The way our bodies function and how well we feel physically surely depends on our age. But did you know your body could be showing signs of aging that don’t align with the number of candles you blew out on your last birthday?
While chronological age is something we’re all familiar with, biological age is a little harder to determine. It represents the amount your body has aged due to lifestyle factors like smoking, sun exposure, environmental hazards, and diet, and your body may be older than you consider yourself to be. By the same token, this is good news! It means you have some control over the aging process, and can also end up offsetting the wear and tear that naturally comes with age by eating better, exercising, and quitting bad habits like smoking or excessive tanning.
We asked top nutritionists to reveal which foods are speeding up the process of aging in your body. Brace yourself—and then check out the foods that do the opposite, aka anti-aging foods that keep you looking and feeling young. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, you won’t want to miss these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time.
- 1 Potato Chips
- 2 Microwave Dinners
- 3 Energy Drinks
- 4 Baked Goods
- 5 Hot Dogs
- 6 Bacon
- 7 Sugar
- 8 High Glycemic Index Carbs
- 9 Alcohol
- 10 High-Salt Foods
- 11 Pepperoni Pizza
- 12 Deep-Fried French Fries
- 13 Fried Fast Food
- 14 Agave
- 15 Candy
- 16 Charred Meats
- 17 Flambé
- 18 High Fructose Corn Syrup
- 19 Sugary Cocktails
- 20 Canned Soup
- 21 Phosphate-Laden Meat
- 22 Fried Restaurant Food
- 23 Soda
If you’re craving something crunchy, try whole grain crackers or chopped veggies like zucchini sticks or celery—because the ingredients in potato chips will dry up your internal fountain of youth super fast. “Consuming trans fatty acids stimulate interleukin 6 within the body,” explains Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, and founder of The WellNecessities. Inter-what? “Interleukin 6 is a marker of inflammation, which is associated with aging. In addition, fried and deep-fried oils, even those made with vegetable oils, can impair cell respiration and reduce immune functions within the body.” If you simply can’t stay away from the chip aisle, at least find out what to avoid: The Unhealthiest Potato Chips on the Planet.
Picture this: You just got out of a 7 p.m. hot yoga class and your good intentions to cook up a healthy meal now feels like a massive undertaking. With your energy zapped, you think about zapping your dinner, too. But consider this first: “Frozen meals are notoriously high in sodium. Sodium contributes to water retention and an overall ‘puffy,’ aged appearance,” shares Kayleen St. John, RD at Natural Gourmet Institute, a health-supportive cooking school in New York City. Too tired to cook? Try one of these top meal delivery services for every eating plan instead.
Your grab-and-go Red Bull habit isn’t going to your future 60-year-old self any favors. Energy drinks are very high in sugar and very acidic, which can damage teeth and leave them more prone to stains that will age your smile. Plus, their high caffeine and sodium content can lead to dehydration, especially if you are drinking them instead of water. Since dehydration is one of the main factors that contribute to wrinkles and older looking skin, aim to drink the recommended 8-10 glasses of water per day…and even more if you’re consuming alcohol or working out. If regular H20 just doesn’t do it for you, why not try a detox water?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but how many times must we urge you to step away from the bakery case at the grocery store? “Baked goods and other sweets are often rich in added sugars and fat, which can lead to weight gain and poor dental health,” says Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, Corporate Dietitian at Medifast. “Sugar promotes an unhealthy microbiome and it is also pro-inflammatory. All of these characteristics can accelerate the aging process,” she elaborates. To satisfy your sweet tooth while staying on track with your weight loss efforts, try one of these tea-based dessert recipes!
“Preservatives used in processed meats may create free radicals within the body,” says Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, and founder of The WellNecessities. “Free radicals lead to oxidation of your cells and DNA, and they can cause enough damage to lead to cancer or other health conditions.” No thank you!
That sizzling strip of bacon may be calling your name come brunch, but you might want to consider swapping it for tempeh bacon instead if you’re looking to preserve your youthful appearance. Nitrates, a preservative necessary in cured meats, have been linked to increased deaths from age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, according to a Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease study.
