If you’re active and enjoy the outdoors, it’s hard to avoid getting a little too much sun in the high summer season. As we get older, the consequences show themselves, not just in prematurely aged skin, but possibly in an increased risk of skin cancer. With over 3.5 million new cases diagnosed annually, this is the most prevalent form of cancer in the U.S. While sensible sun exposure and protection is your safest bet, increasing research suggests what you eat may play a role as well. The latest possible skin saver: broccoli.

Researchers at John Hopkins compared incidence of skin cancer among UV-exposed mice fed an extract of broccoli sprouts for 13 weeks, compared with those on a control diet. The broccoli-fed group developed 47% fewer tumors at the end of the study period. 31% of the broccoli-fed mice escaped any trace of skin cancer, compared to just 7% of the control group. What’s more, even those broccoli-fed mice who did develop skin cancer had tumors 83% smaller than mice not fed broccoli.

While more research is needed to confirm similar benefits among humans, there’s no harm in hedging your bets by eating more broccoli. Other preliminary research shows possible broccoli benefits extending to a reduced risk of breast cancer, protection against diabetic damage, and strengthening the protective network of capillaries surrounding the brain.While cruciferous compounds called glucosinolates are studied for such benefits, broccoli also contains an impressive 280% vitamin K per cup. For a delicious way to incorporate broccoli into your diet, try our “Broccoli and Pea Potage with Tarragon.”

Bonus: Pineapple is also being researched for potential anti-tumor protection. Indian researchers found that mice treated with the pineapple enzyme bromelain enjoyed a 66% drop in tumors later developed.

Published August 1, 2011