Aging is the process of accumulating damaging changes in cells and consequent diseases that eventually cause decline in a body. Aging is a complex process without a single cause. As the body ages, there is a decreased ability to respond to stress and maintain proper, healthy balance. There are many scientific theories related to aging but a common thread includes the health of bodily systems including immune function, inflammation, or free-radical damage. There are foods that can help support the immune system, calm inflammation in the body and quench free radicals in the form of antioxidants. There are also foods that have the opposite effect. Here are four types of foods to avoid when you’re focusing on healthy aging.
Drop the candy, juice, soda, and sweet coffee for healthier aging. When sugar is consumed, process called ‘glycation’ causes a cross-linking and stiffening of collagen needed for supple skin. Sugar sends blood sugar and hormones soaring, stressing the body. Start by cutting out added sugars and focusing instead on whole foods. Even though some natural, unprocessed foods contain sugar (think fruit!), it is almost always accompanied by vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water content and fiber that support your health. The first step to kicking sugar to the curb is cutting out soda, fruit juice, sugary coffee drinks and candy or baked goods.
You have probably heard that that trans-fats (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils) are out. Their connection to cardiovascular disease has been proven and these lab-made, shelf-stable filler fats are getting banned left and right. You’ll only find them in packaged foods as they do not occur naturally so be sure to read your labels to avoid these inflammatory fats. Fried foods, rancid high heat oils, and excess intake of omega-6 fatty acids are more irritating to the body than the heart-healthy omega-3 variety. The better choice for healthy aging fats include cold water fish like salmon, omega-3 eggs, flax seeds, walnuts and chia seeds.
A known toxin to the human body, particularly the liver, drinking alcohol has proven negative effects. The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse cites that too much of this type of beverage can take a toll on your health including cardiovascular and liver damage, impaired brain health, irritation to the pancreas and increased risk of developing certain types of cancer. Drinking too much alcohol also suppresses the immune system. The best bet for alcohol consumption is to limit it. The American Institute for Cancer Research suggests not drinking alcohol at all. If you do drink, limit your intake to no more than two standard-sized drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
WHITE FLOUR AND PROCESSED CARBOHYDRATES
Stripped of their nutrient and fiber content to create a softer flour, eating processed cereals, breads and baked goods are not helpful for graceful aging. Whole grain carbohydrates (think whole wheat bread, quinoa, oatmeal) contain compounds that combat aging like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. White flour and processed foods do not contain these healthy components; rather, eating these types of food increases blood sugar and cause hormones to spike. When choosing carbohydrates, aim for the unprocessed variety rather than white or enriched flour products.
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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol’s Effects on the Body. http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body. Accessed 10/29/15.
Harvard School of Public Health. Carbohydrates. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/carbohydrates/. Accessed 10/30/15.
Danby FW. Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation. Clin Dermatol. 2010;28(4):409-11.
American Institute for Cancer Research. Drinking Alcohol Raises Breast Cancer Risk. http://www.aicr.org/enews/2012/october-2012/enews-alcohol-breast-cancer-risk.html. Published 10/4/15. Accessed 10/31/15.
Ginger Hultin, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, is a health writer and owner of Champagne Nutrition specializing in integrative health and whole food-based nutrition. She serves as Immediate Past President for the Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Chair-Elect of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group and is a Media Representative for the Illinois Academy. Read Ginger’s blog, Champagne Nutrition, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.
Chair-Elect, Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetic Practice Group
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.