Here are the Top 10 Foods That Accelerate Aging (Beware!)

Written by Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn2

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Tom Petty once said, “If you’re not getting older, you’re dead.” In other words, if you’re reading this (you’re not dead…duh). And that means you’re aging at the cellular level, a process known as “senescence,” which can affect how you look, feel, and perform.

In fact, senescence influences the health of every cell, tissue, organ, and organ system in the body including your:

  • Mitochondria
  • Skin
  • Brain and nervous system
  • Heart and cardiovascular system
  • Joints and muscles
  • Immune system
  • GI system
  • Endocrine system and hormones

Maybe you’re more fatigued and not quite as energetic as you once were. Maybe you’re noticing more fine lines and wrinkles. Maybe you’re experiencing brain fog and forgetfulness more often. Maybe you don’t have quite the endurance you once did.

Maybe you’re noticing more joint and muscle discomfort. Maybe you’re having a harder time fighting off colds and allergies. Maybe you’ve found food affects you a little differently these days.

Perhaps you’ve found a good night’s rest seems to be few and far between. Maybe you’ve noticed your body doesn’t recover quite so quickly these days. And surely, you’ve noticed your body doesn’t quite look the same, especially around your midsection.

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While aging is inevitable, the great news is that the primary factors that contribute to and accelerate aging are arguably well within your control. You can directly influence them with your lifestyle choices, including the foods you do (and don’t) eat. That’s right, we’re going to let the cat out of the bag on the foods that accelerate aging.

Menopause and weight gain

Gerontogens and Accelerated Aging

Gerontogens are environmental and lifestyle factors that accelerate aging and shorten telomeres.1 As a normal cellular process, telomere length shortens with age. However, accelerated telomere shortening is associated with early onset of many age-related health problems, including coronary heart disease, heart failure, diabetes, increased cancer risk, osteoporosis, and decreased lifespan.2

Arguably the two most important age-accelerating, telomere-shortening gerontogens are excessive oxidative stress and persistent, unhealthy levels of inflammation (often referred to as “inflammaging”). These directly contribute to and accelerate biological aging.3

Oxidative stress is defined as “a disturbance in the balance between the production of reactive oxygen species (i.e., free radicals) and antioxidant defenses.”4,5 It’s long been thought to play a central role in the aging of various tissues.6,7

Where there’s oxidative stress there is typically persistent, unhealthy levels of inflammation. This wreaks havoc throughout the body. In fact, growing evidence indicates that increases in systemic markers of inflammation are associated with age-related declines health.

Case in point, C-reactive protein (CRP) is a marker of systemic inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease. It’s a classical clinical blood chemistry parameter that has been proposed as a biomarker of aging.8 What’s more, CRP may also reflect obesity, sleep disturbances, depression, chronic fatigue, and low levels of physical activity, which tend to be more common with age.9,10

From a nutrition standpoint, poor diet quality, synonymous with typical Western-style eating patterns (i.e., Standard American Diet), is associated with shorter telomere lengths and accelerated aging. SAD is hallmarked by more than 70% processed foods made primarily with refined grains, added sugars, poor-quality fats (e.g., refined, bleached, and deodorized vegetable oils and trans fats). And as you might have guessed, the same Western-style dietary pattern that also promotes inflammaging. (more on “Western” foods that accelerate aging below).11

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Think of it this way: If you’re eating a diet made up predominantly of nutrient-sparse processed foods, you’re not supplying your body with nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods. Not surprisingly, researchers have repeatedly found high fruit and vegetable intakes are positively correlated with antioxidant intake and healthy aging.12

What’s more, excess intake of omega-6 fats (in large part from the overconsumption of processed foods made with poor-quality vegetable oils) combined with inadequate consumption of omega-3 fats has been shown to be associated with accelerated aging.13,14 On the contrary, diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids are associated with healthy aging.15

Advanced glycation end-products (known as AGEs) are another important set of gerontogens. AGEs can be formed during cooking (e.g., high-heat cooking, baking, grilling, etc.). They can also be formed by the body after exposure to high levels of blood sugar.16 In other words, high blood sugar means more AGE-like compounds. What’s more, AGEs increase free radical formation, impair antioxidant defense systems, increase oxidative stress, and promote inflammation.17

