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:
- 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.
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.
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
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
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:
- Grilled, Roasted, and Broiled Meat (AGEs)
- Fried Foods and Fast Foods (AGEs; trans fatty acids; omega-6 fatty acids; sugar and refined carbohydrates; obesity)
- Margarine (AGEs; omega-6 fatty acids; trans fatty acids)
- Vegetable Oils and Meat from Feedlot Animals (omega-6 fatty acids)
- 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)
- Breakfast Cereals Made with Refined Grains (AGEs; sugar and refined grains; obesity)
- Breads, Bagels, and Pastas Made with Refined Grains (AGEs; sugar and refined carbohydrates (i.e., blood sugar management); obesity; overeating; trans fatty acids)
- Fruit Juice and Fruit Smoothies (AGEs; sugar and refined carbohydrates; obesity; overeating)
- Excess Alcohol Consumption (oxidative stress; persistent unhealthy levels of inflammation; blood sugar management)
- 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.
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