Summer is finally upon us, and warm weather plus longer daylight hours means plenty of opportunities to boost your health and wellness. There are lots of natural ways to boost your nutrition, maximize your physical activity, and enjoy this season’s many pleasures, while avoiding common health problems that crop up over the summer months.
Summer can be a great time to focus on revitalization of your body and mind. In this two-part article, I’ll explain how you and your family can get the most out of this summer season and its many opportunities for improved health!
Get Enough (but not too much) Sun
Sun protection is tricky business. On one hand, you don’t want to block the rays that synthesize vitamin D, but on the other, getting a sunburn is not a great idea either. Ideally, you should be spending enough time in the sun to build some level of base tan, but not so much that your skin has a chance to burn. Smart sun exposure is the most natural way to prevent sunburn or skin damage, and moderation is the key to getting the benefits of sun exposure without overdoing it. Twenty minutes to an hour of sun per day should be plenty to make enough vitamin D, depending on how dark your skin is.
But what if you’ll be out in direct sun for several hours? Does this mean you should wear sunscreen? Sun protection is important if you plan to be out in the sun for a long enough time to get burned, but most sunscreens on the market are not beneficial or even safe. Stephan Guyenet explains on his blog how typical sunscreen fails to prevent melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Most commercial sunscreens have a slew of chemical ingredients such as fragrances, parabens, alcohols, chemical solvents and petroleum oils that break down when exposed to sunlight. (1)
Unfortunately, even natural sunscreen materials like zinc oxide could be problematic. (2) Researchers have recently discovered that, in vitro, zinc oxide may generate free radicals when exposed to UV radiation, which could damage cells and raise the risk of cancer. (3) More testing needs to be done, but this preliminary research shows that even natural sunscreen ingredients could have unforeseen consequences to your skin health. Until we know more, however, using a natural, mineral based sunscreen is still a better choice than the chemical sunscreens that are commonly available.
Mark Sisson has written a great guide on how to prevent sunburns using dietary strategies. He lists a variety of antioxidants and healthy fats that have been demonstrated to be anti-inflammatory and protective against cellular damage caused by UVA radiation. Additionally, there is some anecdotal evidence that coconut oil may have been used as a sunscreen by native Pacific Islanders. (4) While there are no studies testing the effectiveness of coconut oil as sun protection, it may be worth trying if you’re looking for a safe way to prevent sunburn. Ultimately, your best option is to stay in the shade or wear protective clothing once you’ve had adequate sun exposure, and skip the sunscreen altogether.
Make Water Kefir
As the heat rises, you and your family may be looking for a refreshing drink that provides nutritional benefits but won’t break the bank. An inexpensive homemade option is water kefir, a fermented probiotic beverage made using sugar water, juice, or coconut water. It’s delicious, and an especially good choice for those who have dairy aversions but are looking to incorporate more healthy bacteria into their diet using probiotic foods and beverages.
Water kefir tends to be fairly sweet, and can be flavored after fermentation with any combination of fruit (fresh or dried), fruit juice, and flavor extracts. (5) For example, a tasty lemonade-type drink can be made by adding 1/2 cup lemon juice to 2 quarts finished water kefir. (6) You needn’t be concerned with the amount of sugar that goes into making water kefir; the majority of this sugar is converted into carbon dioxide by the yeasts and bacteria present in the kefir grains. Only about 20% of the original amount of sugar remains after a 48-hour fermentation process. (7)
Cultures for Health sells the kefir grains required to make water kefir, and provides great information about how to make water kefir, flavoring ideas, and even recipes using water kefir as an ingredient. Water kefir is a perfect replacement for soda, is easy and inexpensive to make at home, and will keep you and your children happily refreshed during the hot summer days ahead.
Seasonal eating, beneficial for both personal and environmental health, is easiest during the summer months. Farmers’ markets around the country are bursting with local produce, and many of these fruits and vegetables are more nutritious (and more delicious) when picked at their peak ripeness. Blueberries are full of soluble fiber and vitamin C, as well as many potent antioxidants and polyphenols. (11) Peaches are a good source of potassium as well as a significant source of antioxidants. (8) Tomatoes are at their best during the summer, and are a great source of lycopene and other carotenoids. (9) The antioxidants and carotenoids found in these and other summer fruits are protective against sun damage, as mentioned before.
There are some great vegetables available during the summer months as well. Squash and zucchini are great substitutes for pasta (try this recipe from Nom Nom Paleo!), and provide vitamins and soluble fiber. Cucumbers are rich in potassium and magnesium, which can help lower high blood pressure. Eggplant has a high amount of phenolic compounds that protect against oxidative damage. (10) There are many other seasonally available fruits and vegetables depending on where you live, so check out your local market to see what foods are abundant in your area.
Another component of eating seasonally is eating greater quantities of carbohydrates, especially if your activity level has increased. Most fruits are naturally available in greater quantities during the summer, and it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective to alter our diet according to seasonal changes and what is available locally.
Stay tuned for next week, when I discuss natural bug repellents, grounding, and getting into seasonal rhythms!