Antioxidants and Sun Protection

Posted on August 7, 2011


Query from a client:
“I need suggestions on getting more antioxidants. I know berries are good, but what else? Any recipe ideas?

I’m doing a lot of walking these days but I’d like to avoid too much sunscreen and I heard antioxidants are great for resisting the sun.”

In general, I discourage supplementation with chemically isolated antioxidants – individual antioxidants in pill form. These “chemicalized” nutrients have a stronger drug-like effect which may cause imbalances in other nutrients, may not be absorbed at all, or in some cases are actually toxic. Nutrients are almost always more assimilable to the body in their original whole food matrix. Nature tends to provide perfect co-factoring to encourage optimal assimilation and maintain the right balance of other nutrients.

My advice is to eat as many different dark colored all-the-way-through natural foods as possible. Fill your grocery cart with these instead of the pale old standbys. There may be a bit of a learning curve here when it comes to preparing them, but it’s easy to learn how to make them taste good with a little patience and the help of the internet. Some colorful substitutions require no extra work at all. For example; white potatoes get replaced with dark orange sweet potatoes or squash, choose red grapes over green, or replace lettuce with baby spinach. Diversify, experiment, and enjoy!

Alternately there are dried and powdered options like popular spirulina, raw cocoa, acai berry, and many, many others, but quality and price are highly variable and should be considered cautiously. High cost does not necessarily assure quality. They also can be purchased as a pill if need be, but you end up taking a lot of pills, since they are “food pills” and not concentrated chemicals. I use products like this for convenience when I travel, and I recommend them to people who’s busy lifestyle does not support attention to shopping and fresh food preparation. This comes at a higher cost though, and exotic, imported functional foods are not necessarily more effective or of better quality. (Take a look at my criticism of the heavily marketed Acai berry.)

Most spices are also typically high in antioxidants and also happen to promote good digestion, assimilation, and immunity. Turmeric, cinnamon, garlic, and basil are well known examples. Ginger, fennel seed, and coriander may also treat and prevent gas and indigestion.


Organic food options, in any form, almost invariably provide dramatically higher nutrient levels that their industrially farmed counterparts. Have a look at my past blog which addresses a lot of the concerns and confusion people may have about choosing organic products more often.


I personally like to get my daily superfood intake taken care of with a blender drink using only natural, fresh or frozen, local berries, ultra-dark leafy greens, and other color-dense fruit and vegetables, as well as seeds and nuts. I sometimes add spices like fennel seed or cinnamon for digestion, and occasionally add concentrated powdered foods like barley grass or beet powder for diversity and depending on my diet.


Regarding antioxidants as sun protection; I would have to say that antioxidants are not a viable or safe substitute for good sun protection, although they do act as a buffer.

Sunscreen has it’s own risks. Most sunscreens are actually not doing the job they promise and contain dangerous chemicals. You can find out which sunscreens are safest using Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen ratings.

There are more reliable alternatives to sunscreen like hats, long sleeves, or exercising early or late in the day when the sun is low in the sky. If the idea of covering up with clothing to go walking in hot weather sounds unpleasant, consider that many of the newer high-tech synthetic fabrics let you feel like you are wearing nothing at all. Many even have built in additional SPF beyond what a lighter fabric would normally provide. Any of the better fitness-wear retailers will be able to advise you on these options.

I provide my clients with healthy cooking lessons, assisted shopping, and personalized supplement advice based on your individual health goals, lifestyle, and tastes. I believe in a pleasure-based, sustainable approach to healthy and joyful eating.

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