Of course, overeating and excess body fat are both pertinent gerontogens. In fact, obesity is commonly recognized as a state of increased oxidative stress and inflammation, and obesity is directly related to accelerated aging.18 Not surprisingly, waist circumference is also inversely associated with telomere length, providing more evidence that excess body fat correlates with accelerated aging.13

Before moving on, it’s important to note that there are other key age-accelerating gerontogens, most of which are lifestyle-related, including:

  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Excess UV radiation
  • Chronic stress
  • Attitude and mood-related issues
  • Lack of restorative sleep
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Environmental toxins and pesticides

Foods That Accelerate Aging

Foods That Accelerate Aging

With all of that in mind, you might already have an idea of the types of foods that accelerate aging. Before delving into the list, it’s important to remind you that, in the grand scheme of things, looking, feeling, and performing your best are all contingent on your entire body of “nutrition work”—not an individual food or single meal. In other words, there’s no “magic bullet.”

Having said that, when it comes to age-accelerating foods, here’s a list of “probable” foods that accelerate aging:

  1. Grilled, Roasted, and Broiled Meat (AGEs)
  2. Fried Foods and Fast Foods (AGEs; trans fatty acids; omega-6 fatty acids; sugar and refined carbohydrates; obesity)
  3. Margarine (AGEs; omega-6 fatty acids; trans fatty acids)
  4. Vegetable Oils and Meat from Feedlot Animals (omega-6 fatty acids)
  5. Baked Goods and Sweets Made with Refined Grains and Poor-Quality Fats (AGEs; sugar and refined carbohydrates; obesity; overeating; trans fatty acids; omega-6 fatty acids)
  6. Breakfast Cereals Made with Refined Grains (AGEs; sugar and refined grains; obesity)
  7. Breads, Bagels, and Pastas Made with Refined Grains (AGEs; sugar and refined carbohydrates (i.e., blood sugar management); obesity; overeating; trans fatty acids)
  8. Fruit Juice and Fruit Smoothies (AGEs; sugar and refined carbohydrates; obesity; overeating)
  9. Excess Alcohol Consumption (oxidative stress; persistent unhealthy levels of inflammation; blood sugar management)
  10. Artificial Sweeteners (oxidative stress)

If you are looking to boost your longevity and fight back against the inevitable, you need to avoid these 10 foods that accelerate aging.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps the following quote from a group of anti-aging researchers from Australia sums things up best:

“A healthy lifestyle includes regular physical exercise, not smoking, a happy relaxed mind, and a nutrient-rich low-calorie diet to maintain a moderately lean body weight. Such a diet would include whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, with a low intake of trans fatty acids. Energy intake, which in excess leads to overweight, appears to be the major dietary factor determining the onset of age-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia, and therefore lifespan. The composition of the diet is also important, since there is good evidence that a vegetarian diet (rich in antioxidants), the Mediterranean diet (high in olive oil with monounsaturated fatty acids), and the Okinawan diet (high in fruits and vegetables plus omega-3 fatty acids in fish) are beneficial by delaying age-associated diseases.”19

