You know that the foods you eat affect everything from your waistline to your mood. New research shows how your diet may also play a role in how well you age.

Several studies have explored the connection between popular diets and aging: The Mediterranean diet has been shown to slow the progression of aging and foods rich in antioxidants and nutrients like vitamin E and choline—hello nuts, eggs and fish—appear to have a protective effect on cognitive health. But what about foods that have the opposite effect?

“There’s a lot of sugar, fat and salt, preservatives…and other chemical compounds [in a typical American diet],” says Raelene Brooks, PhD, RN, dietician and dean of the College of Nursing at the University of Phoenix. “Those types of foods lead to an inflammatory response that can affect our DNA in a negative way, which can lead to aging.”

These six foods could make you age faster:

1. Coffee

Ned a java jolt to get going in the mornings? You might want to limit it to a couple of cups.

Coffee drinkers who consumed more than six cups of coffee per day tended to have smaller brain volume and a 53% higher risk of being diagnosed with dementia compared to coffee drinkers who filled their cups less often. Some research even found that each 100 mg of caffeine (about the equivalent of one cup of coffee) was linked to 2.4 years of accelerated aging. But you might not need to abandon your morning cup of Joe altogether.

“There are many more studies suggesting benefits of coffee,” explains Alice H. Lichtenstein, D.Sc., leader of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Team at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University

In fact, moderate amounts of coffee have been linked to numerous health benefits from improved muscle strength to decreased risk of cardiovascular disease; some research even found that those who drank between 1.5 and 3.5 cups of coffee per day were 21% less likely to die during the study period than non-coffee drinkers.

2. Dairy

Consuming milk has been associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and colorectal cancer but a growing number of studies have explored the downsides of dairy.

Whole milk might be especially problematic. In addition to higher rates of prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease, it’s been linked to higher rates of cognitive decline in older adults and increased biological aging.

“Whole milk has a higher fat content and there has been research linked to a higher fat diets and inflammation,” Brooks says. “When inflammation gets triggered…the cells are not able to regenerate efficiently [and] start to degrade.”

3. Spicy foods

Bland diets are, well, bland, but adding too much spice to your food might put you at higher risk of developing dementia.

Researchers followed a group of older Chinese adults for 15 years and found that those who consistently consumed more than 50 grams (about ¼ cup) of chili per day had lower cognitive scores than those who ate less spicy meals.

It might not be a worrisome finding in the United States—45% of Americans expressed a preference for “mild” foods—so don’t go giving up the chili paste, hot peppers and curry powder just yet. But Brooks does suggest opting for fresh spices and over processed options.

“The combination of preservatives and sodium [in some packaged spices and hot sauces] could affect the brain,” she explains.

4. Sodium

It’s no secret that sodium is hard on your heart.

“In many people, excess dietary sodium increases blood pressure,” says Lichtenstein. “High blood pressure is associated with increased risk of stroke, heart disease [and] age-related chronic diseases.”

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams per day, but most Americans consume 50% more, possibly because sodium is hiding in foods ranging from condiments and cereal to processed cheese. Those sneaky sources of sodium may be harming your brain.

Diets that were high in sodium, which one study defined as greater than 12,000 milligrams (or 2.1 teaspoons) per day, were linked to lower cognitive function and a 330% increase in the risk of cognitive impairment.

5. Carbohydrates

Have a love-hate relationship with carbs? So does science. The high protein/low carb keto diet might make your organs age faster or it could improve brain performance (or not).

Even though the research is contradictory, one thing is clear: Carbohydrates trigger an inflammatory response, which has a negative impact on your health. But Brooks has one word for those who think aging well means giving up pasta and bread. “Moderation.”

6. Artificial sweetener

You might want to skip the diet soda.

Drinking one diet soda per day was associated with an increased risk of dementia and higher artificial sweetener consumption was linked to increased cardiovascular disease risk, including heart attack and stroke. Lichtenstein calls the link “tenuous” and notes that it could be attributed to other risk factors, including diets higher in red and processed meats and ultra-processed foods.

Brooks is less surprised by the results.

“Artificial sweeteners are man-made chemicals designed to trick the brain into thinking it’s eating sugar but without the calories,” she says. “Anytime you’ve got that type of compound that’s triggering the brain [and causing] inflammation it’s a negative thing.”

More on aging well and living longer:

Source link