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10 Foods You Should Avoid to Look (and Feel!) Younger

Along with increasing your risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, these ten foods can cause inflammation, aches and pains, wrinkles, and accelerate the aging process, making you look and feel older than your are.

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French fries

They are the perfect accompaniment to a burger or your favorite sandwich, but French fries, chips, or anything crispy and deep-fried in oil that has been reused or is too hot—fried fish, chicken, or shrimp–can age you, says Ginger Hultin, RD and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Frying can be a good way of cooking if the oil is fresh and it is done correctly at the right temperature,” she says, “but too often the oil is reused many times and the food is being dipped into a damaged and even dangerous product that contains trans fat and free radicals from cooking at too high a temperature.” Research has proved that eating fried food at least once per week increases a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and that risk increases with the frequency of consumption of fried food. “Chronic diseases associated with the aging body can appear at younger ages with the intake of these types of foods,” says Hultin, “and the presence of inflammation can make a person feel tired, swollen, and run down.” If you crave that crispy crunch, try alternatives to French fries or baking instead of frying, says Hultin. “Coat potatoes, veggies, and meats in cornmeal or panko and bake them. This is a lower-fat option that doesn’t risk exposure to the damaged oil that can be used in frying.” Finally, there’s a vitamin that can make your blood vessels younger and help fight heart disease.

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Caramel color

Drinking cola, root beer, or iced tea may seem harmless, but the artificial color 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), used to give these beverages their brown color, has been shown to cause cancer and inflammation. In California, manufacturers are required to label products sold in the state with a warning if it exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MEI per day, equivalent to drinking one can of soda among some brands. While cola and brown soda are obvious foods that contain the chemical and pose health risks, they are not the only ones, says Hultin. “Caramel color is found in other beverages like beer and whiskey and commercially prepared foods like brown bread, chocolate and chocolate products, cookies, and even cough drops.” To avoid consumption of 4-MEI, check the product’s label and look for “caramel color” or “artificial color” among the list of ingredients. “Choose beverages that are naturally clear or get their color from fruit or vegetable extracts or natural polyphenols like tea, which can add antioxidants derived from those foods,” says Hultin.

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Canned soup

A cup of soup may seem like a healthy choice, but some soups are packed with unhealthy ingredients. “The high levels of sodium in canned soup can cause dehydration, which can make wrinkles and fine lines more visible,” says Hultin. “Excess salt can also can put stress on the cardiovascular system, causing high blood pressure, which can put a person at increased risk for stroke and death.” The recommended sodium guidelines from the American Heart Association suggest no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day and an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day for most adults. “Yet one cup of canned soup can contain 800 or more milligrams of sodium, and many people eat larger portions than one cup,” says Hultin. Some canned soups, particularly creamy varieties and chowders, also contain trans fats, which raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, lower HDL (good) cholesterol levels, and increase the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. If you must have canned soups, read the label before you buy, says Hultin, and look for partially hydrogenated oils listed among the ingredients. A better alternative to canned soup is to make your own and avoid the excess salt and trans fat. “Use low-sodium broth or stock as the base and increase the amount of herbs and spices to add flavor,” says Hultin. “Soup is a perfect vehicle for high fiber veggies and beans, which are packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.” Adopting these 50 everyday habits will also help you look younger.

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Baked goods

Stopping for a coffee and a pastry on your way to work may be part of your daily routine, but if the baked goods you’re consuming contain trans fats, your routine could be aging you by increasing your risk for developing heart disease and diabetes. Trans fats make pies, cookies, cakes, biscuits, and sweet rolls taste good and also make the products more shelf-stable, explains Angel C. Planells, RD and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The downside however is their effect on heart health—a rise in total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglyceride counts—which can increase your risk for more health issues, including diabetes.” While many companies are steering away from using trans fats, Planells says that you should still read the label before you buy. “Some companies can round down when it comes to the nutrition label and claim to be trans-fat free,” he says. “If the label lists partially hydrogenated oils, steer clear.” Instead of baked goods try oatmeal and fruit, half a bagel with nut butter or salmon, or eggs and avocado, which delivers protein and healthy fat, says Planells. While you’re on this new eating plan, make sure you listen to some good music, too.

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Processed meats

Pepperoni, bacon, hot dogs, cold cuts, sausage, and meat sticks—anything that has been smoked, cured, salted—is considered processed meat, according to the American Institute of Cancer Research, and research shows that eating them regularly increases the risk of death by 16 percent. Often preserved with nitrates and nitrites (which help keep meats pink), the preservatives turn into dangerous nitrosamines during high heat cooking and have been linked to increased colorectal cancer risk. Trans fats, which are naturally occurring in meat, have been linked to other diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and COPD. Processed meats may also contribute to aging by reducing our protective DNA telomeres, the structures found at the end of our chromosomes, and excess sodium found in processed meats can increase the aging process by causing bloating, puffiness, and dehydration. If you must indulge in processed meats, read the label and look for nitrate-free products that are low in sodium or try alternatives such as turkey pepperoni or meatless tempeh bacon, says Planells. Check out these foods that can naturally boost your collagen and keep your skin looking young.

