(* A version of this article is also published on Mind Body Green)
Hippocrates is famously quoted for saying, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food,” but how about food being your fountain of youth?
Consider this, although 90% of visible aging is due to sun exposure with air pollution, smoking and stress a close second, how about the food in your shopping cart as third and making progress to edge out it’s competition?
When you look in the mirror and see fine lines, wrinkles, uneven tone, texture and pigmentation, you may want to take stock of how you are stocking your pantry.
Aging occurs because of two different factors: intrinsic and extrinsic. It’s true, you don’t have much control over intrinsic factors, which are influenced by your genes, ethnicity and certain medical conditions. But there is a major upside. You can have a huge impact on your extrinsic factors like UV exposure, stress, smoking, nutrition and lifestyle choices which are major contributors to the aging process.
How do these extrinsic factors contribute to aging? All of them can generate the trifecta of reactions that create fines lines, wrinkles and skin sag.
Major and minor Inflammation
In other words, OMG! You hit the jackpot for premature aging.
In your body, oxidation can be caused by molecules called free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that are missing at least one of their electrons but they like to be paired up so they try to steal an electron from nearby cells in your body to make a pair. This causes oxidation of that cell resulting in cell and DNA damage or even cell death.
While your body produces free radicals all the time as a normal part of functioning think: breathing, digestion and exercise. The trouble starts when you add in those extrinsic factors and your body gets overwhelmed by the quantity of free radicals . The outcome is that your body enters a state of oxidative stress: it can’t fight off free radical damage on it’s own. Free radicals set off a chain of events in your body that begin to cause visible damage, including breakdown of your collagen and elastin making your skin wrinkle, sag and appear thinner. Couple this with slowed collagen production as we naturally age and you’ve got a perfect setup for accelerated aging.
Although you can’t avoid free radicals, you can reduce the damage they cause with a diet rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants are the antidote to free radicals. Vitamins A, C, E, anthocyanins, beta-carotene, lycopene, zinc, selenium and resveratrol are just a few of the antioxidants that serve to protect your skin by donating one of their electrons to the free radical so it can no longer cause damage.
AGEs ARE AGING YOU
All the food you eat gets converted into glucose, which is the simplest form of sugar that your body can use for energy. Foods containing more sugar: think packaged cereal, crackers, sauces as well as foods that are more readily converted into sugar like refined carbohydrates can flood your system with glucose. This can be a problem for two reasons:
Inflammation: Your body is on a rollercoaster of high and low blood sugar spikes and labile insulin levels, which can lead to skin sag, inflammation and chronic disease. Chronic inflammation is at the root of chronic disease system-wide and your skin is no exception. Inflammation can worsen rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema and can also weaken the collagen and elastin in your skin over time leading to skin laxity, poor wound healing and uneven tone and texture.
Glycation: When sugar combines with protein or fat in the bloodstream the result is the formation of harmful compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products aka: AGEs. AGEs can be formed spontaneously in the body or they can be formed in foods like fried and highly processed products as well as red meat, margarine, nuts and butter. Cooking methods using high temperatures can also contribute to AGEs formation including frying, grilling and toasting.
In your skin AGEs are formed with collagen and elastin causing these fibers integral to a supple and youthful appearance to become stiff, inflexible and prone to breakage. Translation: Your skin becomes less elastic, wrinkled, saggy and more vulnerable to sun damage.
EATING FOR YOUR FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
Anti-Oxidants: Eating foods rich in anti-oxidants like tomatoes (lycopene), berries (polyphenols), dark leafy greens (Vitamin E) and spinach (carotenoids) can limit damage caused by free radicals and AGEs. Pair your meal with a few cups of green tea (catechins) and coffee (caffeic acid) for an added boost.
Anti-Inflammatory: Adding in foods rich in carotenoid plant compounds like lycopene (tomatoes, watermelon and guava), lutein ( pumpkin, pistachio, dark leafy greens) and zeaxanthin (parsley, kale, egg yolk) will give you an anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant jolt. Foods rich in zinc, selenium and copper like lentils, eggs, dark chocolate and almonds are vital to the formation of collagen and elastin and help decrease inflammation.
Anti-Glycation: Foods that limit rapid, sharp spikes in blood sugar can help limit AGEs formation as well as cooking methods using low temperatures and water-based moisture like steaming, poaching and stewing.
Apples, asparagus, figs, celery, green peppers, cauliflower and onions have been shown to combat the process of glycation as they are rich in phytonutrients, beneficial compounds, including rutin, quercetin and luteolin.
Adding in high fiber vegetables like artichokes and broccoli, as well as herbs and spices including cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, garlic, sage, thyme and fenugreek can help keep blood sugar levels steady and block collagen damaging AGEs.
To your youthful glow! Bon appetit!