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Eat Your Sunscreen – Sunburn Protection Starts in the Kitchen

Have you ever spent the day at the beach swimming, running through the sand, and sunbathing, only end your day with a painful sunburn? You swore you put on sunscreen three or four times throughout the day but somehow you were still burnt. While sunburns can leave the skin blistered and red, the real damage goes skin deep. Ultraviolet rays from the sun are carcinogens, meaning they have the ability to turn into cancer. However, applying sunscreen isn’t the only way to prevent sunburns, we can eat it too.

Why do we get sunburn?

To begin, when we expose our bodies to harmful ultraviolet sun rays, the DNA of our skin cells becomes damaged.1 The proteins, prostaglandins and cytokines, synthesize differently due to this damage and cue the “dilation of the cutaneous blood vessels and recruitment of inflammatory cells.”2 This leads to the redness, pain, blisters, and swelling commonly experienced with sunburns.

You might be wondering why some people’s skin burns and some people’s tan. This is due to an individuals melanin level. Melanin is what gives skin its pigment and what protects us from sun.3 When we stay in the sun for too long and damage our skin, the body produces even more melanin to prevent further damage.4 People with darker skin produce more melanin, which is why they tan. People with lighter skin produce less melanin which is why their skin turns red and burns.5

Is sunscreen our only option?

So, what can we do to prevent sunburns? The answer that first comes to mind is typically to apply sunscreen. While there are natural, mineral-based sunscreens on the market, most sunscreens are chemical based.6 Oxybenzone, which is added to almost 65% of non-mineral sunscreens, can cause allergic skin reactions, the raising and lowering of testosterone, and the possibility to effect the length of pregnancy and the baby’s birth weight.7

Many of the chemicals used in sunscreen, including Oxybenzone, have not recently been assessed for potential harm, due to The Food and Drug Administration grandfathering the ingredients in during the late 1970s.8 9 Are there other alternatives to using sunscreen to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful rays?

A more holistic approach

As most people know, having a healthy diet and a diverse gut microbiome can build immunity and prevent many health issues, like cardiovascular disease and hypertension. But did you know that you can use your healthy diet to fight sunburns as well? While these foods will not completely protect you during extended hours in the sun, they will fight against sun exposure on a regular day basis.

  • Tomatoes, carrots, and watermelon: All three of these vibrant foods contain lycopene. Lycopene is categorized as a carotenoid. Carotenoids help eliminate free radicals from the skin using its antioxidant properties.10 10 Pairing your tomato and carrot intake with olive oil will help the body absorb the lycopene. 11 Simmering your tomatoes and carrots in olive oil to make a pasta sauce is an easy way to incorporate the antioxidant food into your diet. Watermelon can be eaten on its own or added to smoothies and salads.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: This healthy form of fat contains anti-inflammatory elements. Seeing as the symptoms of sunburn like pain and redness are caused by inflammation, eating foods rich in polyunsaturated fatty acid is a logical method of preventing sunburn.12 Foods that include omega-3 fatty acid are fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.13
  • Dark chocolate: Dark chocolate is rich in flavanols, a polyphenol antioxidant.14 This antioxidant has the ability to prevent your skin from UV light damage. 15
  • Green tea: Green tea contains polyphenols, an antioxidant that could possibly protect the skin from sunburns.16
  • Avocado: Avocados are packed with vitamin E, an antioxidant that eliminates and protects against free radicals. Vitamin E also have anti-aging properties, not only protecting you form the sun but also from the wrinkles caused by the sun!17
  • Strawberries: Strawberries contain loads of vitamin C, with 84.7 mg of it per one cup of strawberries.18 According to a study from the Vanavarayar Institute of Agriculture in India, “…vitamin C plays a ‘main role in fighting against free radical species that are the main cause of numerous negative skin changes.’”19

There is a common theme here: antioxidants. Antioxidants have the capability to prevent and possibly repair certain types of cell damage.20 While the foods listed above will certainly help protect your skin from sunburn, incorporating the following foods into your diet can further their effects.

