5 Diet Must-Haves to Beat Skin Cancer

By: Nancy Gottesman

Some of the best protection against melanoma may come straight from Mother Nature. Discover how the right foods can help keep you healthy.

Veg Out

As you strive for the five or more daily servings of fruits and vegetables the American Cancer Society recommends, make sure there is plenty of dark green and orange in your mix. As part of your minimum 35 weekly portions, eat three servings of cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and kale; another four to six of dark green leafy vegetables, like spinach, beet leaves, and collard greens; and seven of citrus fruits -- all of which were found by the Italian study to be skin cancer protective when consumed in large amounts. "These foods contain powerful antioxidants, including polyphenols, carotenoids, and other bioactive substances, that may decrease the risk for melanoma," comments study author Cristina Fortes, PhD, researcher in the clinical epidemiology unit at the Istituto Dermopatico dell'Immacolata in Rome.

Go Fish

You don't have to give up juicy summer burgers; just enjoy some fish regularly to help keep your skin healthy. Thanks to the anti-inflammatory action of omega-3s, found mainly in shellfish and naturally fatty fish, eating at least a weekly serving of those foods may double your melanoma protection, Fortes's research found. Fortes adds that such a diet may also protect against nonmelanoma skin cancers, which are less deadly but more common. Australian researchers found that people who ate an average of one serving of omega-3 fatty acid-rich oily fish, like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and trout, every five days developed 28 percent fewer actinic keratoses -- rough, scaly precancerous skin patches or growths that are caused by UV exposure and can turn into an early form of squamous cell carcinoma, according to a study published in 2009 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Pass the Herbs

Adding a dash of herbs
to your salad, soup, chicken, fish, or anything else you love to eat not only makes your food more flavorful but also helps fortify your skin. Herbs can pack an antioxidant wallop -- one tablespoon can have as much as a piece of fruit -- and may protect against melanoma, according to Fortes's research. Fresh sage, rosemary, parsley, and basil offer the greatest benefits. "This doesn't mean you have to use four herbs at once," Fortes clarifies. "Just use some type of fresh herb every day."

Steep Some Tea

Make your postbeach beverage of choice a refreshing homemade iced tea, which may help thwart the cascade of cellular damage set off by sun exposure. A lab study found that the polyphenol antioxidants in green and black teas inhibit the proteins necessary for skin cancer to develop. "They may also starve cancer development by limiting blood vessel growth around tumors," says study coauthor Zigang Dong, MD, executive director and section leader of the cellular and molecular biology lab at the Hormel Institute at the University of Minnesota in Austin. In Fortes's findings, drinking a daily cup of tea was linked to a lower incidence of melanoma. And Dartmouth Medical School researchers found that people who drank two cups or more daily were 35 percent less likely to get squamous cell carcinomas than non-tea drinkers.

Pop Open a Bottle

You've probably been hearing about red wine's role as a potential cancer fighter for years. While there's a strong Mediterranean wine culture, Fortes's data showed neither a protective nor a harmful effect on melanoma in wine drinkers. In the Australian study, however, people who drank a glass of wine every couple of days on average -- red, white, or bubbly -- reduced their rate of developing actinic keratoses (those precancerous skin patches or growths) by 27 percent. "Components in wine, such as catechins and resveratrol, may be tumor protective partially because of their antioxidant properties and may also inhibit growth of some human cancer cells," explains study coauthor Adele Green, MD, PhD, deputy director and head of the cancer and population studies laboratory at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. While scientists get to the bottom of wine's possible health benefits and the mechanisms behind them, we propose a toast to the promising indicators. Cheers to healthy, beautiful skin!

More from FITNESS Magazine: