Summer is coming up! As much as many of us love to go get a golden tan on the beach, we may also want to protect our skin, the largest organ in our body, from the harmful UV rays. While we can lather on sunscreen and hide under an umbrella, our skin can still be damaged by the unforgiving sun rays. You might like your freckles and golden tan, but they often come at a cost… wrinkles, skin discoloration, and in more severe cases, skin cancer.

So the most comprehensive way to protect our skin is from the inside out. This means ingesting antioxidants that can help protect against harmful sun rays. Antioxidants work to counteract free radicals and oxidative damage from the sun, reversing the damage already done to our skin.

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And the best foods to obtain these phytonutrients from are our dear friends, plants. Phytonutrients provide plants protection from UV lights. By ingesting these plants, these compounds end up in our tissues, providing us with a lot of the sun protection benefits we need. Here are the top 5 plant foods that offer natural sun protection benefits:

1. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are great sources of beta-carotene, which our body converts to vitamin A. Beta-carotenes act as potent antioxidants, protecting cells from oxidative damage which accelerates aging and causes diseases.

Sweet potatoes are also a good source of vitamin C, which fights free radicals and protects our skin. According to Reader’s Digest, British researchers found that vitamin C–rich foods reduced the risk of wrinkles by 36 percent.

You may have to boil or steam your sweet potatoes to obtain the nutritional benefits. Recent studies show excellent preservation of sweet potato anthocyanins with steaming, and several studies comparing boiling to roasting have shown better blood sugar effects. And yes, add some olive oil to your sweet potato to absorb the beta-carotene better. The best part is, sweet potatoes can protect your eyes given its high vitamin A content.

Check out our tasty sexy Sweet Potato and Kale Patties for a great recipe.

2. Spinach

Spinach is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, and especially vitamin A. These vitamins, especially vitamin A, can protect the skin by offering us antioxidant and anti-inflammatory health benefits. Spinach also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which can reduce inflammation and protect your skin from sunburn and skin cancer melanoma.

Check out our mouthwatering spinach recipes. My favorite is the skin-boosting Raw Vegan Pizza with Spinach, Pesto, and Marinated Vegetables. This recipe is raw, vegan, bursting with enzymes as well as antioxidants from succulent tomatoes and crunchy pine nuts, giving the low-effort pizza depth.

3. Tomatoes

Tomatoes are very high in lycopene, which can protect our skin against sun damage and cancer. According to BBC, about 85 percent of lycopene in the western diet are obtained from tomatoes, and the best place to find it is in tomato paste.

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Adding to this, a recent study published in the Journal of British Dermatology showed that tomato paste containing lycopene provides protection against photodamage from the sun.

Hmm…perhaps it may not be a bad idea to whip up a glamorous, instant raw tomato pasta after a day in the sun. If not, you can always check out our Raw Tomato Red Pepper Soup.

4. Dark Chocolate

Oh, you know I’m going to be bringing this one up. For you chocoholics out there, dark chocolates contain antioxidants called flavonoids, which can boost our skin health and protect our skin from the effects of sun exposure and prevent skin aging.

According to Dr. Perricone, cocoa has more antioxidants than blueberries, green tea, or red wine. And the darker the chocolate the more cocoa content it has given its higher flavanoid contents!

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Make sure you choose non-Dutched, preferably raw cacao, since alkalinization reduces flavanoids in the cacao. I’d also steer clear of any dairy and refined sugar. Check out our dellliiicious vegan chocolate recipes. My favorites are the creamy Strawberry Chocolate Vegan Cheesecake  and decadent Raw Vegan Chocolate Brownie Balls.

5. Green Tea

Sip your green tea after a day in the sun! Green tea contains catechin, an active antioxidant that makes your skin more resistant to ultraviolet radiation and premature skin aging.

Green tea also contains polyphenols, which protects your skin against free radical exposure and boost its antioxidant protection. Drinking two or more cups of either black or green tea may reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

Try our vegan, nutty macha tea latte for a lazy afternoon. Or you can just chill your green tea, top that with some skin-boosting tropical fruits, and add some coconut flower sugar for a refreshing afternoon drink.

What’s your favorite skin-boosting food? Leave a comment!

Image source: Ashley Webb / Flickr