You probably already know that eating certain foods (and avoiding others) can make you feel better, but did you know that foods can actually make you look better?
Sugar. The trouble with sugar is that it’s everywhere—it’s in ketchup, soft drinks (even those labeled “green tea”), cereals, sweets, and salad dressings. It’s easy to consume too much sugar and too much sugar can make you look old. Sugar in the blood can combine with proteins, such as found in the skin’s collagen, and make your normally supple skin more fragile and brittle. Too much sugar can make you fat (not your best look) and contributes to inflammation, which makes your joints ache. Overdoing sugar can also give you a headache which makes those nasty lines in your forehead even more prominent.
Processed Foods. Processed foods contribute to free radicals in the body. A free radical is basically an unstable rogue oxygen molecule that tries to stabilize itself by glomming onto another stable, healthy molecule. The trouble is, the free radical winds up destroying the once-healthy molecule in the process. Free radicals are a major source of aging. Your body naturally has free radicals and naturally can defend itself—but if you tip the balance in favor of these little monsters, your face and body will start showing the wear and tear. Processed foods include meats and cheeses and anything with a long list of chemical ingredients.
Salt. A little salt is not bad—in fact, it is necessary for good health. But most of us get so much sodium in our diet that we need not fear salt deprivation; instead, we should cut back. Salt can cause fluid retention (thick ankles, swollen fingers), contributes to kidney disease and high blood pressure, and can interfere with bone metabolism. None of these things help you look fit and vibrant.
Coffee. This is another food with a disclaimer. A little coffee is fine. But if you’re a coffee fiend, you should know that coffee can contribute to an old-before-your-time face. Coffee is dehydrating and a lack of water shows up in your skin. Dehydration not only has health consequences, it shows up in cracked, lined, and wrinkled skin. Drink at most one or two cups of coffee a day and make sure you offset the dehydration factor with an extra eight ounces of water for each cup of coffee you drink.
Processed foods, particularly cakes, breads, crackers, chips, and cereals may contain some fat and manufacturers a long time ago found that if they used a very stabilized form of fat, the food would not spoil and have a long shelf life. Any food with a long shelf life is probably not good for you. If you see the word “hydrogenated” on a label, think, “Do I really want to be fat and old and sick before my time?” Hydrogenated oils and trans fats produce lots of free radicals (see #2).
Artificial Sweeteners. Nobody likes to hear this but many artificial sweeteners are associated with all sorts of health issues. Aspartame, for example, is on the FDA’s most-complained-about substance lists (but it’s still out there and in everything, particularly soda). Aspartame in particular is associated with headaches and joint pain. Other artificial sweeteners can make you crave sweets. (Ever notice how people who drink diet soft drinks generally have a weight problem?) Steer clear.
Alcohol. Again, moderate consumption of alcohol probably won’t age you too much. But alcohol dehydrates you and quickly, which shows up first on your face. Furthermore, alcohol adds lots of calories to your system without concomitant nutrition. If you drink a lot, you will either have to consume excess calories to get nutrition (gaining weight) or you will not consume all the nutrition you need. Poor nutrition shows up in dry skin, which, in turn, leads to wrinkles. An occasional drink is not big deal, but alcohol should not be part of your regular meal plan.
Energy Drinks. These popular products give you a jolt of caffeine, but too much caffeine not only can make you jittery, it interferes with normal sleep. Sleep deprivation shows up in puffy eyes and a cranky disposition. Furthermore, caffeine has been associated with encouraging fibrotic lumps in the breast. But the biggest downside to these uppers-in-a-can is the fact that most people who drink them do it at the expense of drinking water. Poor hydration is the skin’s worst enemy—setting the stage for wrinkles, fine lines, and dullness.
Carbs. Carbohydrates are great food for energy but the problem is that the body converts them to sugar and then expects you to burn them. If you’re running a marathon, that’s ideal. If you’re just going back to your desk, you are going to get a bunch of calories turning to fat and a crash. Carbs make you want more carbs, which makes you fat. But eventually carbs make you feel fatigued, tired, worn out. This generally does not help your youthful appearance. The ideal snacks are veggies or some protein.
Candy. Candy is everywhere—it arrives on holidays, lurks in vending machines, and shows up on desks and coffee tables. Candy is very tempting, but the downside is the sugar crash (making you tired, weary, and fatigued) along with weight gain. Plus sugar feeds inflammation—which is bad news if you suffer from aching joints. And one other thing—most candy bars are free-radicals-in-bar. So you’re just gobbling up the little enemies that are aging your entire system from the inside out. That’s why they make candy taste so good … if they didn’t, no one would eat the stuff.
More Tips. So what can you eat? Generally speaking, real food. Real food includes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, beans, and dairy products. The things that age us are things that are “extreme foods” or synthetic products masquerading as food. Here’s a good saying: if it’s not food, don’t eat it. Now two other things that can age you before your time: smoking and overexposure to the sun. But that’s another article!