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Sugar is bad for your skin and making you look old. Seriously. And we’re not just talking the bad stuff like – sugary sodas and candy – more like those paleo “desserts” made with agave, or gluten-free muffins made with sugar. These sneaky “healthy” choices are packed with sugar and are prematurely aging you through the formation of damaging advanced glycation ends (AGEs). Uh, say, what? Let’s dig deeper… 

What are AGEs?
When sugar molecules (in all their forms – cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, agave, etc) are present in your body, they bombard proteins through a process called glycation, binding to proteins and forming new molecules called advanced glycation ends (AGEs). Newly formed AGEs damage healthy proteins (yikes!), including collagen, causing them to become malformed and browned (AHA Journal).

AGEs and Aging
The proteins responsible for your youthful glow – collagen and elastin – are especially prone to damage from glycation (of course they are…). Over time, AGE damage to these two proteins can cause the skin to appear saggy, discolored, dull, and show signs of fine lines and wrinkles. While AGEs are a part of normal metabolism and typically form slowly, excessively high levels can become present due to a poor diet high in sugar and processed carbohydrates (NCBI). (High-glycemic carbohydrates, such as, white bread, processed or starchy foods break down into simple sugars). The result is rapid oxidative stress and damaging inflammation, aka looking forty when you’re thirty.

But fruits and vegetables break down to simple sugars?
True. Here’s the deal. Glycation is a fact of life. One we can’t stop. And no you shouldn’t eliminate healthy forms of sugar from your diet like fruits, vegetables or grains. They are needed for essential fuel and provide energy for a normal metabolism. But by avoiding white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and other processed foods, chock full of hidden sugars (sugary granola bars, flavored yogurt, and basically all delicious desserts), you’ll be doing your skin a favor.

What should we eat to slow down the aging process?
Jill Place, RD Nutritionist, says, “We need to eat in a way that suits our physiology. Meaning more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, and healthy fats. I recommend 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The current health guidelines suggest 3-4, but when I worked in the cancer community it was always recommend 5-9. And that’s what I tell my patients now.”

So watch out for sugar. It’s not just creating that muffin top, it’s also contributing to aging skin! 

-by Amy Chang
Photographed by Amy Chang

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