We know tomatoes are delicious and full of antioxidants, but science says they could also help protect our skin from long-term sun damage. Despite where it’s displayed at the grocery store, the tomato is a fruit, not a vegetable, and it also happens to be a powerhouse of phytonutrients and antioxidants that help promote healing in the body. But tomatoes, among all superfoods, contain a special combination of nutrients that give them a unique edge over the broccoli’s, kale’s and acai’s of the world.

“Any disease that you can name, when you get down to the cellular level, is a result of oxidation,” says Cathleen London, MD, a leading researcher in the health benefits of tomatoes, ssistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, Key Medical Opinion Leader at Lycored. Her research has demonstrated that you can help minimize the damage of oxidative stress on your body by consuming tomatoes and tomato-based foods. The leading phytonutrient and antioxidant found in tomatoes is lycopene, which is believed to help prevent cancer and heart disease by neutralizing free radicals in the body. Lycopene also helps lower blood pressure and stabilizes unwanted cholesterol levels.

The best way to access these potent compounds is by cooking tomatoes, preferably with oil, as fats help to activate the tomato’s healing properties, recommends Dr. London. Other phytonutrients found in tomatoes include tocopherol, vitamin E, vitamin C, and betacarotene. New research shows that a special molecular combination unique to tomatoes can help defend against sun damage. “You can eat your sunblock,” Dr. London says. She’s found that phytofluene and phytoene are antioxidant nutrients found specifically in tomatoes that have UVA- and UVB-absorbing properties, which can help prevent premature aging of the skin by reducing redness from sunburns. It’s thought that these nutrients also act on a deeper level, in helping to prevent skin cancer.

Dr. London recommends consuming seven servings of cooked tomatoes or tomato-based products a week to reap the maximum benefit of these phytonutrients, essentially giving your topical sunscreen an added internal boost. As little as one tablespoon of tomato paste or half a cup of tomato sauce does the trick to help protect against sun damage when consumed consistently for 12 weeks. So before heading out into the sun for your workout, triathlon, or beach day this summer, consider a grilled heirloom tomato salad, tomato basil soup, or this stuffed tomato recipe for an extra dose of protection inside and out.