Who's that old man looking back at you in the mirror? Some guy who's been eating the wrong foods, that's who. "No food is going to age you in a day, but a lifetime of overindulging in the wrong choices can certainly set you up to look older and wrinkle faster," says nutritionist Jaime Mass, RDN, LDN.
The reason is two-fold. First, a host of foods can cause widespread inflammation and free-radical damage in your body that can attack your skin as if you were sitting SPF-less in the sun, smoking a cigarette. And second, if you are filling up on bad-skin foods, you probably aren't eating enough of the ones that counteract cellular damage to make you look younger, says Samantha B. Conrad, MD, Northwestern Medicine health system clinician in dermatology.
Here, five foods that are adding years to your face.
What evilness doesn't the sweet stuff commit? In the body, excess sugars can undergo a process called glycation, in which they collide with proteins or fats to form damaged proteins, aptly called AGEs (or Advanced Glycation End Products) throughout your body, skin included. Not only do these proteins function poorly, but they are less elastic than nature intended…not what you want in your face. Plus, glycation produces inflammatory proteins in the body, which can lead to accelerated skin aging.
"Foods that have been heated at high temperatures have also gone through the process of glycation," Mass says. What's more, direct exposure to temps above 300 degrees can trigger the production of pro-inflammatory heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Check out how burnt meat can wreck your health. Hey, don't shoot the messenger.
Not only can they give you a double chin—and fat can cause inflammation all by itself—but fried foods' trans fats set off inflammatory pathways in the body, leading to the breakdown of collagen, your skin's main structural protein, Mass says. Enter, wrinkles.
Boozy beverages affect the function of your body's No. 1 detoxifying organ: your liver. "When the liver is damaged or slowed in its ability to function well and flush toxins from your system, you just might see the effects on your skin," Mass says. What's more, even though knocking back a few drinks can help you fall asleep (err, pass out?), alcohol consumption can prevent you from entering into the deepest, most restorative stages of sleep. And when you're skimping on sleep, your skin missed out on important repair time. Silver lining: beer and red wine may not be as damaging to the body as other drinks, she says.
Conrad notes that in countries that consume little to no processed foods, people have remarkably healthier skin than in countries that eat from boxes and jars. While nitrates may spur inflammation, salt dries the skin and can damage its capillaries, Mass says. The result: Everything from age spots to acne to rosacea. Just another reason to peruse the produce aisle.