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  • 1. Sorrentino JA, Sanoff HK, Sharpless NE. Defining the toxicology of aging. Trends Mol Med. 2014;20(7):375-384. doi:10.1016/j.molmed.2014.04.004.
  • 2. Shammas MA. Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2011;14(1):28-34. doi:10.1097/MCO.0b013e32834121b1.
  • 3. Franceschi C, Bonafè M, Valensin S, et al. Inflamm-aging. An evolutionary perspective on immunosenescence. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2000;908:244-254.
  • 4. Betteridge DJ. What is oxidative stress? Metabolism. 2000;49(2 Suppl 1):3-8.
  • 5. Floyd RA. Antioxidants, oxidative stress, and degenerative neurological disorders. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med Soc Exp Biol Med N Y N. 1999;222(3):236-245.
  • 6. Harman D. Aging: A theory based on free radical and radiation chemistry. J Gerontol. 1956;11(3):298-300.
  • 7. Finkel T, Holbrook NJ. Oxidants, oxidative stress and the biology of ageing. Nature. 2000;408(6809):239-247. doi:10.1038/35041687.
  • 8. Bürkle A, Moreno-Villanueva M, Bernhard J, et al. MARK-AGE biomarkers of ageing. Mech Ageing Dev. 2015;151:2-12. doi:10.1016/j.mad.2015.03.006.
  • 9. Kushner I. C-reactive protein elevation can be caused by conditions other than inflammation and may reflect biologic aging. Cleve Clin J Med. 2001;68(6):535-537. doi:10.3949/ccjm.68.6.535.
  • 10. Ridker PM, Hennekens CH, Buring JE, Rifai N. C-Reactive protein and other markers of inflammation in the prediction of cardiovascular disease in women. N Engl J Med. 2000;342(12):836-843. doi:10.1056/NEJM200003233421202.
  • 11. Bosma-den Boer MM, van Wetten M-L, Pruimboom L. Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: How diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering. Nutr Metab. 2012;9(1):32. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-32.
  • 12. Polidori MC, Praticó D, Mangialasche F, et al. High fruit and vegetable intake is positively correlated with antioxidant status and cognitive performance in healthy subjects. J Alzheimers Dis JAD. 2009;17(4):921-927. doi:10.3233/JAD-2009-1114.
  • 13. Cassidy A, De Vivo I, Liu Y, et al. Associations between diet, lifestyle factors, and telomere length in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;91(5):1273-1280. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28947.
  • 14. O’Callaghan N, Parletta N, Milte CM, Benassi-Evans B, Fenech M, Howe PRC. Telomere shortening in elderly individuals with mild cognitive impairment may be attenuated with ω-3 fatty acid supplementation: A randomized controlled pilot study. Nutr Burbank Los Angel Cty Calif. 2014;30(4):489-491. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2013.09.013.
  • 15. Farzaneh-Far R, Lin J, Epel ES, Harris WS, Blackburn EH, Whooley MA. Association of marine omega-3 fatty acid levels with telomeric aging in patients with coronary heart disease. JAMA. 2010;303(3):250-257. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.2008.
  • 16. Goldin A. Advanced Glycation End Products: Sparking the development of diabetic vascular injury. Circulation. 2006;114(6):597-605. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.621854.
  • 17. Nowotny K, Jung T, Höhn A, Weber D, Grune T. Advanced Glycation End Products and oxidative stress in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Biomolecules. 2015;5(1):194-222. doi:10.3390/biom5010194.
  • 18. Tzanetakou IP, Katsilambros NL, Benetos A, Mikhailidis DP, Perrea DN. “Is obesity linked to aging?”: Adipose tissue and the role of telomeres. Ageing Res Rev. 2012;11(2):220-229. doi:10.1016/j.arr.2011.12.003.
  • 19. Everitt AV, Hilmer SN, Brand-Miller JC, et al. Dietary approaches that delay age-related diseases. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(1):11-31.
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  • Moikgantsi Kgama

    So, only raw meat is ok? Or not at all, huh?

    • Hi Moikgantsi,

      Great questions; I really appreciate you bringing this point up, as I think a more detailed explanation can be helpful.

      Animal-derived foods (e.g., meat, poultry) that are high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and are prone to new AGE formation during cooking. For example, a chicken breast, with the skin, breaded, and deep-fried contains 1150% more AGEs than a raw chicken breast; on the other hand, poaching a skinless chicken breast only increases AGE content by about 25%. In other words, cooking with “moist heat” at lower temperatures (e.g., poaching, braising) can reduce the AGE content of chicken 46-fold.

      Along those lines, researchers from the Mount Sanai School of medicine have said, “The formation of new AGEs during cooking was prevented by the AGE inhibitory compound aminoguanidine and significantly reduced by cooking with moist heat, using shorter cooking times, cooking at lower temperatures, and by use of acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar.”

