Some of you may have seen some recent photos of me up on Mt. Hood. Unfortunately, I forgot my hat that day despite putting it right beside the front door. Thankfully, I was still wearing SPF 50 on my face. I did still get a small sunburn on the top of my left hand and on the left side of my neck- 2 places that were unprotected from the intensity of the high altitude sun and the reflection from the snow. This experience reminded me of the powers of nutrition and let me show you why.
This is a summary of a study done in humans showing the protective effects of lycopene against sun related damage. Lycopene is an antioxidant found in tomatoes and at higher concentrations in tomato paste. After a sun-worshipping day in the sun, ultra-violet rays have done some serious damage by creating free radicals. You can think of free radicals as a spontaneous army just generating inside your body. You are not defenseless! Food provides powerful defense mechanisms called antioxidants.
In this study, one group received olive oil and tomato paste (~16 grams lycopene), and the other group received only olive oil for 10 weeks. Participants did not otherwise change their diet, nor did they take any other vitamin supplements. At the beginning, middle and end of the study, participants were exposed to UV light. Each time, the resulting color of the skin was measured; this is similar to how you can adjust the color of your photographs with your phone. Blood samples were also taken as was the measurement of the antioxidant level in the palm of the hand.
At weeks 4 and 10, the tomato paste group showed a significant increased level of carotenoids in their blood and in their skin. The amount of “sunburn” was the same in both groups at week 0 and at week 4. By week 10, the tomato paste group got significantly less red after a “sunburn” than the control group by a whopping 40%.
What does this mean for you? Should you eat a couple tablespoons of tomato paste everyday? Probably not as that’s a little impractical. But It does show you how a diet that is full of balance and variety can offer powerfully protective effects. Incorporate tomatoes, tomato sauce, and tomato paste into your recipes during the week (and maybe more during the summer!). You can start changing your body today by the nutrients you put into it at every meal.
Shout out to the tireless scientists who spend years bringing us this important information and contributing to our knowledge base about nutrition. Science matters.
Wilhelm Stahl, Ulrike Heinrich, Sheila Wiseman, Olaf Eichler, Helmut Sies, Hagen Tronnier, Dietary Tomato Paste Protects against Ultraviolet Light–Induced Erythema in Humans, The Journal of Nutrition, Volume 131, Issue 5, May 2001, Pages 1449–1451, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/131.5.1449