  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Purple, red, and blue grapes
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Butternut squash and acorn squash
  • Black beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, kidney beans
  • Nuts. 21

Using mineral-based sunscreen, wearing protective clothing, and limiting your time in the sun are all adequate ways to prevent sunburn. However, if you want to get ahead, sunburn prevention should start in the kitchen, long before you head out for a day in the sun.

  1. What Is Sunburn? A Look at What Happens to Your Skin.” SkinReading: The Skin Care Blog. February 08, 2018.
  2. What Happens When You Get a Sunburn?” Scientific American. August 6, 2001.
  3. What Causes a Sunburn and Suntan?” Ringworm | American Academy of Dermatology. 2018.
  4. EWG. “EWG’s 2018 Guide to Safer Sunscreens.” EWG. 2018.
  5. Reisch, Marc S. “After More Than A Decade, FDA Still Won’t Allow New Sunscreens.” CEN RSS. 2018.
  6. The Anti-Sunburn Diet: How Eating the Right Foods Can Protect You From Cancer-Causing Rays.” The Hearty Soul. September 22, 2017.
  7. Raloff, Janet. “Dietary Protection against Sunburn (with Recipe).” Science News. October 28, 2014.
  8. “The Anti-Sunburn Diet: How Eating the Right Foods Can Protect You From Cancer-Causing Rays.”
  9. 12 Foods That Are Very High in Omega-3.” Healthline.
  10. Buckingham, Cheyenne. “7 Foods to Eat to Prevent Sunburn.” Eat This Not That. May 10, 2018.
  11. Antioxidants.” MedlinePlus. March 01, 2018.
  12. Magee, Elaine. “10 Nutrient-Rich Super Foods.” WebMD. 2010.

Intermittent Fasting: What’s All the Hype?

Growing up, I was taught breakfast was always the most important meal of the day. So, you can understand my surprise when intermittent fasting (IF) was introduced to me. No breakfast? No more midnight snacks? The horror.

However, IF is not a diet. It is a pattern of eating.

In the simplest of terms, intermittent fasting is the act of only allowing yourself to eat in a certain window of 6-10 hours. For example, if you eat dinner at 8pm you wouldn’t eat again until 12pm the next day.

How does intermittent fasting work?

As you eat, the body takes that energy from the food and stores it in the liver as glycogen. Glycogen is a “readily mobilized storage form of glucose”.1 When you fast for 10-12 hours, your body begins to deplete that glycogen storage. When that glycogen storage is very low, the body releases fat cells into the bloodstream. These fat cells travel to your liver and are converted into energy for your body. This means that your body starts to burn fat for energy rather than the food you’d typically be eating all day to keep your body going.2

Why intermittent fast? What are the benefits?

  • Weight loss: Fasting increases your metabolic rate due to low insulin levels, high growth hormone production levels, and an elevated supply of noradrenaline. All of this helps breakdown the fat in our bodies, allowing us to burn more calories, and thus lose more weight.3
  • Improvements in brain health: According to the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School, our brains heighten synaptic plasticity when we are fasting. This is the place in our brain where most of our learning and memory occurs. Intermittent fasting also improves cognitive function, increases growth of new neurons, and prevents and alleviates depression and anxiety.4
  • Cellular repair and disease prevention: When we fast, our cells begin the autophagy process. The autophagy process removes harmful proteins and clears out any damaged cells. Autophagy also helps boost cellular health and repair, giving it a key role in preventing diseases such as cancer, neurodegeneration, cardiomyopathy, diabetes, liver disease, autoimmune diseases and infections”.5
  • Heart health: According to studies conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology information, short-term fasting has the ability to lower total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triacylglycerol concentrations. Lowering these risk factors has the ability to promote a healthy heart and prevent cardiovascular disease. 6 7
  • Inflammation reduction: When there is an imbalance between free radicals and antioxidant defense, inflammation in the body occurs. This development is referred to as oxidative stress. IF has been proven to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, making IF an important role in pain control and prevention.8
  • Longer lifespan: In a study, by the Gerontology Research Center of the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore, MD, found that rats on an IF regime lived 83% longer than rats consuming a diet of eating when they please. While health studies conducted on animals should be taken with a grain of salt, given what we know about inflammation reduction and increase metabolism during IF, IF may have the possibility to extend lifespan. 9 10

What are the different methods? Which one is right for me?

