For years, doctors have been warning us about being in the sun without protection, and by now we all know that too much sun can be harmful. Not only does sun damage our skin, it can also cause skin cancer. On the other side of the ledger, however, not getting enough sun is also detrimental to our health, causing us to be deficient in vitamin D.

So where is the compromise? Do we live like hermits for the rest of our lives, avoiding the sun at all cost? Should we get as much sun as we can, to keep our levels of vitamin D topped up? Or should we get just enough sun to give us the nutrients our bodies need? Well, if you’re like most people, the third option is the most appealing and seems to be the most sensible. The point is there are plenty of things that are bad for us, but we learn to adapt by either eliminating them from our lives or changing our behaviour.

Habits, both good and bad, affect our health and, for that matter, our skins, but one habit you may not think much about is what you eat. You could be eating something at this very moment that will affect the way your skin ages. An apple would be good. A Mars Bar, not so good.

According to Dr Leslie Baumann, a Miami based dermatologist, foods that are nutritionally deficient—like junk food—damage the collagen and elastin that keeps the skin firm and youthful in appearance. These ageing effects begin to show at around the age of 35 and rapidly increase thereafter.

This news may be unwelcome, but there is no need to panic just yet. Although there are plenty of foods that can make you look older than your years, there are also anti-ageing foods that combat the ageing process.

To learn what foods cause you to age at an accelerated rate, as well as what foods you should eat more of to combat the ever-dreaded ageing process, continue reading.

Too Many Simple Sugars
Glycation is the process that occurs when sugars break down. Glycation damages collagen, a protein that keeps the skin smooth and firm. So when your diet consists mainly of simple sugars, like sodas, donuts and junk food, you damage your skin, cause collagen to break down at a faster rate than normal and trigger free radicals that induce inflammation and damage cells.

Stay away from the sugar bowl. Instead of using sugar when you’re craving something sweet, try a handful of cherries or a bowl of strawberries sweetened with stevia, an all-natural sugar substitute. Stevia is easy to digest, and, unlike regular sugar and some artificial sweeteners, it does not trigger glycation.

Simple Carbs
It is a common phenomenon that when we feel low or tired we turn to foods that give us a quick energy rush. White bread, white pasta, ice cream (of any colour) and French fries made from—you guessed it—white potatoes. These foods are low in fibre and have a high glycemic index. That is, they are high in simple sugars. A steady diet of simple carbs like these is not a healthy habit. It helps promote inflammation and can make you look older than you really are.

Instead of chowing down on simple carbs, eat complex carbohydrates, which fill you up and provide plenty of fibre that won’t leave you feeling hungry a few hours later. Complex carbohydrates also have a low glycemic index, meaning they won’t cause a sudden spike in your blood sugar, which is always followed by a sudden low. Complex carbs help keep your blood sugar steady, so you are less likely to feel that you need a quick energy fix.

Some good examples of complex carbs are fruits like apples and cantaloupe, beans, most vegetables and whole grain or multi-grain breads. Baked beans on a slice of whole grain toast can be a good complex carb breakfast. Vegemite on white toast? Probably not so good.

Not Eating Enough of the Right Kind of Fat?
Fat is an important part of any anti-ageing diet. You might be thinking, I eat plenty of fat, but if you’re not eating enough of the “good kind of fat” then you’re not eating enough fat. Period.

A low fat or fat free eating regime can also be not so great for your skin. From an anti-ageing point of view, fats are essential; they help keep skin cells healthy. When you don’t eat enough of the right kinds of fat, your skin suffers the consequences. That said, fried foods are not the way to nourish your skin. Just as not all carbohydrates are created equal, some fats are better than others, and some are downright unhealthy.

Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6 are the building blocks of healthy cell membranes. These foods also contain polyunsaturated fats, which help keep skin healthy by producing the skin’s natural oil barrier. Polyunsaturated fats keep skin hydrated, plump and youthful in appearance.

Some good choices of foods rich in omega-3s, omega-6s and polyunsaturated fats are most nuts, oily fish such as salmon, sardines prepared in olive oil and fortified eggs eaten with grains. In fact, nearly anything prepared with olive oil can be a good choice.

Not Enough of the Right Kind of Protein?
Many of us would eat a nice, juicy steak every day if we could, but this type of eating behaviour can damage your kidneys as well as the health of your skin. Fatty and processed meats containing high amounts of sodium nitrite, sugar and fillers do not provide the same health benefits as lean meats, fish, poultry and whole eggs. In fact, eating protein with additives and high amounts of fat may actually hinder your ability to look young.

Rosemary Gladstar, the ‘godmother of American Herbalism’ encourages people to eat protein that is organic. When you eat organic protein, you automatically reduce the chemicals, livestock antibiotics and pesticide residue you consume, all of which are considered to be damaging to your organs and your skin.

When you eat protein without chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics, you may notice that your complexion improves. After eating a well balanced diet containing lean, organic protein for a few months, you may start to achieve the youthful, vibrant complexion you‘ve been trying to achieve for years. And don’t forget organic fruits and vegetables, grown without phosphate fertilisers and pesticides. They taste great and are really good for your skin.

Change is often a good thing, especially when it concerns the health of your skin. It’s never too late to change your eating habits. After all, food is one of the few factors that you actually have some control over. Making significant changes to your diet will mean keeping your skin looking younger longer. Eat unhealthy foods and you’ll promote the accelerated ageing process. The choice is yours.

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