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Tips for a Healthy Summer: Part 1


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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.

Eat Seasonally

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!

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Join the conversation

  1. Thanks, timely ideas for a hot and sunny visit to Virginia! Quick question: when I drink a glass of dairy kefir, I seem to have some HIT symptoms (quicker pulse, pins and needles in hands and feet, mild shortness of breath). I’m working to try and heal a leaky gut, but do you think water kefir would be a good alternative to try for folks reacting to high-histamine foods?

  2. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you’re tanning and not burning you are somehow immune to sun damage risk. Waiting three months to see a dermatologist can be pretty stressful. As is the wait for biopsy results. And dermatologists are frequently wrong, so add that to the mix. They will get paid anyway.

  3. Hi Chris,
    Nice post. I started drinking water kefir a few months back and never stopped. It tastes great and also made me cut out the soda drinking completely. Probably not the right place to post it but thought you might be interested in reading this article; http://www.naturalnews.com/022578.html I’m hoping some day that you will do some writing in regards to facts about cancer treatment.

  4. I have hated using sunscreen because of all the chemicals, and haven’t been able to keep my family on board. But now I have a good resource to point them to. Thanks Chris.

    I did make the water Kefir for a time, but wasn’t able to drink it fast enough. I now make Kombucha and enjoy it much better since it is a slower process and the amount I make can be easily controlled.
    Becky Leppard

    • Hey, Jim – Try the link in Chris’ blog above that sends you to Mark Sisson’s tips on how to prevent sunburns. A lot of people posted about their success with coconut oil, astaxanthin, tomatoes/tomato paste, etc . . . it’s interesting to see what works for folks, even the fair skin ones. You might find a pleasant discovery.

  5. Too much Sun exposure is a huge issue for me. I have a job that necessitates that I be out in the Sun for 8-10 hours a day, five days a week. And it gets worse, because when you sweat you make them ineffectual and have to apply more on every couple of hours, increasing the amount of harmful chemicals you expose yourself too. This seems like a no win situation for people that have to work in the Sun (except to get a new job!)

  6. Hey Chris:

    I’m new to your blog. Found it via Mark Sisson. So glad I did.

    This is a great post. I’ve tested going out in the sun without sun block and staying just long enough to reap the benefits without damage. It works wonderfully, and it’s taken me out of the false sense of security I’ve had in the past when I was coated with sun block.

    I especially like your post called “Beyond Paleo: Don’t Eat Toxins.” Very well organized and explained.

    I like your post on coconut milk as well. I’m just back from the store with lots of organic shredded coconut for making my own. Looking forward to the adventure. 🙂

    Thank you for all your good writing. 🙂


  7. Since taking FCLO regularly I experience the same – tanning fast, not burning. I’m sure I’ve read an article on this somewhere although I have no idea what the mechanism is.

  8. Hard to get my friends and family to get some healthy sun exposure when they’ve been scared poopless by dermatologists and companies selling harmful sunscreen products. I saw a commercial just this morning that compared a piece of bacon frying to your skin exposed to the sun. When you say things like “mid-day exposure is the only time to get significant UVB”, and “most commercial sunscreens do more harm than good”, they’re even more incredulous. Sadly, it will likely take years of me laying out in the midday summer sun for carefully measured periods to convince them that I won’t get cancer from it. The sweating that’s induced has got to be good, too. When I have to stay out longer than that, I cover up with a hat and light-weight long-sleeved shirts.

  9. I started supplementing astaxanthin for other reasons, but found out that I rarely need sunscreen after
    I started taking it, I just tan instead of burn, its the coolest thing!

    • I’ve noticed that too. My astaxanthin levels should be high (wild-caught salmon, etc.), and two weeks ago I accidentally got too much exposure on a small section of my leg (because of the way I turn). It got pink and itched for a couple of days, but to date, it hasn’t ‘peeled’. I have the feeling that I heal all cuts and burns much better than I did back when I was on the SAD.

    • Nopavement – would you mind sharing how long you’ve been supplementing w/astaxanthin? I’ve recently started taking it, too, but I am curious as to how long it generally takes to build up enough for sun damage protection? I love sun exposure, I’m not quick to burn, but I’m now putting effort into reversing the sun damage on my face and prevent any more from occurring. Thx.