illness. In this way, veggies give a whole new meaning to SPF. They are super-preventative foods, helping kids look and feel as healthy on the inside as they do on the outside.

Want to pack a snack for sun protection? Here are four ways that veggies can help:

  • Lycopene: It’s one of nature’s friendly ironies that the pigment that turns tomatoes red keeps us from doing the same. Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes and other red foods, has been shown to act like a natural, edible sunscreen. Studies indicate that eating 10 milligrams of lycopene daily can minimize redness from UV rays. The average tomato contains 5 to 10 milligrams of lycopene.
  • Beta-carotene: While best known for improving the health of our eyes, beta-carotene also protects our hides. Found in carrots, sweet potatoes and other orange veggies, beta-carotene is teeming with antioxidants. These antioxidants defend us from free radicals, which steal electrons from healthy cells. Antioxidants offer up their own electrons, enabling our skin cells to better react to sun exposure.
  • Lutein: If tomatoes are a red light to sunburn, lutein is the green light to sun protection. The lutein in dark green lettuce, spinach, kale and other leafy greens suspends cell growth that may result from sun exposure. In particular, tests show lutein helps modulate the skin’s response to UV rays. Lutein also is highly concentrated in our retinas, so it is terrific for vision. It is best absorbed when eaten with high-fat foods, like avocado.
  • Flavonoid: Flavonoids are nutrients distributed into light-exposed tissues, such as the skin. Excellent sources include peppers, eggplants and tomatoes as well as onions, broccoli and celery. Research shows that when eaten for 10 to 12 weeks, flavonoids reduce sensitivity to erythema (redness or rash) caused by the sun.

An important note for all of these nutrients is that while they defend against the effects of the sun, they do not require the sun to be activated. Eat them at dinner, lunch, for a snack and even breakfast. And mix them up. A diet of fresh veggies of all colors, combined with lean proteins, healthy fats and other essential nutrients, is a good formula for lifelong health.

Also, don’t forget to pack the sunscreen. Veggies offer some sun protection, but not all. We shouldn’t expect total shelter from a tomato.

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