One day you’re looking in the mirror and notice a line where you hadn’t seen one before. Oh my, you have wrinkles! At first, they tend to pop up around the eyes, forehead, and mouth because normal facial expressions tend to weaken the skin. Also, you may see some in areas that are exposed to the sun since the sun causes skin damage that leads to wrinkles.
But before you run out for Botox, take a minute to look at other lifestyle causes of these newly appearing wrinkles. As a Registered Dietitian, I always recommend diet-related changes that can be made first, before moving on to more extreme measures. And although wrinkles may just be a normal part of aging, your diet can definitely speed up the process. And a benefit in changing your diet is that it doesn’t require much money and no needles are involved! Win-win in my book!
What causes wrinkles?
Skin is made up of two proteins: collagen and elastin. These proteins work to keep the skin smooth and wrinkle free. Keeping these proteins healthy is what will also keep your skin looking great.
The sun is our first offender. It damages collagen, breaking down the structural fibers underneath the skin. Once the collagen is damaged, the skin will weaken, leading to sagging. Combine sun damage with the natural weakening of the skin that comes with aging, and wrinkles are an inevitable result.
Another culprit of wrinkles are advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These molecules are left over debris, formed as part of the normal process of digesting sugar. But over time AGEs tend to build up, attach themselves to the collagen and elastin, damage their structure and lead to wrinkled, sagging skin. So which foods lead to AGEs, and what should you avoid if you want your skin to look great?
Sugar increases the formation of AGEs, which damage collagen. Collagen fibers must remain linked together to help maintain the skin’s structure. Sugar damages the link between the collagen fibers, which is then exacerbated by exposure to UV light from the sun. The more collagen breaks down, the more wrinkled the skin will appear.
In order to prevent wrinkles, reduce your sugar intake. High-sugar foods, such as candy, cake, or ice cream, should be eaten only occasionally — and not as part of your daily diet. Stay away from sugary beverages, such as soda or blended coffee drinks, which can provide up to 100 grams of pure sugar depending on the size. Also, make sure you check the label on other products — like yogurt, ketchup, or tomato sauce — that may have hidden sources of sugar. Instead, base your diet on whole foods that don’t contain any additional sugar: vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and healthy fats.
After being digested, carbohydrates get broken down into pure sugar, which, as we know, causes AGEs. But not all carbs are created equal. Fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates and many of them have amazing nutritional properties that can actually prevent wrinkles. So, totally avoiding carbs to avoid wrinkles would actually be detrimental to the health your skin.
Instead, avoid carbs that are highly refined and processed, which have little nutritional benefit and can be damaging to the skin. Ideally, to help prevent wrinkles, limit concentrated sources of carbohydrates such as bagels (which average 50 grams of carbs each), muffins, breakfast cereals, white bread, cookies, pastries, and cakes. Focus on eating healthy, less-processed carbs which provide nutrients that improve the appearance of skin. Base your diet around whole grains, fruits, and vegetables — all of which are carbs, but also contain antioxidants and wrinkle-reducing vitamins.
For a long time, margarine was touted as a better choice than butter because of its lower saturated fat content. But this was before we learned of the damaging effects of the polyunsaturated fats found in margarine. A study published in an issue of 2001’s Journal of The American College of Nutrition found that people who regularly consumed margarine had more wrinkles than those who ate less margarine.
This may be related to the type of fat found in margarine, which tends to increase inflammation, leading to an increase in oxidative stress. Uncontrolled oxidative stress damages all the body’s organs, including the skin. Therefore, inflammation not only increases your risk of disease, it also causes damage to skin, leading to a dry, dull appearance and the formation of wrinkles. Avoid margarine and opt for small amounts of real butter instead. Better yet, top bread with some type of nut butter, which will give you the right types of fats for healthy skin.
Although dairy products do provide calcium — a critical mineral for bone health and muscle function — they also tend to increase inflammation, leading to a rise in oxidative stress, one of the causes of premature aging. Dairy is also high in milk sugar, called lactose, which can increase the formation of AGEs, leading to collagen damage.
Instead, try to get your calcium from other sources such as green leafy vegetables, or milk alternatives. It’s ok to eat a little bit of a low-sugar Greek yogurt here and there, but be sure you read the label and compare products to find the option lowest in sugar.
Red meat may lead to the formation of wrinkles, but only if it’s charred. Lean red meat has been found to be a healthy source of protein and nutrients in the diet and should not necessarily be avoided. But, when meat is burnt, it forms what is called inflammatory hydrocarbons, which increase inflammation, damaging many of the body’s organs including the skin. Also, processed meats, such as sausage, bacon, or deli meats, are high in sodium and other preservatives, which can increase skin-damaging inflammation.
If you are a meat eater, just be sure to limit your consumption of processed meats, opting for fresh cuts instead. If you choose to grill your meat, just cut off the burnt pieces to limit the consumption of those inflammatory compounds.
It’s no secret that no one looks their best after a night of drinking. But regular intake of alcohol can have a long-term effect on your appearance also. Alcohol is toxic and dehydrating. It increases inflammation and speeds up aging. In addition, the dehydration can make your skin look dull and dry. Alcohol also deprives your body of critical nutrients it needs to maintain healthy skin, hair, and nails.
The daily recommended amount is no more than one drink for women, and two for men. But this doesn’t mean you should save up all of your drinks for the weekend only. It’s best to drink a little at a time, rather than all in one session.
Eating for smooth skin
Not only should you limit or avoid the foods listed above for smooth, youthful skin, you can also choose to eat foods that support healthy skin. The best way to do this is to increase your fruit and vegetable intake.
Choose fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C (strawberries, citrus, bell peppers) and vitamin A (carrots, sweet potatoes). These antioxidants help keep your skin healthy and give the collagen and elastin the nutrients they need to prevent wrinkles. Start limiting your sugar and eating more colorful fruits and veggies and you’ll be on your way to wrinkle-free, beautiful skin in no time!
Prevention is the key
It’s really hard to get rid of wrinkles once they show up, so prevention is the key. A healthy lifestyle will help your skin look great. Along with whole foods, regular exercise, sleep, and stress-management can also have an impact.
Wear sunscreen regularly, and eat foods that are beneficial to your health and well-being, which will also benefit your skin. Aim for plenty of fruits and vegetables that help reduce damage caused by free radicals. Lean protein and healthy fats help too. Eating the right types of foods can not only benefit your health, they can also protect your skin against wrinkles and keep you looking youthful forever.