Edible Sunscreen

Rainbow Foods Spiral Photo from the Internet, copyright not found

I have to admit I wonder about some odd things. This week CNN reported that July 2012 is officially the hottest month recorded in over 100 years. This got me thinking: how is it that plants can stay out in the blazing sun day after day without burning to a crisp? It’s not like they can pull up roots and run for shade. Plants need protection from the sun just like we do. They survive thanks to color pigments, which along with nutrients from the soil enable them to withstand their harsh environment.

You’ve heard these terms before: beta carotene, chlorophyll, and lycopene, members of an extensive  group of plant compounds known as antioxidants. We hear and see these terms so much that we are becoming numb to them.  The take home message about antioxidants is they are among the plant’s weapons of survival. When we eat plants these benefits are conveyed to us which, along with other nutrients from our food, strengthens our ability to fight disease in our own challenging environment.

Experts advise us to eat ‘from the rainbow’ each day.  Pick a day to sample from the yellow colored fruit and vegetable group, and another day from the blue group – each has their own contributions. The orange group lends protection to the skin, such as peaches, carrots, cantaloupe, butternut squash, pumpkin, sweet potato and mango. We know this because if you eat too much beta carotene (from the orange group) your skin may actually turn orange. Red fruits and vegetables help protect from sunburn, including watermelon, tomatoes, and red peppers.

The Archives of Dermatology Research reports that by eating more cocoa, onions, apples, and grape seed (through grapes & grapeseed oil), as well as drinking more tea, you can reduce your risk of skin cancer. These foods contain polyphenols – another group in the antioxidant arsenal that may even reverse skin tumor growth.

If you enjoy lessons from nature a must read is “Wild Health” by biologist Cindy Engel, Ph.D. from the University of East Anglia. She and colleagues studied animals and plants in the wild to determine how they heal themselves. Some animals self medicate, others know which plants will heal wounds. And who would believe that trees, such as those favored by the giraffe, can sense an animal coming and produce a bitter tasting chemical in their leaves to discourage the predator from lingering? Meanwhile these trees are also releasing scents that are carried on the wind to warn others of their species that danger is near.  I distinctively remember my socks being blown off while reading this book. There is much to respect about plants. In many ways our survival depends on them.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Maria on August 13, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Great antioxidant lesson!!! Hadn’t really thought about how the plants protected themselves from the sun. It all makes sense though. I’m going to have to check out “Wild Health”.
    Thanks, Joy!!!


    • I’m glad that was helpful, Maria. We are bombarded with so many technical terms and then you find them on food packaging as the marketers want to show they are on top of things. Good health is really pretty simple – we just need to eat whole foods!


  2. Posted by Deb G on August 13, 2012 at 6:22 am

    I love the “eat the rainbow” comment – it’s one I preach here at work! I love veggies – all colors shapes sizes – now I know why I don’t burn so easily – it’s all those red peppers I’ve eaten for years LOL!


  3. Posted by Sue H on August 13, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Joy, you always provide the best information in the most interesting way. I love the photo of the rainbow foods! Wild Health – definitely on my reading list now.


    • Thank you, Sue! I’m delighted to share interesting news. I’m still fascinated by what I learned in the Wild Health Book and it only scratches the surface of what biologists have learned about nature. One of my favorite things to study!


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