These 6 Foods Are Causing "Inflammaging," Or Inflammation-Based Premature Aging — Here's What To Do About It

Photo: Toa Heftiba

It’s high time we learn that beauty is not only skin deep: The skin is a mirror that reflects everything going on behind the scenes, inside our bodies. Aging is characterized by chronic, low-grade inflammation. In fact, the connection between inflammation and aging is so strong that the duo has even earned itself a celebrity couple nickname à la Kimye: "inflammaging." Some foods accelerate this process by adding fuel to the inflammation fire. In the body, chronic inflammation translates to aches and pains as well as an increased risk for age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and type 2 diabetes. In the skin, inflammation induces oxidative stress, reducing cells’ ability to defend themselves from free radical damage and promoting collagen breakdown. Wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and skin sagging result.

While you can't stop the aging process (and you shouldn't want to!), you can increase the longevity of your skin and body by eliminating these six foods:

1. Sugar

Although insulin is natural and very necessary, high levels—which we experience after eating a sugary food or carbohydrate-rich meal—are extremely inflammatory. Elevated blood sugar levels also accelerate a natural process called glycation, in which glucose attaches to proteins in the body and makes them rigid. This includes collagen and elastin, proteins that keep the skin smooth, elastic, and tight. These rigid proteins are called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short. This acronym couldn’t be more appropriate: Not only do AGEs trigger an inflammatory reaction, but they also cause collagen and elastin to become brittle and break, promoting skin aging. Even more concerning: AGEs are behind a number of age-related degenerative diseases, such as atherosclerosis, macular degeneration, and Alzheimer’s.

The blood sugar highs and lows we experience from a sugary treat or carb-heavy meal also zap us of our energy. And certainly nothing makes us feel a decade older than lacking the energy to get through the day let alone a 2 p.m. meeting!

2. Vegetable oils (including canola, soy, corn, and sunflower seed)

Not only are these oils some of the most unnatural, processed foods on the market, but they’re also loaded with polyunsaturated omega-6 essential fatty acids, which kick-start the inflammatory process. And while omega-3 essential fatty acids signal the chemical messengers that turn off the inflammatory process, the average person consumes 10 to 15 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. Since we ought to be consuming the two in about equal quantities, our bodies are perfectly able to inflame without being able to properly anti-inflame. It’s the perfect recipe for chronic inflammation and inflammaging of both the skin and body.

The solution lies in increasing our omega-3 essential fatty acid intake and reducing omega-6 essential fatty acids in the diet. And keep a close eye on ingredient labels—vegetable oils are a main feature in processed foods, from mayonnaise to crackers.

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3. Wheat and the gluten-containing grains barley, rye, and triticale

Photo: Toa Heftiba

Gluten is a composite of the proteins glutenin and gliadin, the latter of which has been shown to cause intestinal permeability or "leaky gut." By allowing toxins and undigested food particles to pass through the intestinal lining, leaky gut prompts an immune response and is a significant cause of chronic inflammation. Amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) found in wheat have also been shown to provoke an inflammatory immune response in the GI tract.

4. Refined grains

These high-glycemic, simple carbohydrates might as well be table sugar to your body since they’re so quickly converted to glucose once digested. In fact, a single serving of "healthy whole grain" breakfast cereal can have a glycemic index higher than pure table sugar! As a result, these refined grains similarly cause a dramatic, pro-inflammatory insulin spike.

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5. Burned and charred foods

AGEs aren’t just a result of elevated blood sugar levels—they’re also found in burned and charred foods. These dietary AGEs are likewise pro-inflammatory. On the day-to-day, the best cooking options to minimize dietary AGEs are boiling, steaming, slow-cooking, low- to medium-heat baking, and medium-heat pan-frying.

6. Conventional dairy

It’s estimated that 75 percent of the adult population can’t properly digest dairy. Since improper digestion and food intolerances are a major source of chronic inflammation, for a large majority of the population, dairy wreaks havoc on the body from the digestive system to the skin and is best removed. If you're going for dairy, make sure it's hormone-free, or opt for one of the many plant-based milks currently available on the market.

But what should you actually eat? Here's exactly what a day on a plate looks like in a pro-longevity diet.

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