Wrinkles are a natural part of aging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to prevent them. While plenty of us spend lots of money on creams and cleansers, the best place to find anti-aging products is in your grocery store or garden. 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.
—Gretel H. Schueller, Contributing Writer
Your skin is important—it’s actually your body’s biggest organ. Our skin is coated in a layer of natural oils that protect it and lock in moisture. As we age, the oil production slows down, and skin cells lose the ability to repair themselves as easily. Our skin’s reserve of collagen—a type of protein that keeps skin firm, elastic and youthfully plump—also begins to run low, making skin thinner. And thin skin wrinkles more easily than thicker skin.
Environmental factors, such as smog, cigarette smoking and sun exposure, can make your skin look older, drier and dull. What you eat matters too—avoid the following skin-aging foods to help minimize wrinkles and keep your skin healthy.
The average American eats a whopping 22 teaspoons of sugar a day. According to dermatologist Jessica Wu, M.D., author of Feed Your Face, “a diet high in sugar” activates enzymes that “devour healthy collagen,” leaving behind damaged fragments of collagen. When skin’s healthy collagen-making cells run into these fragments, they get confused, shut down and stop making collagen. As a result, the collagen-depleting effect, a process called glycation, is exponential. If collagen is a rubber band that keeps your skin looking firm, then glycation is tying it into knots and rendering it useless.
The end products of glycation (“advanced glycation end products,” typically and appropriately shortened to AGEs), damage skin and other tissues. Among healthy people, the effects of glycation on skin start to show at about age 35 and increase after that, according to a 2001 study in the British Journal of Dermatology.
It’s not new 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. A 2007 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study that looked at more than 4,000 middle-aged women concluded that dietary differences did appear to influence the degree of wrinkling. A 17-gram increase in daily fat intake increased the likelihood of a wrinkled appearance. And a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that people who ate more butter experienced more wrinkling.
The reason for the sat fat-wrinkle connection is those pesky AGEs (again!). It turns out that fats can also react with collagen to produce AGEs.
When certain foods are cooked in certain ways, guess what forms? Fat plus protein plus high, dry heat = AGEs! Broiling, grilling and high-heat frying can all create AGEs. Those sear marks on a deliciously grilled steak, the finger-licking crispy bits on fried chicken, the crunch of browned bacon and basically any charred bits are all evidence of AGEs.
Researchers are noticing higher levels of AGEs in people in part because of the spread of processed foods. Yes, AGEs are also present in many processed foods that have been exposed to high temperatures to lengthen their shelf life. That high heat reacts with the sugars and fats to form AGEs. No need to switch to a raw diet though. Cooking methods that involve lots of water—such as steaming, stewing, poaching, braising and blanching—reduce the AGE-creation process because the liquid offsets the heat. So the more you cook with water, the more you stop AGEs.