The quickest path to a great summer isn't necessarily a shortcut to bikini beach. How much fun you have in the next three months could be determined by what you eat in the next few weeks. Here's a guide to loading up your plate and looking great while you do it.
Sunblock you can eat
Your skin is your body's largest organ, weighing in at nearly eight pounds and measuring a full 20 square feet on average. You know to slap on the sunblock--although you rarely do. That's why in the next three months, more than 90% of the skin covering your body is likely to experience some form of mild to severe damage, ranging from that just-right-but-still-dangerous bronze tan to a nasty, blistering burn.
Your best line of defense after regular sunblock (SPF 30)? Edible sunscreen. No, not a shot of buttery Coppertone but fruits and vegetables that miraculously transform into sunblock once inside the body--and that won't wash off the second you hit the water.
1. The greatest sun protection comes from tomatoes. Cooked, pureed tomato pulp is loaded with an antioxidant called lycopene, the same substance that fights prostate cancer. According to a study in the Journal of Nutrition, eating just 16 milligrams of lycopene a day--about the amount found in six ounces of tomato juice or a quarter cup of spaghetti sauce--can reduce your risk of burning by up to 40%. Although cooked tomatoes pack the biggest lycopene punch, watermelon is a good source as well. Just be sure to start adding "red" to your diet now, because it may take up to 10 weeks for lycopene levels in the body to reach peak protection.
2. Pair the tomatoes with a side of sweet potatoes or baby carrots. Both are packed with beta-carotene, the vitamin that gives orange vegetables their color. Eat a helping of either vegetable every couple of days and some of that orange tint will take up residence in the outer layers of your skin (fear not--you won't turn orange). Studies show that beta-carotene can shield your skin from certain UV rays, allowing you to spend more time in the sun without burning.
3. Round out your sunscreen diet with a pitcher of homemade lemonade. According to Iman Hakim, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Arizona, lemons (as well as limes, oranges, and grapefruit) supply the body with d-limonene, a potent antioxidant known to lower skin-cancer risk. Freshly squeezed juices are best, with nearly 20 times more d-limonene than commercial varieties. After you squeeze the fruit, grate some of its peel--or zest, if you're a gourmand--into salads or smoothies, or over a steak before slapping it on the grill. In one study, Hakim found that eating just a single tablespoon of lemon zest a week may reduce your risk of skin cancer by nearly 30%.
Order a side of moisturizer
Air conditioning, wind, dry summer air, salt, even chlorine: They all suck moisture out of your skin, leaving it dry, weathered, and flaky. Increasing the number of fatty foods in your diet will help fight dry skin, but don't think of heading to Dunkin' Donuts--not all fats are good for you. The kinds you want are monounsaturated, the same ones that help lower your risk of heart disease. Monos soften skin from the inside out, preventing wrinkles while keeping it moist and younger-looking.
Monos are so good at keeping skin cells healthy that when Harvard researchers studied the diets of 43,000 men, they found that individuals with the most monounsaturated fat in their diet also had the lowest overall skin-cancer risk. The best sources of monos include nuts, avocados, and olive and canola oil. Just don't expect your skin to shine after eating a handful of cashews. "It may take up to 30 days for you to notice a difference in your skin's appearance," says Karen Burke, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist.
Make your muscles pop
You spent all winter in the gym prepping for beach time, but a few simple dietary changes can help you look even leaner in a matter of days. First, get rid of the extra water surrounding your muscles. Your body stores it naturally for energy, but it makes you look puffy rather than buff. Instead of starving yourself, cut sodium and eat more potassium.
Processed foods supply about 70% of the sodium an average guy consumes, according to research from the Institute of Medicine. So processed foods like pizza, chips, frozen dinners, and hot dogs are hereby forbidden. Fill the resulting holes in your diet with lean grilled meats, as well as foods like apples, bananas, oranges, peas, and whole grains. According to data from the American Dietetic Association, these foods are among those least likely to cause stomach bloat. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are also among the best sources of potassium, a mineral that keeps your system from retaining too much sodium.
Another key to looking lean is collagen, a connective tissue that helps skin and muscles appear taut and youthful. Since vitamin C is essential for the body's production of collagen, try to include a serving of at least one vitamin-C food--an orange or kiwi, a few slices of bell pepper, a handful of strawberries, or a quarter of a cantaloupe--in your diet each day. And cut back on alcohol and caffeine--anything that keeps you from sleeping well at night. Sleep deprivation can increase the size of your love handles in a matter of days. Researchers at Northwestern University found that men who snoozed just four hours a night for six nights in a row had higher insulin levels in their blood than men who slept six to seven hours a night. That can send your body into fat-storage mode.
Finish your transformation with copious amounts of water: Try to average eight ounces of liquid an hour, either from the tap, diet soda or tea, or through water-packed foods like soup, fruit, even vegetables like tomatoes. When dehydrated, the body retains fluid. But if your body gets plenty of water, you're less likely to become bloated--and more likely to peel off your shirt.