There are two main culprits that accelerate the aging process of our skin: sun exposure and advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs form when protein or fat combine with sugar. While these aging culprits aren’t 100 percent in our control, using sunscreen and minding your overall diet can help your body protect and heal your skin.
Minding your diet is easier said than done, which is why it helps to have a little reminder of how certain foods can affect your skin health.
Just remember, every person is unique. Not everyone will benefit from eating raw, clean, or whole-foods only. And regularly eating one or two problem foods won’t lead to less collagen and totally damage your skin. The trouble comes when your normal diet includes too many problem foods too often.
1. Sweet Potato Fries for French Fries
French fries can hit the spot, and potentially cause us to spot. These satisfying side-dishes are AGE producers because they’re fried and salty.
Foods fried in oil at high temperatures release free radicals that can cause cellular damage to the skin. Exposure to free radicals accelerates the aging process due to an action called cross-linking.
Cross-linking affects DNA molecules and can weaken skin’s elasticity.
What’s more, consuming too much salt can draw water out from the skin and lead to dehydration.
That may make your skin more prone to wrinkling.
Swap french fries for baked potatoes, baked sweet potato fries, or even fried sweet potato fries. Sweet potatoes are rich in anti-aging copper, which aids in collagen production.
2. Sprouted Wheat Bread for White Bread
When refined carbs integrate with protein, it causes the formation of AGEs. AGEs have a direct effect on chronic diseases as well as the aging process.
Foods with a high glycemic index, such as white bread, can cause inflammation in the body, which is directly linked to the aging process.
3. Honey or Fruit for White Sugar
Sugar is an infamous contributor to unwanted skin concerns like acne thanks to its part in the formation of collagen-damaging AGEs.
When our sugar levels are elevated, this AGE process is stimulated. It’s sped up even more if sunlight is involved. So, instead of eating ice cream on the beach, opt for refreshing frozen fruit or a popsicle with no sugar added.
Reach for fruit or dark chocolate when craving something sweet. Blueberries, specifically, prevent loss of collagen, as shown in animal studies.
4. Olive Oil or Avocados for Margarine
Take it easy with that butter knife. Older studies have shown that those who don’t consume margarine or butter have less skin damage and wrinkles than those who do.
And the science checks out: Margarine is worse than moderate amounts of real butter due to the fact that it’s high in partially hydrogenated oils. These trans fatty acids make skin more vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation, which can damage the skin’s collagen and elasticity.
Swap butter for olive oil or smear avocados, rich in anti-aging antioxidants, on toast instead.
5. Poultry for Processed Meats
Hot dogs, pepperoni, bacon, and sausage are all examples of processed meats that can be harmful to the skin.
These meats are high in sodium, saturated fats, and sulfites, which can all dehydrate the skin and weaken collagen by causing inflammation. For inexpensive protein options, swap processed meats for eggs or beans.
Opt for leaner meats like turkey and chicken. These meats are packed with protein and amino acids that are essential in the natural formation of collagen.
6. Reconsider Dairy
Got mixed feeling about milk? Science does, too.
Some have seen positive skin changes from dropping dairy. Others have seen no significant difference at all.
It all depends on the person. For some, dairy may increase inflammation in the body, which leads to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is one of the main causes of premature aging.
Diets low in dairy products may protect sun-exposed skin from wrinkling.
Dairy is a great source of calcium, which is essential to overall skin health. For other sources of calcium, eat seeds, beans, almonds, leafy greens, and figs.
7. Soda and Coffee
What soda and coffee do to your health have more to do with sleep than skin. First, both are high in caffeine, which, if you drink frequently throughout the day to night, may affect your sleep.
Poor sleep has been linked to increased signs of aging and more dark eye circles, wrinkles, and fine lines.
If you’re concerned about the sugar content, take a look at how much you’re drinking.
See if you can decrease the amount or make swaps, like having golden milk instead of coffee.
Turmeric, the main ingredient in golden milk, is rich in antioxidants and one of the most powerful anti-aging compounds around.
8. Alcohol in Moderation
Alcohol can cause a host of problems when it comes to the skin, including redness, puffiness, loss of collagen, and wrinkles.
Alcohol depletes your nutrients, hydration, and vitamin A levels, all of which have a direct impact on wrinkles.
Vitamin A is especially important in regards to new cell growth and the production of collagen, ensuring that skin is elastic and wrinkle-free.
Drink in moderation. That’s one drink per day for women and two for men. Make sure you’re well-hydrated with water. Try experimenting with some fun and creative mocktail recipes as well.
9. Avoid Cooking in High Heat
Some polyunsaturated oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, like corn or sunflower oil, can cause harmful free radicals and can increase inflammation. If you’re frying or using high heat every day, that adds up.
But this doesn’t mean that all oils are unhealthy. When it comes to oils and wrinkle prevention, opt for monounsaturated fats to help keep the skin hydrated.
Swap vegetable oils for olive oil. It’s rich in antioxidants, vitamin E, and phytosterols, and reduces inflammation.
10. Switch Out Rice Cakes
While rice cakes are usually touted as a good snack, this isn’t the case for the skin.
Rice cakes have a high glycemic index and can cause spikes in blood sugar levels. Increased blood sugar levels act as an “aging accelerator” that can cause wrinkles.
For an anti-aging snack, try hummus with red bell pepper strips. Red bell peppers are high in vitamin C, making them great at producing collagen. Chickpeas are chock-full of skin-healthy antioxidants, too.
11. Counteract Fructose with Lipoic Acid
Many people are surprised to hear that agave can contain more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.
Fructose breaks down collagen much quicker than regular sugar, which can speed up wrinkle formation.
If you want: Since lipoic acid may prevent the collagen-damaging effects from fructose, if agave is the only sweetener you can have, remember to include lots of Brussels sprouts (which are high in lipoic acid) in your diet.
Other Ways to Plump Your Skin
If you read this thinking it’s a sign not to eat any of these foods, we’re reminding you that it’s all about balance. Food is the long game, and there are plenty of other ways to boost collagen formation, like through supplements or injections.
Topical treatments such as retinol, vitamin C, micro needling, and face acids can help prevent and smooth wrinkles. For more holistic options, you can also consider facial acupuncture or facial exercises.
But you also don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. Instead, embrace your wrinkles and what they say about you!
Tiffany La Forge is a professional chef, recipe developer, and food writer who runs the blog Parsnips and Pastries. Her blog focuses on real food for a balanced life, seasonal recipes, and approachable health advice. This article was first published on Healthline.com