It’s Saturday morning. Dad just came back from his morning workout. The kids are playing in the family room. Mom is in the kitchen making her traditional weekend breakfast. The smell of pancakes, bacon, and sausage fills the air. The table is set, complete with butter, syrup and orange juice. The family sits down to enjoy the feast, eats until they are about to burst, then goes on with the rest of the morning. Later in the afternoon, the kids have a soccer game at the local rec center. It’s hot out, and during the breaks in the game, the kids gulp down various flavors of sports drinks. After the game, the team celebrates their victory with ice cream at their favorite parlor. As dinner approaches, mom and dad are tired from a long day of activity, so they drive through a fast food place for a burger and soda. Later in the evening, as bedtime approaches, mom and dad relax with a glass of wine and reflect on the day. Lots of family time, plenty of activity, and as they describe it, “We ate pretty healthy today. We had a good breakfast, didn’t have time for lunch, and had a burger at the fast food joint. While the burger wasn’t great for us, we kept so busy that it balanced out in the end.”
Does this sound at all familiar? For many families, this is a typical weekend experience. But what if this lifestyle is slowly killing us, and the foods we are eating are making us age faster? While we may be getting plenty of activity and exercise, our diet may be wiping out all of the effort we put into trying to be healthy. How are the foods we eat making us age faster? Let’s check it out.
There are four culprits that can make us age faster: Sugar, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, phosphates, and alcohol.
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Sugar, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, is the largest source of calories for Americans. It is found in many everyday items, such as soda, sports drinks, fruit juices, refined carbs, and processed foods. Over the last 300 years, sugar consumption has increased dramatically. In 1700, the average person consumed 4 pounds of sugar per year. In 2009, more than 50 percent of all Americans consumed 180 pounds of sugar per year. That’s an increase of 4400 percent! Why is high fructose corn syrup bad for us, and why does it make us age faster? When we eat high fructose corn syrup, it causes our blood sugar to increase. An increase in blood sugar triggers an insulin response. High insulin levels put the immune system on alert. The immune system responds by increasing inflammatory cells, which can result in low-level inflammation throughout the body. This type of chronic inflammation speeds up the aging process and can contribute to conditions such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and cancers. So when the family sat down to eat their pancake breakfast, and had a treat after the soccer game, they were taking in plenty of sugar from the pancakes, syrup, orange juice, and ice cream. Ouch!
Trans Fats and Phosphates
Trans Fats, found in processed meats and refined carbs, produce LDLs, and LDLs contribute to inflammation in the arteries. Processed meats and refined carbs also contain phosphates, which accelerate the aging process. When our storied family had bacon and sausage with their pancakes at breakfast, and then a fast food burger at dinner, they were loading up on trans fats and phosphates. Double ouch!
Alcohol, such as a glass of wine, dilates or breaks blood vessels in the face. Over time, this will cause wrinkles and make the skin look older. Triple ouch!
Despite our best intentions to stay healthy and young, our diet can often sabotage our efforts, and speed up the aging process. Should we just give up all the good stuff we love? No. Avoiding those foods forever is not realistic. The best course of action is to be aware of the foods we eat, and eat those not-so-good foods in moderation. Enjoy a diet of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole foods. Enjoy pancakes, ice cream, or a glass of wine on special occasions. Just remember to make it the exception, rather than the rule!