Louise Pyne finds out how ditching sugar and eating well could shave years off your looks
Sometimes, nothing beats the thrill of peeling open a chocolate bar and savouring every bite like it’s your last – but while your taste buds will thank you for the party, your body won’t. Sad, yes. Surprising? Not so much. What’s really hard to swallow is new research revealing that regularly riding the sugar rush not only adds inches to your waistline, but speeds up the ageing process, too.
The study by Leiden University Medical Centre and Unilever found that people with high blood glucose levels look older than those with lower levels. The scientists also found that every additional millimole of blood glucose per litre above the average added a whopping five months to facial features. And this was after common ageing factors such as smoking and sun-damage were taken into account.
The bitter truth
High blood glucose is usually caused by a diet packed with simple sugars, found in foods such as chocolate, biscuits, white bread and pasta, so it stands to reason that weaning yourself off your sweet habit and focusing on a healthy lifestyle just might be the secret to keeping skin smooth and supple. ‘Reducing the amount of the hormone insulin in your bloodstream could be the key to slowing ageing,’ says Patrick Holford, nutritionist and author of The 10 Secrets of Healthy Ageing (£14.99, patrickholford.com).
Eating sugar causes insulin to surge into the bloodstream, helping your cells to absorb glucose and use it as energy. Over time, one too many sweet-toothed binges can make your body resistant to the effects of this blood sugar-balancing hormone. This leads to above-average levels circulating in the bloodstream, a factor linked to conditions such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and now premature ageing.
Written on your face
Regularly scoffing sugar can also damage the structure of collagen, the protein responsible for keeping skin supple. This process (glycation), results in substances known as AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). Too many of these inhibit your natural ability to produce and use antioxidants – the important nutrients that protect your cells from free-radical damage, which increases the likelihood of sagging skin and fine lines.
There’s no magic pill to make you look 10 years younger, but there is compelling evidence to show that cutting back on sugar ,can give you a beauty boost and help you remain healthy well into old age. We’re not saying that you should go cold turkey – after all, you’d be miserable without the occasional treat – but chomping down on the right foods 80 per cent of the time could take years off your looks and help your body fight an array of degenerative conditions and diseases, too.
As the skin ages, it’s vital to ensure an optimal intake of antioxidant vitamins A and C, and essential fats. ‘Fatty fish such as salmon are high in vitamin A and essential fats,’ says Patrick. ‘Vitamin C is actually highest in broccoli and peppers, and the next-best source is berries. If you press your palm and the underlying colour is white or grey with no hint of yellow, you’re not getting enough beta-carotene from red, orange or yellow foods,’ he adds. ‘Eat more carrots, sweet potato or butternut squash.’
It’s not just our skin that starts to change with age. As we grow older our bones become more susceptible to wear and tear, so it’s important to chow down on strengthening minerals including calcium, magnesium and zinc, found in seeds such as chia, pumpkin and linseeds. Adequate amounts of vitamin D are also vital to fend off brittle bones and joint pain – so aim for at least 20 minutes of daily exposure to sunlight or pop a vitamin D supplement.
Ageing also makes it harder for your body to absorb certain nutrients such as vitamin B12, thought to be one of the major causes of dementia. ‘I’d recommend supplementing with 100mcg a day,’ advises Patrick. Folic acid is also an important vitamin that helps maintain muscle mass, so stock up on plenty of green veg, beans, nuts and seeds. ‘Finally, the B vitamins are essential for maintaining healthy levels of the amino acid called homocysteine. High levels of homocysteine have been linked to a raised risk of age-related cognitive decline,’ reveals Patrick. To counteract the effects, munch on wholegrains, meat and fish.
These healthy meal ideas are packed with youth-boosting nutrients to help keep you looking gorgeous from top to toe. Simply mix and match the meal ideas for glowing skin, a slimmer waistline and improved memory and concentration.
- Porridge with blueberries, ground almonds, cinnamon and oat milk.
- Rye bread with poached eggs (using omega-3 free range eggs)
- Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon
- Probiotic yoghurt with chia seeds with a handful of berries
- My Get Up and Go! made with coconut milk and strawberries [shake?]
- One pear with a handful of almonds and pumpkin seeds
- Two oatcakes with houmous
- Oatcakes with nut butter
- Carrot or pepper sticks and cottage cheese
- Sugar-free soya yoghurt with berries
- Pumpkin and butternut squash soup
- Chestnut and butter bean soup
- Quinoa, veggie and cashew salad
- Peppers stuffed with olives and feta cheese
- Salmon and asparagus omelette
- Lentil stew served with asparagus and broccoli
- Sweet potato with salmon and green veg
- Turkey mince chilli with a small portion of wholegrain rice and a green mixed salad
- Stir fry made with bok choi, onions, peppers, bean sprouts, cashews, tofu, and broccoli served with quinoa and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds sprinkled
- Tuna steak with bulghur wheat and beetroot salad
- Steamed pear and blueberries served with crumble made with oats, pecans, almonds, 1 tablespoon of xylitol and 1 tablespoon of coconut oil
- Quinoa-flour pancakes with blueberries
- Berries with Greek yogurt, grated coconut, cinnamon and ground pistachios
- Dark chocolate and orange mousse pots
- Baked apple with a drizzle of maple syrup
Stop sweet cravings
1 Cut down slowly rather than going cold turkey. If you take two sugars with your tea, reduce it to one before phasing it out completely
2 Eat little and often to keep blood sugar levels balanced
3 Allow yourself a couple of squares of dark chocolate when temptations strikes
4 Always read labels to avoid hidden sugars in pre-packaged food
5 Keep healthy snacks such as an apple and nuts in your handbag when you’re on the go