Food Friday: Sweet, Savory, Sensational Watermelon

watermelon slices

Watermelon season is almost over, so while they’re still around, slurp them up as much as you can. Cause the ones you’ll find in February won’t be nearly as juicy and sweet.

Watermelon is not only low in calories (about 50 per cup) but high in fiber, water, and flavor, so it keeps you full long after you eat it. It’s a great source of Vitamin C and a good source of Vitamin A. It’s also packed with lycopene, a carotenoid with antioxidant properties, that gives it its red color and its disease-fighting power.

Eating watermelon is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, and many types of cancer, especially colon. Since your body absorbs lycopene better when it’s combined with a little bit of fat, consider adding some olive oil or avocado to your next watermelon salad.

Here are 4 refreshing ways to enjoy the health benefits of watermelon:

1. Power Boost Smoothie: Blend 1 cup cubed watermelon, 1 cup strawberries or blueberries, 1 cup reduced-fat milk of your choice, and ice.

2. Sweet Morning Fruit Salad: Combine watermelon, honeydew melon, and cantaloupe with fresh peaches, lemon juice, and mint for a refreshing summer salad.

3. Savory Watermelon and Avocado Salad: Combine mesclun salad mix, watermelon cubes, diced avocado, cubed jicama, sliced green onions, cilantro, and mint in a bowl. Toss with olive oil, lime juice, cayenne pepper, and salt. Sprinkle with a little crumbled queso fresco or feta cheese, if desired.

4. Watermelon Salsa: Combine diced watermelon, raw corn kernels, diced red bell peppers, sliced green onions, minced jalapeño, and diced avocado. Toss with a little olive oil, lime juice, and salt. Serve with grilled shrimp, fish, chicken, or pork tenderloin.

Got other ways to enjoy watermelon? Please share them below.

Photo credit: Susan Russo, Flickr, Food Blogga

Why You Might Be Missing Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer. Catching it early is critical. The best way to find melanoma is to check your moles using the ABCDs. However, nodular melanomas can be trickier to find. A recent study from the Archives of Dermatology suggest that we might be missing these nodular melanomas which might be the reason why the death rate for melanoma has not improved in 20 years. How can we find nodular melanomas? Add “E” to your ABCDs.

  • Is the mole Asymmetric?
  • Does it have irregular Borders?
  • Does it have more than one Color?
  • Is the Diameter larger than 6 mm?
  • Is it Evolving (changing) or Elevated?
If it has any of the above and you have any concerns, then make an appointment to see a doctor. If a mole has 2 or more of the above, then it is by definition atypical and it must be checked by a physician.

In this video I’ll explain how examining your moles for the ABCDEs is the best way to catch melanomas as early as possible and to minimize the chances that it has spread.

Dr. Oz Is Wrong On This One

Millions of patients turn to Dr. Oz for advice about their health. He makes complicated health issues easily understandable. Like any doctor, we don’t expect him to be correct all the time. Recently he made a mistake. He recommended using tanning beds for their health benefits.

The only known health benefit of ultraviolet B light (which is in some, not all tanning beds) is to increase vitamin D levels. We know that using tanning beds increases the risk of getting melanoma and the risk of getting other skin cancers. Fortunately, we also know there’s a safe and inexpensive way to increase your vitamin D3 level — simply take vitamin D supplements.

I’m sure if he  consulted a dermatologist (and it needn’t be me), then Dr. Oz would be better informed and would modify his advice. Melanoma skin cancer rates are increasing (while most other cancers are falling) and death from nodular melanoma skin cancer is unchanged despite decades of advances in medicine. We need to give our patients the best evidence we have so they can keep themselves and their families safe.

If this issue is important to you, then please help me by sharing  your thoughts with Dr. Oz and his audience.

Skin Cancer Where The Sun Don’t Shine

HPV Can Cause Skin Cancer

Not all skin cancers are from sun exposure. Viruses such as human papilloma virus (HPV), the virus that causes genital warts, also cause skin cancer. Skin cancer from HPV develops on genital skin in both men and women. It is rarely talked about, but it’s important and can be deadly.

Did you know that half of all deaths from skin cancer other than melanoma are from genital skin cancer? You probably also didn’t know that women are more likely to die from genital skin cancer as they are from skin cancer that developed from sun exposure (again, excluding melanoma).

We dermatologists are inexhaustible when it comes to warning people about the dangers of sun exposure, but we should also be warning people about the dangers of genital warts. HPV protection, which includes HPV vaccines, is as important as sun protection in preventing death from non-melanoma skin cancer.

Genital warts can lead to deadly skin cancer. If your dermatologist has not checked your genital skin, then be sure your primary care physician or gynecologist does. This is especially important, because unlike other STDs which often have symptoms, HPV or genital warts often don’t. It may be embarrassing, but it could save your life.

Photo: practical owl, flickr.

Sunscreens Cause Skin Cancer? What?!

Just what you needed: another mixed message about your health. The top health story this Memorial Weekend was sunscreens might cause skin cancer.

The story originated from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization that “protect(s) the most vulnerable… from health problems attributed to a wide array of toxic contaminants.”

EWG announced their list of best and worst sunscreens last week. They also published a statement that claims creams which contain a vitamin A derivative, retinyl palmitate, increase the risk of skin cancer in laboratory mice. The creams studied were not sunscreens, but rather simple cream with retinyl palmitate. Because many sunscreens contain retinyl palmitate, the EWG is urging the FDA to study this further and is also urging people to avoid sunscreens with vitamin A derivatives in the meantime. Some sunscreens contain retinyl or retinols as a “wrinkle-fighting” ingredient in the sunscreen.

So what should you do? Here are my tips:

  • Ultraviolet light from the sun is radiation and is unquestionably the most important cause of skin cancer.
  • Sunscreens in general do not cause skin cancer.
  • No study has yet looked at retinyl palmitate when used in a sunscreen.
  • It is reasonable to avoid sunscreens that contain retinyl or other vitamin A derivatives until more studies are done, if you’re concerned.
  • Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of 30. Look for zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, ecamsule (Mexoryl) or octocrylene.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.

Photo: James Justin (flickr)

What is your take on sunscreen safety?

What about sunscreens and vitamin D?

Caffeine Protects Against Skin Cancer

peets-burt-phrases

So how does a dermatologist like me protect against skin cancer? I go to Peet’s Coffee.

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy a cappuccino in the morning (if you can still afford it), and preventing skin cancer might be one of them.

Studies of mice have shown that feeding them caffeine protects them against ultraviolet radiation, which is similar to sun exposure for humans. The protection is most effective when the mice exercise. (So the researchers basically make them drink espresso then hit the exercise wheel.)

While epidemiologic studies and animal studies are helpful, it is nice to have a scientific explanation to support the claim. New studies show how it works.

Researchers exposed skin cells that were growing in culture to caffeine (possibly when one of the graduate students spilled his Red Bull on the petri dish). They then exposed the cells to damaging UVB light. They found that the caffeine-treated, UV-damaged cells underwent programmed cell death. When cells are damaged, but don’t die, they grow into cancerous tumors. When damaged cells die, they are no longer a threat to the body and are safely eliminated.

As sunscreens become more sophisticated, ingredients like caffeine will be added to soak up the damaging oxidants or to protect the skin from developing cancer. Botanicals like ferulic acid, derived from ferns, have proven themselves as powerful additives to sunscreens and are the future of sun protection.

Although there is not enough evidence to advise patients to drink more coffee as a means of sun protection, do you really need another reason to have a nice macchiato in the afternoon?

Photo: Burnt Phrases (flickr)