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Take It In: Certain foods can reduce skin cancer risk

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Take It In: by Carol Bareuther

Beautiful, bright sun is both a plus and a negative for yacht crews. On one hand, it’s this type of climate that makes for a beautiful charter. On the other hand, the sun — specifically, solar ultraviolet radiation — is a leading risk factor for skin cancer. Today, as ozone levels are depleted, even more of these potentially cancer-causing rays are filtering through the atmosphere. It’s no wonder that all types of skin cancer are on the increase. In fact, one in every three cancers diagnosed is skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, based in New York City. Luckily, there are some ways you can help to minimize the risk of skin cancer through diet.

Eat your fruits and veggies. Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is found in foods such as oranges and grapefruit, red and green bell peppers, kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, strawberries, guava and kiwi. Studies have shown that vitamin C has a trio of beneficial actions when it comes to skin: First, this antioxidant nutrient is essential to maintaining skin health; secondly, vitamin C can protect against UV radiation and cancer formation; and third, it can help skin cells heal after a sunburn. It’s easy to fit vitamin C-containing foods into your day. For example, eat an orange or grapefruit at breakfast, red and green bell peppers on a kale salad at lunch, broccoli as a side at dinner, and snack on strawberries and kiwi during the day.

Go nuts! Vitamin E is another nutrient that can help to protect against skin cancer. Almonds are a great source of this antioxidant. In fact, one study showed that when participants ate about 20 almonds, which translates into 14 milligrams of vitamin E, they burned less when exposed to the sun’s UV rays than control subjects did. Almonds are also a good source of the phytonutrient  Quercetin, which can also protect against UV skin damage and wrinkling. There are lots of delicious ways to include almonds in the day: as a topping for oatmeal, low-fat yogurt, muffins, salads, soups, casseroles and vegetable side dishes, and crushed as a coating for baked,  skinless chicken or fish.

Wake up to green tea and coffee. Caffeine and other phytonutrients contained in tea and coffee can protect against deadly melanoma skin cancer, as well as non-melanoma types such as basal cell, by preventing skin cells from multiplying rapidly. This is according to findings from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, reported earlier this year. While it’s not good to go overboard on caffeine, a cup of joe in the morning and iced green tea in the afternoon are a good way to get anti-cancer benefits without going overboard.

Choose a Med-style menu. Building your plate around the traditional Mediterranean diet can help to prevent skin cancer, according to research that showed low rates of melanoma in this region despite lots of warm sunny days. The vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, potatoes, whole grains, breads, herbs, spices, fish, seafood and extra virgin olive oil that form the basis of this eating style are chock full of skin protective antioxidant vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and healthy fats. To fill your plate Med-style, consider a breakfast like Greek yogurt with strawberries and oatmeal for breakfast; a whole grain bread sandwich filled with cheese, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers for lunch; and broiled salmon, served with brown rice and broccoli for dinner.

Wearing long sleeves, a hat and sunscreen, and seeking shade whenever possible are first lines of defense against skin cancer, but eating a healthful diet is a close second.

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer. Comments are welcome below.

 

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