Pour some sugar…down the drain. “While there have been countless studies arguing back and forth on whether or not sugar can cause breakouts, the case remains that sugar is simply harmful to your body as a whole,” states Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, MD, also known as “Dr.Taz,” a weight loss expert and author of What Doctors Eat and The 21-Day Belly Fix. “Sugar causes inflammation, which is a major inhibitor to having clear, beautiful skin. To make matters worse, sugar also damages collagen and elastin, which keeps the skin looking soft and supple.” Sure, the stuff might be tempting, but try any of these foods to help you never feel old, and we promise that the healthy high will last longer than any temporary sugar rush.
High Glycemic Index Carbs
Pasta aficionados, you might want to start swirling zucchini strands on your fork. “Foods such as bagels, oatmeal, pretzels, pasta, and cereal, have been proven to accelerate the skin’s aging process and wreak havoc on the skin, causing acne and rosacea,” shares Dr. Taz. “Even the self-proclaimed ‘healthy’ cereals with whole grains, which are lower in glycemic index, can be stocked full of wrinkle-inducing glucose.” If you adore pasta, be sure to check out these tips to eat pasta and still lose weight.
“The occasional glass (or two) of wine is no harm to you or your skin, but drinking to excess, especially sugary drinks [see above], causes free radicals. Alcohol also robs the body of vitamin A, an antioxidant that’s essential for cell renewal and turnover,” offers Dr. Taz. If you do drink, reach for drinks without added sugars, such as wine, champagne, or a vodka soda with lime. Also, be sure to drink in moderation and alternate each alcoholic drink with water. Or, the next time a friend wants to grab a drink to catch up, suggest a green tea date!
Your skin just urgently texted: Please defriend that jerk the salt shaker. And its posse of high-sodium prepared foods, for that matter. “Foods that are high in sodium cause you to retain water and feel bloated. The water retention can make the skin look puffy and tired,” comments Deborah Orlick Levy, MS, RD, Carrington Farms health and nutrition consultant. Dr. Taz also adds that “[High salt foods] trigger dehydration and some early studies show it damages DNA, shortening telomeres and accelerating aging.” These ways to shrink your belly in 24 hours can’t reverse aging, but they’ll at least help you de-puff, fast.
This slice of comfort food might make you feel like a youthful 19-year-old again, but it will do the exact opposite to your body. The nitrates and other compounds in processed meats, such as pepperoni, are known to be pro-inflammatory. Inflammation causes aging from inside out. Plus, the saturated fat in it ages the heart. Opt for a meatless pizza—feel free to load on the veggie toppings!—whenever possible, or make the pizza yourself using pepperoni that is made without nitrites or nitrates.
Deep-Fried French Fries
Skip the drive-thru. It may obvious why french fries are terrible for you, but we’ll hone in on the deep-fried part: “When we deep fry foods, we expose the oil and fat to extremely high temperatures. When this happens, free radicals, the primary culprit in aging, are formed,” offers Hayim. “These foods not only cause damage to our waistlines but to our organs and insides as well.” Eeek! Better clue yourself into more waist-widening things with these habits that make you fat.
Fried Fast Food
“Restaurants will typically use corn oil, one of the unhealthiest oils,” says Orlick Levy. “When consumed, it releases free radicals in the body. Free radical damage or oxidative stress has numerous effects on health and well-being, including heart disease and wrinkles.” If you just can’t avoid a fast food joint, look for one of these healthy fast food choices.
You might use it as a seemingly “better” option than sugar for baked goods, oatmeal, or even smoothies, but think twice before reaching for the bottle of sticky, sweet stuff. “Agave is often mistaken as a healthier alternative to sugar, but this sweet syrup is packed with fructose. Once the liver meets fructose, it not only turns it into fat but also breaks down collagen, making fine lines more noticeable,” says Dr. Taz.
“Processed sugar is quickly processed in the body and can lead to a high insulin response and fast weight gain,” says St. John. “Plus, high intakes of [candy] can negatively affect dental health and nothing ages you faster than a discolored—or missing!—smile.” The good news: Dark chocolate, everyone’s favorite anti-inflammatory superstar, is safe. Just make sure you look for varieties with no added sugar.
Burnt meat might be a secret love of yours, but there’s a good reason to give that up as fast as an engagement on The Bachelor. “Meat that has been cooked to a ‘blackened’ status is very inflammatory to the body,” St. John explains. “Inflammation may actually break down collagen levels in the skin, leading to an aged appearance,” she continues. For other protein options, check out the best proteins for weight loss.
