What you eat can determine, to a large extent, how old you look and how quickly you age. As a practicing plastic surgeon for the past 13 years, I’ve found that even if you slather on sunscreen, refrain from smoking, and apply anti-aging creams, eating the wrong foods can cause your skin to age prematurely.
Keeping that in mind, here are some practical tips that can slow down the aging of your skin and your entire body:
1. Go whole grain.
Whenever you have a choice, choose whole grains over refined grains. Change your white toast to whole-wheat toast. Change white rice to brown rice. Choose whole-grain cereals or oatmeal instead of refined sugary cereals. Try whole-grain pasta, including brown-rice pasta, instead of the white stuff.
Be aware that many products will advertise themselves as “whole grain” or “multigrain” or “whole wheat” but will actually contain only a small amount of whole grain compared to refined grain. This is especially common with bread products, including bagels, English muffins, and hamburger buns. Read the label. The whole-grain ingredients should be listed first. Ideally, the product will contain 100 percent whole grains. Popcorn is a whole grain, so snack on that whenever you need something crunchy. Just don’t drown it in butter and salt.
2. Use protein.
If you decide to eat a food with a high glycemic index, such as something with sugar or white flour, always pair it with protein to slow down the release of glucose in your bloodstream. For example, have a hard-boiled egg with your waffle, put lean steak in your stir-fry, or have almonds with your raisins.
3. Go green.
If you are a coffee drinker, try alternating a cup of coffee with a cup of green tea. You’ll still get the caffeine boost you crave, but you’ll also get powerful antioxidants. Coffee has antioxidants, too, but green tea has different ones that are particularly skin-friendly. Peppermint tea is another good option since it is also full of antioxidants that slow down aging of the skin.
4. Spice (and herb) it up.
Many herbs, spices, and seasonings also contain potent antioxidants, so use them liberally, especially the spices cinnamon (skip the sugar), cloves, cumin, curry powder, turmeric, and saffron, and the herbs basil, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme.
Use herbs and spices liberally when cooking, sprinkle fresh herbs on salads or sandwiches, and add a shake of cinnamon to your coffee or tea to fight off wrinkles and aging!
5. Pass on the processed food.
Anything that comes in a package is suspect, but baked goods and snack foods are the worst—cupcakes, cookies, doughnuts, and kids’ cereals contain refined flour and too much sugar, which will spike your blood sugar and your insulin levels. Fried foods like chips and crackers are often loaded with salt and fat and may contain trans fats.
Beware of so‑called healthy versions of your favorite snacks, too. Low-fat versions often contain an extra load of sugar (this can be especially true for peanut butter), and even whole-grain snacks may contain too much sugar, salt, and fat.
6. Start your day with fruit.
A plate of fruit every morning is a great way to load up on antioxidants without fat, salt, or added sugar. My father eats a plate of fruit every morning, and I suspect that man is going to live to be 100.
7. Satisfy your sweet tooth with dark chocolate.
Chocolate is graded according to how much raw cocoa it contains. The higher the percentage of raw cocoa, the greater the antioxidant activity. Look for chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa for maximum antioxidants and minimum added sugar. I like the 85 percent cocoa chocolate. Several brands make an 85 percent chocolate bar, including Lindt, Green and Black, Ghirardelli (86 percent), and Endangered Species (88 percent).
Hershey’s bars, chocolate kisses, and dark-chocolate versions of your favorite candy like Special Dark, dark-chocolate M&M’s, and dark chocolate Raisinets, as well as anything made of milk chocolate, don’t have enough raw cocoa to be beneficial, so skip them. They are mostly sugar.
8. Remember: green, yellow, orange, red.
The most antioxidant-rich foods are brightly colored.
9. Eat more protein.
Protein provides the building blocks of collagen, and your body needs it to repair and replace collagen that has degraded with age or that is damaged by free radicals. One study showed that women with lower protein intake had more wrinkles than women with higher protein intake. The USDA recommends 0.8 to 1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. For example, a 150-pound (68.2 kg) woman would require about 68 grams of protein per day.
10. Drink up!
Water is extremely important for hydration. Everything in your body will work better when you are well-hydrated, and the more you drink, the more you will moisturize your skin from the inside. If you are chronically dehydrated (and many people are), drinking eight glasses of water a day can make you look younger almost immediately.