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Nightshade vegetables

Nightshade vegetables are members of the Solanaceae family, a group of flowering plants that includes potatoes, peppers, eggplant, goji berries, gooseberries, tomatillos, and tomatoes. Night shade vegetables are rich in antioxidants and in many cases are thought to be anti-aging due to their polyphenol content, explains Fiona Tuck, nutritional medicine practitioner and author of The Forensic Nutritionist. “However, they do contain a chemical alkaloid called solanine, which may trigger inflammation in a small number of people that are prone to inflammatory conditions.” If you are suffering from joint pain and stiffness, the best way to determine if you are sensitive to nightshades is to eliminate them from your diet and see if your condition improves. “Chronic, low-grade inflammation can be a major cause of free-radical damage to our cells, or aging as we know it, and can perpetuate and aggravate a number of health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, acne, cardiovascular disease, endometriosis, premature aging, sinusitis, and even some cancers,” says Tuck. Try adding these anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to relieve pain and keep you feeling younger than ever.

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Fruit smoothies

While fruit smoothies seem like a healthy alternative after a workout or as an on-the-go snack, they are often loaded with sugar. “Excess ingestion of sugar has been associated with changes in collagen and skin structure, leading to decreased elasticity of the skin, making your skin look more stiff and less plump and youthful,” says Lauren Kelly, RD, based in New York City. When you have a smoothie, choose one fruit serving such as berries, which are lower in sugar than other fruits and rich in antioxidants, says Kelly. Complete the smoothie by adding healthy fat (nut butter or avocado), a vegetable, and a protein to promote sustained energy instead of sugar crashes, which make you crave more sugar and promote weight gain and inflammation, she says. The American Heart Association recommends that women have no more than 25 grams and men no more than 36 grams of sugar per day. Sugar can be hidden in other foods that are considered healthy such as yogurt, cereal, and granola, says Kelly. “Read the label and make sure sugar is not one of the first ingredients, and look for hidden sugar words such as ‘syrup, molasses, glucose, fructose, agave, and honey,’ aiming for less than nine grams of sugar per serving.”

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Agave syrup

Derived from the blue agave plant, the same plant that produces tequila, agave syrup is an example of a sugar that people often consider to be healthy because it’s from a plant, explains Kelly. “But agave is still a form of sugar and we need to be cautious and not add it into everything in place of sugar.” Excess consumption of sugar is not only associated with obesity, but it can also lead to diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, and may increase the risk for dementia and reduced memory function. “Concentrated sugars like agave and honey can spike blood sugar levels and promote inflammation.” Instead of adding a sweetener like agave, try cinnamon in your coffee or mash real berries into your plain yogurt instead of buying versions flavored with sugar, suggests Kelly. If you don’t want to change your diet, try doing these facial excises that can make you look younger, according to science.

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Caffeinated beverages

Drinking too much caffeine can be dehydrating, which can make your skin look aged, says Kelly. When the body is dehydrated, it pulls water from your tissues, making your skin feel dryer and less elastic. To stay adequately hydrated you need to meet your daily fluid goal, which for most people is at least two liters per day. “But check with your doctor or nutritionist to determine your daily fluid intake as certain medical conditions, medications, and your activity level can affect your specific fluid goal,” explains Kelly. To help with hydration, keep a water glass by your bed and a bottle on your desk or with you in your bag throughout the day. “If you don’t like water, try unsweetened teas, flavored seltzer water, a fruit infuser, or add lemon, lime, mint, or cucumber into your water for flavor,” says Kelly. Not trying to give up your morning cup of Joe? Pick up these Korean beauty products that help keep your skin from aging.

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Grilled meat

Barbecued foods are a staple at tailgates and picnics, yet that black char left on the grill or on your burger could contribute to aging. “When you grill meat, it increases the production of substances called advanced glycation end products (AGEs),” says Kelly, ” and excess consumption of AGEs has been associated with increased levels of inflammatory markers, along with an increased risk for chronic disease including heart and kidney disease.” These AGEs can also contribute to the breakdown of skin composition, leading to the reduced elasticity, the same type of change that occurs when you eat too much sugar, she explains. If you must barbecue, make sure to scrape off the blackened parts before you eat or try healthier grilling alternatives. “Stick with boiled, poached, lightly sauteed, stewing and steaming methods as often as possible to reduce your intake of these damaging substances,” says Kelly. Next, find out the best way to improve your balance and help you feel younger than ever!

Kim Fredericks
Kim Fredericks is a freelance writer, content specialist, and editor with 20 years experience covering fitness, travel, hotels, design, real estate, and luxury lifestyle topics for major publications and web sites such as the Robb Report, Luxury magazine, Reader's Digest, and Oyster. Kim earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and English from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale and a Masters in Writing and Publishing from Emerson College in Boston. She is an avid skier, golfer, and outdoor enthusiast. She lives in the NYC Metro area with her husband Victor and Rocky the Jack Russell. Visit her website: Kim Fredericks.