Mmm, crepes, bananas, cheese, oh my! Not so fast. Alcohol, which you need for flambé, starts a chain reaction of problems: “Increased consumption of alcohol leads to the production of ROS (reactive oxygen species),” Hayim cautions. “High levels of ROS result in oxidative stress, which can cause severe damage to our bodies. While it’s easy to identify alcohol when it’s in a beverage, it’s not so easy to monitor its consumption when we are eating it. The USDA warns that ‘foods flamed with alcohol appear to have all the added alcohol burned off, but the food actually still retains 75 percent of the added alcohol.'”
High Fructose Corn Syrup
This icky additive is commonly slipped into processed foods and snacks and is something you want to steer clear of as much as you can. “Although excessive sugar intake is detrimental to looking young altogether, high fructose corn syrup is believed to be the worst kind for your skin (and overall health),” shares Orlick Levy. “The sugar in your diet can damage your skin’s collagen and elastin, making you look wrinkled with skin that is no longer firm,” she adds. Find out the worst packaged foods in America to get a better handle on what to avoid at all costs!
Pina Coladas? Margaritas? Mojitos? Yup, they’re all part of the same crew that you don’t want to invite into your life on a regular basis. When simple sugar is consumed in excess, the sugar molecules combine with proteins in the body and form compounds that can damage the skin’s collagen. This, in turn, has an aging effect. These sweet drinks can have over 50 grams of added sugar in a single cocktail! Plus, the alcohol in the drinks can dehydrate you, making fine lines and wrinkles more apparent. So, when you’re wondering “does drinking age you?” the answer is sadly, “yes.” Speaking of sugar in restaurant foods, it’s not always where you’d think to look. Beware of these 13 ‘Healthy’ Restaurant Orders with More Sugar Than a Can of Coke.
They’re certainly convenient, but if you lean on canned soups every winter season, you might start to see wrinkles appear on your face sooner than you expected. That’s because canned soups are loaded with water-sucking sodium. What’s worse is that the amount of sodium you see on the label is often times for a 1-cup serving—and there are two servings for the whole can. (And let’s be honest: you’re going to eat the whole can.) Take Progresso’s Hearty Chicken Pot Pie Style, for example. Slurping down the whole can will set you back 1,700 milligrams of sodium, which is 75 percent of the FDA-recommended daily recommended intake of sodium.
Eating too much conventional red meat and not enough produce could be accelerating your body’s biological clock, according to a study conducted by University of Glasgow researchers. Unlike your chronological age, biological age is dependent on the health of your genes and has been closely tied to a person’s risk of age-related diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and cancer. The researchers found the link between aging and convention red meat might be due to the fact that they are pumped with phosphates to improve their shelf life, tenderness, and flavor. Even though phosphates are necessary to help our cells function, excess phosphate cannot be processed by the body, causing high levels of the chemical to build up in the blood—and that’s bad news. Multiple studies have linked high levels of serum phosphates to higher rates of heart disease, chronic kidney disease, weak bones, and even premature death.
Fried Restaurant Food
You likely know restaurant foods are common culprits of empty calories, but did you know these same foods are also aging you? That’s because fried restaurant food can still be deep-fried in partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, a source of trans fat. Although trans fats have finally been banned from our packaged food supply as of June 2018, they’re still permitted to be used in restaurants. “Trans fat destroys hydration,” shares Dr.Taz. “The less your skin is hydrated, the faster the wrinkles appear,” she adds. Find out which restaurant dishes contain ample amount of trans fats in our article The 35 Worst Restaurant Meals for Your Heart.
Soft drinks are the number one source of added sugars among ultra-processed foods to the American diet, accounting for 17.1 percent of the U.S. intake of added sugars, according to a 2016 BMJ study. So if you’re looking to cut back on inflammation-causing sugar, you should start by kicking your soda habit. Doubling down on the aging aspect of soda, consider the effect this sugar water is having on your teeth. A 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association measured the pH of 379 store-bought beverages. Drinks with a pH under 3.0 were labeled “extremely erosive” while drinks with a pH between 3.0 and 3.99 were “erosive.” This study found 85 sodas to be either “Extremely Erosive” or “Erosive” to your teeth. Sodas that landed on the list ranged from popular cans such as Pepsi to more health-centric seltzers like Fresca. Speaking of soda, have you seen these 108 Most Popular Sodas Ranked by How Toxic They Are?