Water and non-caloric beverages are permitted for consumption during all fast.

  • The 16/8 fast: This is the most common method of IF. This method involves eating in an 8-hour window during the day and fasting for the other 16 hours of the day, every day. While many people stop eating at 8pm, skip breakfast the next morning, and begin eating again at noon, pick a time frame that works best for your body and lifestyle.11
  • The 24-hour fasts: This method involves eating normally during the week and reserving one or two days out of the week to do 24 full hour fasts. This method should be done with caution. Doing a 24 hour fast is more difficult that the 16/8 fast due to the hunger, especially if you are exercising during the fast.12
  • The 5:2 fast: Similar to the 24-hour fast, this calorie deficit fast is comprised of eating 500-600 calories two days out of the week and eating normally the other five days of the week.13
  • The Every-Other-Day fast: This fast alternates every other day, meaning that you would eat normally one day, fast the next, eat normally the day after that, and so on. This fast is one of the more difficult, as you will be living with increased hunger half of your week.14
  • The Warrior Diet: This fast is comprised of fasting during the day and eating a large meal within a 4-hour window at night.15

If starting a structured IF plan every day seems too challenging for your schedule or health, skipping a meal here and there is a great way to begin. While a certain method might work well for you, it is important to eat a variety of healthy foods during the process to receive the health benefits intermittent fasting has to offer.


  1. Berg, Jeremy M. “Glycogen Metabolism.” Advances in Pediatrics. January 01, 1970.
  2. Anton, Stephen D., Keelin Moehl, William T. Donahoo, Krisztina Marosi, Stephanie Lee, Arch G. Mainous, Christiaan Leeuwenburgh, and Mark P. Mattson. “Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying Health Benefits of Fasting.” Advances in Pediatrics. February 2018.
  3. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.” Healthline. August 16, 2016.
  4. Bair, Stephanie. “Intermittent Fasting: Try This at Home for Brain Health.” Stanford Law School. January 9, 2015.
  5. Glick, Danielle, Sandra Barth, and Kay F. Macleod. “Autophagy: Cellular and Molecular Mechanisms.” Advances in Pediatrics. May 2010.
  6. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.”
  7. Varady, K. A., S. Bhutani, E. C. Church, and M. C. Klempel. “Short-term Modified Alternate-day Fasting: A Novel Dietary Strategy for Weight Loss and Cardioprotection in Obese Adults.” Advances in Pediatrics. November 2009.
  8. Johnson, J. B., W. Summer, R. G. Cutler, B. Martin, D. H. Hyun, V. D. Dixit, M. Pearson, M. Nassar, R. Telljohann, S. Maudsley, O. Carlson, S. John, D. R. Laub, and M. P. Mattson. “Alternate Day Calorie Restriction Improves Clinical Findings and Reduces Markers of Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Overweight Adults with Moderate Asthma.” Advances in Pediatrics. March 01, 2007.
  9. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.”
  10. Goodrick, Charles L., Donald K. Ingram, Mark A. Reynolds, John R. Freeman, and Nancy L. Cider. “Effects of Intermittent Feeding Upon Growth and Life Span in Rats.” Karger Publishers. April 06, 2009″ target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”>
  11. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “6 Popular Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting.” Healthline. June 4, 2017.
  12. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “6 Popular Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting.”
  13. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “6 Popular Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting.”
  14. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “6 Popular Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting.”
  15. Gunnars, Kris, BSc. “6 Popular Ways to Do Intermittent Fasting.”