      So, cooking techniques like braising and poaching result in less AGE formation, especially compared to high-heat cooking (e.g., deep-frying, grilling). Also, many herbs and spices can inhibit AGE formation, including cinnamon, rosemary, ginger, sage, mint, cloves, and tarragon. Antioxidants (e.g., vitamin C) can also be useful, and that suggests that adding vitamin C-rich citrus fruits (e.g., lemon) to marinades may be helpful. On top of that, eating a diet rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients should help mitigate any potential damage from AGEs. In other words, if you eat grilled meat, just be sure to consume plenty of veggies with it.

      The take-home point would be to limit consumption of animal proteins cooked at high heats. Focus more on low temperature cooking, preferably with moist heat (e.g., braise, poach). Marinate animal proteins with acidic liquids (e.g., vinegar, lemon juice) and plenty of herbs and spices. Surround cooked animal proteins with colorful veggies.

      I hope this elaboration helps a bit, Moikgantsi. Please let me know if you have any additional questions or feedback. Thanks!

  • Char Mim Maxwell

    It’s amazing to me, how people need so much help, realizing we are what we eat and how we think.

  • Point well-received, glock 19 fan, and I agree that it would be impractical, if not unnecessary, to completely avoid all foods that could be found under the umbrella of the categories listed above. This is why I introduced the list with the following disclaimer:

    “Before delving into the list, it’s important to remind you that, in the grand scheme of things, looking, feeling, and performing your best are all contingent on your entire body of ‘nutrition work’—not an individual food or single meal.”

    And as I suggested in my response to Moikgantsi, there may be strategies to mitigate some of the age-accelerating compounds in certain instances (e.g., how you cook meat), and referring back to the notion of one’s body of nutrition work, surrounding any of these foods by a diet predominated by minimally-processed, plant-based foods is likely to protect the body against the potential effects of these age-accelerating compounds.

    Having said that, I would recommend reducing/limiting consumption of the foods on the list, especially those that provide little to no nutritional value. I think the take-home point is that the Standard American Diet, which is composed predominantly of ultra-processed foods, is a major culprit when it comes to the dietary contribution to aging. And along those lines, anyone who values his/her health and longevity would be wise to consume a diet composed primarily of minimally-processed whole foods, including plenty of antioxidant-rich, plant-based foods.

  • Hi Jan-Willem,

    Thanks so much for your feedback; I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the article. Please let us know if you have any questions or if there’s anything that you’d like for us to cover in the future.


  • Hi Diosdado,

    I hope this finds you doing well! I admit that I’m not the biggest fan of fruit juice, and I outline several of the reasons why in the following article:

    4 fruits that make you gain weight

    For all intents and purposes, fruit juice falls under the umbrella of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs), which is a category that also includes soda. In other words, you could make the argument (at least from a calorie- and sugar-density standpoint) that fruit juice is just another sugary beverage. Along these lines, fruit juice consumption is associated with type 2 diabetes whereas consumption of whole fruit is not.

    Admittedly, fruit juice does provide some additional nutritional value (e.g., vitamins, minerals) whereas sodas do not. In that vein, I think it’s pretty easy to conclude that 100% fruit juice with no sugar added is a “better” option than soda. And an even better option than store-bought fruit juice would be freshly-squeezed juice (from just the fruit itself).

    However, is fruit juice the “best” option? Based on energy-density, sugar content, nutrient content (e.g., micronutrients and fiber), satiety value, etc., it’s quite clear that whole fruit is a superior option to fruit juice. Personally, I can’t see recommending fruit juice over whole fruit unless we’re looking at an extreme case (e.g., malnutrition).

    Having said that, an occasional small glass of juice—particularly in the context of an overall healthy diet—is likely to do no harm. And I think that’s the most important thing to consider…your entire body of nutrition work…as opposed to honing in on one single food, nutrient, hormone, etc.

    I hope this helps, Diosdado!

  • Mac McIver

    Did I miss the warning about what are the 4 kinds of fish to avoid? What are they?

    • Cristina

      Hi Mac.

      Please accept my apologies for the information not being more clear and concise. I would be more than happy to provide you with our recommendation for the 4 fish to avoid.

      The 4 fish to avoid are:

      1. Farm-raised salmon
      2. Farm-raised tilapia
      3. Snapper
      4. Tuna

      Please do not hesitate to let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.