What does anti-ageing mean to you?
Sunscreen? Expensive skincare? Cosmetic treatments?
Most people don’t realise we can ward off signs of ageing several times a day - every time we eat! This article covers the latest science behind anti-ageing food and how you can harness them to achieve youthful skin.
What causes ageing?
Ageing is inevitable, but the rate at which it happens is determined by three biological mechanisms: oxidation, glycation and inflammation.
These mechanisms aren’t as complicated as they sound. Let’s look at them in a little more detail:
Oxidation: A fancy word for damage. It occurs when internal and external threats (think UV light, pollution, and your cells’ own waste product) overwhelm your skin’s natural defenses. Eating particular foods can top up your skin’s antioxidant reserves.
Glycation: When a sugar molecule binds to collagen in your skin, making it stiff, vulnerable, and difficult to repair - leading to what’s known as ‘sugar sag’. Certain foods and patterns of eating can help stop glycation
Inflammation: Chronic, low-level inflammation fires up enzymes that break down collagen. Certain foods and dietary compounds can dial down inflammatory processes, helping protect your skin’s structure, tone and elasticity.
The food we eat influences all three mechanisms and your diet dramatically impacts how your skin ages. Skeptical? Here’s a line directly from the peer-reviewed research:
“The connection between proper nutrition and skin health has long been associated with the possibility to delay ageing.”
The secret is to harbour food’s power to combat these processes.
Eating for anti-ageing comes down to some simple, easy-to-follow dietary principles. Here’s where to start:
1. Eat a low-glycaemic-load diet
A ‘low-glycaemic-load’ diet is a technical term for a way of eating that keeps your blood sugar level steady. This typically means eating fewer refined carbohydrates and processed foods - and eating more lean protein, fibre-rich carbohydrates, and healthy fat instead.
Take breakfast as an example. Rather than reaching for cereal (refined carbohydrate), you could opt for a slice of wholegrain toast (fibre-rich carbohydrate) with a poached egg (lean protein) and sliced avocado (healthy fat) instead.
This approach to eating has a huge impact on your skin’s appearance. In one study, diabetic patients ate a low-glycaemic-load diet for four months, reducing the dreaded glycation or stiffening of collagen by 25%. More flexible collagen = fewer wrinkles.
2. Enjoy healthy fats
Healthy fats form part of a low-glycaemic load diet, but they also deserve their own mention. To discover why, let’s look at some research findings:
- In a study of nearly 3,000 people, eating more omega-3 fats was linked to having younger looking skin.
- Eating more monounsaturated fat from olive oil was associated with less ageing after sun exposure.
- In a study of 4,000 women aged 40 to 74, those who ate more linoleic acid (and fat) had plumper, more hydrated skin.
The bottom line is that eating healthy fats helps your skin look younger.
A note on omega-6
Getting enough omega-6 fats in your diet is easy but most of us find it harder to reach our omega-3 targets. That’s where supplementation can help. Taking high-quality fish oil is an effortless way to consume those long-chain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA, which keep your skin looking youthful. It's a must-have in an anti-ageing diet.
3. Load up on red, orange, yellow and green fruits and vegetables
Eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is always a good idea for an anti-ageing diet. Your skin loves red, orange, yellow and green fruits and vegetables in particular because they contain carotenoids.
Carotenoids are special compounds that give plant (and some animal) foods their colour. When you eat them, they travel to your skin and hang out in its upper layers, where they help to protect your cells from UV damage.
One study showed that women who ate more green and yellow vegetables had less noticeable crow’s feet wrinkles. Another study showed that people who eat more carotenoids have a ‘glow’ that’s even more attractive than a suntan (really!).
Eating carotenoid-rich food does not mean you can skip on the sunscreen, but it does mean that you’re helping to protect skin across your whole body. Another bonus is that you’ll boost your vitamin C intake, which promotes collagen synthesis.
4. Use herbs and spices
Remember glycation, which leads to ‘sugar sag’? If you’re eating that low-glycaemic-load diet, you’re already helping to prevent glycation.
A further way to protect your collagen is to include herbs and spices in your diet, as these contain special compounds with anti-glycation potential. Put more simply: if there’s a sugar molecule threatening to stiffen your collagen, certain herbs and spices can stop it in its tracks.
Lab studies suggest the following herbs and spices are the most potent: allspice, cinnamon, cloves, oregano, marjoram, rosemary, sage and tarragon. Use them in stews, smoothies and baking for an anti-ageing boost.
5. Supplement with collagen
We can get collagen in our diets through eating bone broth, fish skin and whole chicken, but research suggests that supplemental collagen peptides are easier to absorb and we know that they reach our skin.
Collagen peptides may relieve skin ageing in two ways - by helping our cells make new collagen and by alleviating the effect of the notorious agers, inflammation and oxidation. A meta-analysis (a large study of studies) looking at 1,123 participants found that consuming collagen peptides improves skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles in as little as 90 days.
Most studies have focused on adults aged 35 and over, but those who are younger can take it too. An effective dose of collagen peptides is 2.5–5g (around a tablespoon) daily.
6. Be mindful of your sugar intake
We all know that too much sugar isn’t good for us, but few of us realise how much it ages our skin.
In a fascinating study of more than 500 people, researchers discovered that as people’s blood-sugar levels increased, the older they appeared to others. Translation: the more sugar you eat, the older you look.
It’s all to do with that pesky glycation. Excess sugar binds to collagen, causing it to stiffen and allowing wrinkles to embed.
There should always be room for the occasional treat, but keep an eye on your sugar intake in day-to-day life. For many people, reducing fizzy drinks, fruit juices, and sweetened coffees and teas is a good place to start.
7. Eat less processed food
Glycation can occur in your body, but you can also ramp up ageing by eating foods that contain high levels of advanced glycation end products, also known as ‘AGEs’.
Processed foods such as cookies, biscuits and crisps contain high levels of AGEs. When you use high-temperature cooking, such as frying and roasting, you can also increase the AGE content of food by up to 100 times.
Eat fresh, whole foods as much as possible, and favour gentle, water-based cooking methods such as steaming or boiling. Your skin will thank you now and in years to come.
Secrets to success
Take these steps one at a time, where can you start today? Before you know it, it will become second nature and you’ll fight oxidation, glycation and inflammation with every bite.
The beauty of eating for anti-ageing is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Simple, sustainable actions are the secret to taking years off your appearance.
Fiona Lawson is a former national magazine editor turned registered nutritionist. She holds an MSc in Nutritional Medicine and a BANT-registered post-graduate qualification in Nutritional Therapy. Fiona specialises in skin health, working with brands and individuals in her private nutrition consultancy. She is also the author of the acclaimed book, The Happy Skin Solution.