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    Ask the Chef - Internal Sun Protection

    By Julie Morris, Navitas Organics Executive Chef | August 3, 2014

    Q: What can I eat to protect my skin from the sun?

    For many of us, summer is synonymous with trips to the beach, afternoons by the pool … and unfortunately, sunburns. Of course sunscreen and summer pretty much go hand-in-hand, but did you know that you can further protect your skin through what goes IN your body as opposed to simply on it? It's true: scientific studies have shown that we can actually channel the power of some pretty special superfoods to protect our skin from harmful UV and UVA rays. So, in the name of safe summer fun, here are some of the best foods to eat this summer to keep your skin healthy!

    Cacao is well known for its high antioxidant content, particularly a class called flavanols. Researchers have found that the flavanols in cacao and dark chocolate markedly improve the skin's ability to protect against UV-induced sunburns. Almost any type of raw cacao will do, be it cacao powder, nibs, paste or beans, with the one exception being cacao butter, which does not contain these valuable antioxidants (although a little cacao butter used externally makes a wonderfully hydrating after-sun routine.) Personally, I like to cool down with a healthy yet decadant homemade Fudgecicle!

    Acai Berries
    Research has also shown that acai berries are high in ellagic acid and anthocyanins, phytochemicals which provide the plants themselves with protection against burning and wilting. When consumed, the acai berries and juice can similarly help protect our skin from sun damage, as these properties interrupt photo-aging (which is our skin's response to free radicals, like UVB rays). So before your next outdoor barbecue, perhaps try some Acai Catsup with Acai Powder and Maca Gelantized Powder for a healthier take on ketchup.

    Chia and Hemp Seeds
    Chia and hemp seeds are another excellent sun protectant because they are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce topical inflammation and boost collagen production for healthy and rejuvenated skin. You can mix these super-seeds into just about any kind of snack or spread you're enjoying, or if the situation warrants, kick back with a refreshing Chia Margarita.

    Goji berries are super-charged with an impressively wide variety of antioxidants, score highly on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity scale, and help prevent free radical damage caused by sun exposure. Studies have shown that goji berries reduce sunburn reaction by supporting the skin's immune response. Since the lycopene in watermelons is also linked to natural sun protection, get a double-dose of protection with my recipe for Watermelon Goji Gazpacho, or blend yourself a glass of Basil-Infused Watermelon Goji Juice.

    Though it's great to rely on foods first and foremost, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Astaxanthin. Astaxanthin is a rare, yet potent, antioxidant that acts like an internal sunscreen and anti-aging supplement. According to a study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science, it significantly protects against UVA-induced skin aging, including sagging and wrinkles. So although astaxanthin must be taken in supplement form, it's definitely among the most promising internal sunscreens.

    As a general rule, choosing an anti-inflammatory diet can help protect your skin from sun damage. This means incorporating lots of healthy saturated fats like those found in coconut, omega-3-rich foods, and leafy greens, and easing up on processed meals, sugary foods, and refined vegetable oils like canola. A few additional natural foods to stock up on for skin protection include tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and red peppers. No need to be scared of the summertime sun -- just start protecting yourself from the inside out!