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Save Your Skin - Eat Sweet Potatoes!

Julie Garden-Robinson, PhDWhen I was young, sun tanning was a popular pastime among my peers during the warm summer months. My friends had a golden glow.

However, I couldn’t stand the heat, and I thought lying in the sun was boring. I stayed in the cool shade and maintained my ghostly pallor.

As an excuse, I remember telling people that I would stay younger-looking longer. I don’t think they cared. Who wants to look young when you’re a teen, anyway?

Through the years, tanning beds became popular. I received a coupon for a free tanning session when I was in college. My skin turned pink and I felt claustrophobic in the coffinlike enclosure. As soon as the pinkness subsided, I was pale again.

After someone thought I was wearing white knee-highs with my shorts, I tried self-tanning lotion. My legs turned a shade reminiscent of tangerine. Now we know that excessive sun tanning and tanning beds are linked to skin cancer. Instant tanning lotions, however, are considered safe - fortunately, most of them do not turn your skin orange anymore.

Skin cancer is the most common malignancy in the world today. There are more than 1 million cases in the United States alone. That is more than lung, breast, prostate, colon, bladder and kidney cancers combined.
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Are you at higher risk for skin cancer? Ask yourself these questions. Do you have previous skin cancer history? Are you fair-skinned? Do you have a family history of skin cancer? Do you have congenital nevi, which are birthmarks, moles and light tan spots? Do you have freckles? Are you male, older, a smoker, tanning bed user or have a tendency to burn? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be at a higher risk for skin cancer.

Be sure to perform self-checks regularly to look for abnormal skin conditions. Know your skin and when it changes. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your health-care provider. Recently, the Food and Drug Administration released new rules for sunscreens. In the future, sunscreen products labeled as “broad spectrum” will have to provide protection against both UVA and UVB light. UVA light is linked to skin cancer and aging, while UVB light is linked to sunburns and cancer. In addition, sunscreen labels that state they reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging should have a sun protection factor, or SPF, of 15.
We have good reasons to take care of our skin. Skin is the largest organ in the body, consisting of many different kinds of tissues that have numerous functions.

Our skin protects underlying tissues from bacterial invasion, drying out and harmful sun rays. It also helps control body temperature and prevents excessive loss of moisture. Our skin excretes salt and water when needed, stores chemical compounds and even synthesizes important compounds such as vitamin D.
However, in northern areas, we cannot depend on sun exposure for our vitamin D, so many people need a supplement.

Eating a nutritious diet and staying well-hydrated help keep our skin and the rest of our body in good condition. In some cases, poor skin condition may indicate nutrient deficiencies. For example, physical signs of iron deficiency include eczema in the corners of the mouth, skin irritation, itching, loss of skin tone, impaired wound healing and skin infections.

Sometimes skin eruptions, such as rash, can indicate food allergies or excessive stress.
Many nutrients, including fats, protein, vitamin A, beta carotene, calcium and vitamin C, are involved in skin maintenance. Eating a variety of healthful foods can help keep your skin and the rest of your body healthy.

When you eat a heart-healthy diet, you also are nourishing your skin. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of protective natural antioxidants. Enjoy fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids, whole grains, nuts and other healthy fats. Include low-fat dairy and lean protein sources in your diet. Drink plenty of water.

This recipe will help with the goal of eating a variety of colorful produce. It features dark orange sweet potatoes, which are rich in beta-carotene. Our body converts beta-carotene to vitamin A, a skin-healthy nutrient.

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges
4 large dark orange sweet potatoes, skin-on, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch wedges
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. walnuts
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. curry powder (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place walnuts in a mini chopper or food processor and process until ground. Mix ground walnuts, sugar, salt and curry in a small bowl. Toss potatoes with 2 Tbsp. canola oil and 1/2 of the walnut mixture in a large bowl. Spread potatoes evenly on a large pan. Bake uncovered 30 minutes or until golden brown and tender when pierced with a fork. Place in a serving dish and sprinkle with remaining walnut mixture.

Makes eight servings. Each serving has 130 calories, 6 grams (g) fat (0.5 g saturated, 2.58 g monounsaturated, 2.78 g polyunsaturated and 0 g trans fats), 2 g of protein, 18 g of carbohydrate and 290 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, PhD, LRD is an Associate Professor and Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist at North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND. She is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in food and nutrition and a doctorate in cereal chemistry/food technology. An award-winning educator and writer, she does research in the area of nutrition and food safety education. She is married with three energetic children, ages 7, 13 and 16,* and three equally energetic dachshunds. She is an avid musician in her spare time.
*Quoting Julie - "Yikes - two teens in my house!"

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