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Despite the fact that we’re all aging every single day of our lives, our society is flat-out obsessed with the concept of anti-aging. In fact, the hashtag #antiaging has garnered more than 13,057,120 posts on Instagram, and the global anti-aging market is estimated to be worth about $260 billion by 2022.
Many of us are willing to shell out a pretty penny for a fancy wrinkle-reducing cream or an acclaimed facial treatment, but few stop to really think about some of the simpler ways to slow the advancement of aging. In fact, one of the most cost-effective and healthiest anti-aging treatments might just be watching what you put on your plate.
As it turns out, our body is composed of what we eat, quite literally. All our cells have barriers called lipid bilayers. “Lipid (fat) bilayers are created with triglycerides, which come from the fats we eat in our diet, protein makes up our muscular system and our restoration and recovery, and carbohydrates fuel our cells and bodily functions, which allows our bodies to stay active,” explains Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamins A, C, D and biotin, also affect our outward appearance, including our muscles, skin, eyes and hair.”
The prospect of aging and how it relates to dietary patterns is nothing new — in fact, it’s been researched for decades. There have been plenty of studies, including one published in the journal Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, linking what’s known as the “Mediterranean diet,” a diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds, to increased life expectancy.
Unfortunately, the standard American diet is loaded with unhealthy foods that don’t contribute to longevity. Here, doctors share the foods that might be secretly aging you.
1. Sugar-Laden Foods
You’re probably aware that sugary food and beverages aren’t the greatest for you, but you may not realize the damage they could cause. “Sugar can be highly inflammatory and can break down the gut lining and cause leaky gut issues, but sugar is also damaging in other ways,” explains functional nutritional therapy practitioner Tansy Rodgers, FNTP.
Avena also points out the toll that sugar takes on your brain.
“Added sugar is quickly absorbed by the bloodstream, leading to excessive blood sugar spikes throughout the day,” she says. “This and other lifestyle factors that are not up to par can lead to further disease states and eventually diseases of the mind, like Alzheimer’s and dementia.” It’s a good idea to reduce your sugar intake to no more than 9 teaspoons per day, per the American Heart Association.
2. Processed Meats
Not only are processed meats like hot dogs, sausages and pepperoni considered carcinogens by the World Health Organization, meaning that they have the potential to cause cancer, but they also can be quite aging for the skin.
“Processed meats are full of sodium (table salt), nitrates and sulfites, which can dehydrate the skin,” Rodgers warns. “They also weaken the collagen levels that the skin needs to stay plump — not to mention cause increased inflammation in the body.”
Butter is one thing, but Rodgers warns that margarine and other butter substitutes are filled with trans fats and unhealthy vegetable oils. “Margarine is made of partially hydrogenated oil, which has been directly linked to heart disease, not to mention it increases the inflammatory response in the body,” she says. “Other unhealthy vegetable oils (yes, even ones that say canola oil) are not any better, as they can wreak havoc on your heart health and cause a systemic inflammatory response that can lead to cancer and other inflammatory issues.”
4. Conventional Dairy
Despite what television ads in the ’90s will have us believing, milk isn’t a miracle health drink. In fact, studies, including one published in the journal Nutrients, have linked cow’s milk consumption to inflammation of the skin, including excessive oil and acne.
“Cow’s milk elevates insulin levels, which increases circulating cortisol levels that bind to the skin’s sebaceous glands, increasing sebum production,” explains naturopathic doctor and clinical nutritionist David Friedman, ND, DC. “Cow’s milk also contains a sugar called lactose that can lead to digestive issues like bloating, gas, constipation and diarrhea, as well as sinusitis.” Friedman recommends trying some milk alternatives like almond, cashew, oat and coconut milk.
5. Ultra-Processed Foods
Most foods sold at the grocery store are processed, meaning they have adapted from their original state. Ultra-processed foods, however, such as frozen meals, soft drinks, cured meats, packaged sweets and pastries, and salty snacks, have changed dramatically from how they were originally grown or created in nature, so they have very little nutritional value and no antioxidants. “Not only does overconsumption of these foods crowd out the ability to eat healthier foods, some processed foods high in sugar or refined carbohydrates may trigger an inflammatory response in the body,” explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., doctor of nutrition and owner of eatrightfitness. “This response will cause a natural rise in free radicals, which may lead to more damage down the road.”
While not necessarily a food, excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to myriad health problems, including accelerated signs of aging, per the National Institute on Aging. “Alcohol acts as a diuretic that draws out liquid from the skin, which leads to dryness, fine lines and wrinkles,” Friedman says. “In addition, alcohol can adversely affect your vitamin A levels, an antioxidant that is important in the production of collagen, which keeps skin elastic, supple and looking young.” He recommends always drinking in moderation (one drink or less for women and two or less for men, per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).