How Eating Sugar Ages Your Skin
I think most people are aware that sun exposure has a major impact on the aging of skin. But did you know that sugar intake does, too? Advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are a major culprit when it comes to aging skin.
What are they? They are harmful free radicals that are formed when protein and fat combine with sugars in the body. Glucose and fructose sugars link to amino acids (which are the building blocks of protein), creating AGEs. As AGEs accumulate in the body, they damage the proteins around them, which ultimately influences the aging of your skin. For example, if proteins are binding to sugars, they are not available to be used to create other things our body or skin needs, such as collagen.
Collagen and elastin, which help keep your skin looking youthful and plump, are very susceptible to damage from AGEs. In fact, research has shown increased AGEs production when sugar in the diet is high or excessive, and this is further stimulated when exposed to sun or ultraviolet light.
Bottom Line: There are factors out of our control—specifically on a genetic level—which will have influence on your skin and aging. However, two things you can aim to control are your diet—specifically sugar intake—and your level of direct and unprotected sun exposure.
Three Dietary Changes to Support Healthy Aging
Reduce/Be Mindful of Your Sugar Intake
Eating sugar is normal and needed for the body. However, it is easy to overconsume. The World Health Organization suggests that no more than 10% of total caloric intake come from added sugars. For an average adult consuming 2,000 calories a day, that equals 200 calories or approximately 25–30 g of added sugars per day. Added sugars do not include sugars found naturally in foods such as fruits.
Self-Challenge: Look at food labels for a day. How much sugar are you consuming? Based on your findings, you can adjust your sugar intake if needed. 1 tsp. of sugar = 5 g. I often like to remind my clients of that, especially when consuming sugar through beverages like coffee; it can easily add up.
Water is necessary for many bodily functions. It specifically plays a role in the production of elastin and collagen, both of which are needed to produce youthful, glowing skin. Aim to have at least eight cups of water each day to stay hydrated and help keep your skin hydrated, too.
Tip: If you find it hard to drink enough water, try sparkling water instead, or try infusing it with some flavour (like sliced oranges, lemon, and berries… a great boost of vitamin C as well).
Eat Lots of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are your defense against the damage created by free radicals. AGEs are an example of free radicals that play a role in the aging of skin. Antioxidants will help prevent sugar molecules from attaching to protein, and therefore prevent the development of AGEs.
Antioxidants are found naturally in many different types of foods and come from vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, are often added to skin-care products as well.
Food Sources: Eggs, beef, chicken, turkey, fish, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
Why Is It Important? It’s a mineral that is a powerful antioxidant. It works to preserve and maintain tissue elasticity, which ultimately slows down the appearance of aging. It helps protect your cells from free radical damage and reduces inflammation, making it important for overall health and disease prevention as well.
Food Sources: Almonds, avocado, sunflower seeds, vegetable oils, etc.
Why Is It Important? Vitamin E helps to rebuild collagen fibres and works with vitamin C to support the natural production of collagen.
Food Sources: Berries, dark leafy greens, tomatoes, citrus fruits, mangos, kiwis, bell peppers, etc.
Why Is It Important? Vitamin C is needed for both the synthesis and maintenance of collagen. Your body naturally creates collagen, but its production decreases with age; having enough vitamin C in your diet can help ensure it is produced and maintained.
Along with supporting the natural production of collagen, it aids in any form of wound healing and reduces oxidative stress—or damage from free radicals—in the body, making it a powerful antioxidant for overall health.
There is no single food that will be the “magic pill” needed to slow the signs of aging skin, but it’s rather a combination of factors that will be of influence. The best we can do is stack the deck in our favour by controlling what we can: diet, hydration, sleep, skin-care products, wearing sunscreen, exposure to sunlight, etc.
Excessive sugar intake can be detrimental to health for a variety of reasons, including increasing the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. It also impacts the aging of our skin.
Bottom Line: Reducing sugar intake is a good idea to support your health, regardless of aging; but if it can support our skin health as well, it’s a win-win!
Here is a glowing skin green smoothie recipe, packed with antioxidants.
- 2 kiwi fruits, skin removed
- ½ avocado or ½ cup frozen avocado
- ½ cup frozen mango
- ½ cup spinach
- 1 tbsp. chia seeds
- 1–2 cups water (or more if needed)
- 2 tbsp. lime juice (optional)
Option: Include one scoop of vanilla protein powder
Blend everything together and enjoy!
Angela Wallace, MSc, RD
A registered dietitian with the College of Dietitians of Ontario, personal trainer, and family-food expert who specializes in women and child nutrition and fitness, she loves helping families get healthy together.