Doctor Explains All The Ways Sugar Ages You

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"You are what you eat," the old saying goes. This basically implies that if you eat healthy foods, you will be healthy, and if you eat a lot of junk food, you might not be. But, did you know that there are certain foods that could help preserve a youthful appearance while others can make you look older?

First, it's important to understand that we have two ages: chronological age and biological age. Chronological age depends on the year we are born, and biological age is influenced by several factors like genetics, lifestyle, and of course, diet (via Verywell Health). That's why two people born in the same year can appear to be completely different ages, as one is aging biologically faster than the other.

While we can't change our genes, we can try to stay physically active and eat a nutrition-packed diet to stay healthier and look younger for longer. Certain foods have anti-aging properties, such as olive oil (rich in omega-3 and antioxidants that can protect your skin against wrinkles), dark chocolate (enriched with flavanols that protect against sun damage, but you still need sunscreen), and salmon (a great source of Vitamin D for stronger teeth and bones), per Eat This, Not That!

Similarly, some foods can speed up your aging process, and one major culprit is one many of us love so much: sugar. In an exclusive interview with The List, Dr. Mark J. Tager tells us how sugar ages you.

How sugar speeds up skin aging

It's challenging to deny oneself freshly baked cookies and cakes, but your love for sweet desserts might actually be playing a huge role in aging you because of all the sugar in them. But, how does something that tastes so good contribute to biological aging?

As Dr. Tager explained to The List: "Excess sugar in the diet binds to proteins, a process known as glycation. When this happens to the heme protein in red blood cells, then we see an elevation in HBA1C (hemoglobin A1C), which is a marker for diabetes." We don't want that because then we'd really have to deprive ourselves of our love for sweets.

We use skincare products like sunscreen and retinol that help protect and build collagen in our skin, but it seems adding more sugar to our diet offsets the benefit of those products. Dr. Tager told The List that "a similar but not-so-beneficial process occurs in the skin where the sugar binds to collagen, making it brittle. This can contribute to fine lines and crepiness of the skin." 

How sugar negatively influences overall health

We know that the extra helping of dessert might not be doing our skin any favors, but it's actually not helping our overall health, either, especially as it promote inflammation. As Dr. Tager told The List: "Sugar creates inflammatory molecules known as AGEs, which stands for Advanced Glycation End products. Inflammation is one of the ways the skin prematurely ages." However, AGEs don't just affect the skin.

"AGEs create inflammation that contributes to vascular problems, gut inflammation, acne, gut issues, and a host of other conditions," Dr. Trager explained. "There are receptors in the body that set up this inflammation. They are appropriately named RAGE, with the R standing for receptors."

A 2018 Cell Metabolism study on how AGE products affect aging and health showed that an increase in consumption of AGE products can increase your chances of developing neurological diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's due to its effect on neurodegeneration. It could also lead to diabetes and kidney-related illnesses.

Eating too much sugar doesn't just make us look older but could also cause many diseases, so it's best to reduce intake of foods that are high in AGEs, such as ultraprocessed and deep-fried dishes (via Healthline). If you want a sweet fix, pick up that fruit instead of a doughnut. Your body will thank you.

To learn more about how sugar ages you, check out Dr. Tager's book "Feed Your Skin Right: Your Personalized Nutrition Plan for Radiant Beauty".