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We all spend a lot of time and money on our skin, hoping to find the magic combination of anti-aging products, but what most people don’t realize is that what we eat is just as important—if not more so—as what we slather on our skin. Nourishing our skin from the inside out can help beat the clock, and just as some foods can help slow the effects of time, other foods can speed up our skin’s aging process, contributing to wrinkles and sagging. These foods and ingredients speed up that process, so steer clear to stay younger-looking longer.
Back away from the cupcakes. “Sugar is the biggie,” says JJ Virgin, CNS, CHFS, a fitness and nutrition expert. Among its many other negative effects, sugar clings to proteins in your body and literally “gums up” the works, creating what are called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs may sound innocent enough, but the truth is terrifying: These harmful substances can factor into and worsen the development of degenerative diseases and add extra velocity to the body’s aging process. Educate yourself on all the hidden sugar sources in your favorite coffee drinks, and when shopping, don’t go by name alone. “Lite” or “skinny” could have just as much or more sugar than their originals. Your best bets are black coffee or green tea.
Alcohol is another major contributor to the aging process. Become aware of alcohol bombs that are actually dessert, particularly during the holidays, when eggnog and other creamy drinks are primary culprits. Your best bet, if you drink, is either a dry wine or tequila, says Virgin. Combat dehydration from alcohol by flushing the system with purified water, green and herbal teas, and probiotic-rich drinks like kombucha, saysMary Purdy, MS, RDN. Not only does “flushing” with fluids hydrate skin cells, but it ensures that the liver has to work less to detoxify and gives your gut the support it needs to better absorb nutrients that contribute to healthy skin.
Another key to maintaining healthy skin is avoiding refined, processed oils and fats—think corn, soybean, safflower, and canola oil and fried foods—and focusing on healthy anti-inflammatory fats like fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, and olives, says Purdy.
Caffeine really becomes a problem when you use it as a crutch for poor sleep or stress. Become aware of how you metabolize caffeine, and if you’re a slow metabolizer, keep it to morning hours. Coffee raises your stress hormone cortisol, so excessive amounts could keep those levels jacked up when they should be tapering, says Virgin.
Similarly, consuming excess trans fats makes the skin look stiff and inflexible. Trans fats can clog and stiffen the arteries and smaller blood vessels, which makes the skin look old, says Rene Ficek, a registered dietitian who is also the Lead Nutrition Expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating.
Where salt goes, water goes, and if you eat a high salt diet, it can draw water outside the cells and dehydrate the body, says Ficek. When you’re dehydrated, you become fatigued, which makes you look tired, worn out, and bloated.
Energy drinks can really do a number on your smile. These drinks can damage the enamel in your teeth eight times more than soda does, says Ficek. This erosion makes your teeth look yellow, unhealthy, and old.
It’s not news that a diet high in saturated fat is bad for your heart, but saturated fat may also be a major contributor to aging skin. Research has found that older women who had a diet higher in fat, specifically saturated fat, experienced more wrinkles than those who ate a lower fat diet, says Ficek. As a general rule of thumb, consuming just 30-percent of calories from fat is considered a low fat diet. Steer clear of saturated sources like butter, fatty meat, full fat dairy, and processed meats as well.
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