5 Best Foods Linked to Anti-Aging — and 3 to Limit

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Certain nutrients in foods are linked to helping preserve the way you look and feel.
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You don't need fancy face cream or teeth whiteners to turn back the hands of time — eating certain foods can help preserve your youth, too.

But just as there are foods that help keep you looking and feeling fresh-faced, there are some that do quite the opposite. Check out the list of dos and don'ts when it comes to maintaining a healthy body and mind.

Best Anti-Aging Foods

1. Cheese

Say cheese! Cavities and unhealthy teeth can make you look years older than you are.

So while we wouldn't encourage gorging on mounds of cheese every day, nibbling on cheese after a meal can bring some bling to your pearly whites, according to a May 2013 study published in General Dentistry, which looked at teenagers.

Here's how: First, the calcium in the cheese helps build strong teeth, and second, a bit of cheddar can counteract the acid left behind after a meal, making it the perfect choice for an after-dinner snack.

2. Tomatoes

A youthful complexion isn't just a product of regularly using sunscreen — eating plenty of tomatoes could help, too. These healthy fruits are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant with natural sunscreen properties.

Tomato paste is actually one of the best sources of lycopene, and eating a tablespoon's worth a day — add it to pasta sauce or pizza topping — can make a big difference to your skin, according to a September 2010 study from British Journal of Dermatology.

Olive oil, tomatoes and cheese all have nutrients that are linked to anti-aging.
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3. Olive Oil

What isn't olive oil good for? Not only can it help you look youthful, but it's also linked to supporting your memory, according to a June 2017 study published in the Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology.

The problem is, when it comes to using olive oil in foods, people might err on the side of caution, as they worry about gaining weight due to its fat content.

But it's widely accepted that the unsaturated fat and antioxidants in olive oil come with a myriad of potential health benefits, including improving heart and cognitive health, and fighting inflammation, according to a March 2018 paper published in the International Journal of Molecular Science.

"Many people still avoid fat for fear of 'extra' calories, yet fat is an important nutrient for healthy skin," says Rachael Hartley, RD of The Joy of Eating.

"It helps keep skin moisturized and reduces inflammation. Fats like extra-virgin olive oil are rich in antioxidants to help protect skin from damage."

4. Salmon

Smoked, steamed or baked, salmon is certainly a superfood when it comes to your body and your looks.

"Fats in the diet are essential for healthy and nourished skin," says Nichola Ludlam-Raine, RD. "However, be sure to choose healthy monounsaturated fats."

Your best bets are oily fish, nuts (Brazil nuts, especially), seeds and avocados, which are all fantastic for a healthy complexion, Ludlam-Raine says.

"They contain essential omega-3 as well as antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium. Antioxidants protect against free-radicals (such as pollutants), which can have a damaging and aging effect on the skin."

Watermelon is packed with antioxidants, which can help fight free radicals associated with premature aging.
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5. Watermelon

Watermelon might be 93 percent water, but it's still packed with vitamins and antioxidants to help you ward off premature aging.

Watermelon contains high levels of vitamin A, which is linked to helping treat acne, according to a February 2015 study published in Medical Archives.

It's important to note, however, that the study was fairly small and it looked at the use of vitamin A tablets, not whole foods. The study was also "open-label" and "non-comparative," which means participants knew that they were taking a vitamin A tablet and it did not compare the results against a placebo.

Watermelon also has a very high level of lycopene, which has been shown to fight free radicals that age your skin. Plus, watermelon contains beta-carotene that can help reduce oxidative stress, which has been shown to age the skin, according to an April 2015 study published in Molecules.

Worst Anti-Aging Foods

1. Sugar

Sweets don't just wreak havoc on your teeth — they can age your skin, too. Collagen production naturally depletes as you age, but taking in excess sugar speeds this process up.

Glucose and fructose, both sugar molecules, link the amino acids in the collagen and elastin that support the skin, which produces advanced glycation end products, known as AGEs, according to a July 2010 paper published in Clinics in Dermatology. These AGEs are thought to be harmful to the skin, and eating sugar might accelerate their production, the researchers found.

Research has also found an association between eating a high-glycemic diet (filled with sugary foods like soda and refined starches) and acne, says Natalie Rizzo, RD, who points to a July 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

"But the research doesn't show causation," she says, meaning there might be a link rather than a cause-and-effect relationship between a diet high in sugar and acne. "Essentially, acne is an inflammation in the skin, so some scientists believe that the inflammatory properties in sugar may cause acne," Rizzo says.

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2. Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration, according to the Mayo Clinic, in part due to a process called diuresis (urinating more frequently). And if you're dehydrated, that might lead to dehydrated skin, which is different, by the way, from dry skin.

Need a way to easily track your daily water intake? Download the MyPlate app to do the job, so you can stay focused and achieve your goals!

"Drinking in excess — that's more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men — can cause dehydration," Rizzo says. "Dehydration can make your skin dry and look less 'plump.'"

Rizzo goes on to explain that excessive alcohol can also cause inflammation, which can lead to acne and breakouts. What's more, drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol can negatively affect your sleep.

"Alcohol disrupts your sleep and actually makes it more difficult to get quality rest," says Kara Lydon, RD.

And if you're not sleeping well, your skin might suffer, according to the National Sleep Foundation, with symptoms like dark circles under the eyes, wrinkles and sagging.

While they're OK in moderation, eating salty foods like potato chips frequently comes with some side effects.
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3. Salt

There's no denying salt is a favorite ingredient for lots of dishes.

But getting too much (more than the recommended 2,300 milligrams per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) can be harmful not only to your body — think: increased blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association — but possibly for your skin, too.

Skin lesions on people with atopic dermatitis, aka eczema, were found to have elevated levels of sodium chloride (salt), according to a February 2019 study published in Science Translational Medicine.

The authors pointed out, however, that they do not yet understand the cause of increased sodium deposits in those skin lesions.

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