Sugar: it tastes so good, but we know it’s not our friend. Not only does sugar cause weight gain and suppress the immune system, it also feeds cancer cells, increases the risk of dying from heart disease, and impairs cognitive function. And if this all isn’t enough to make you take control of your sweet tooth, here’s more food for thought: eating sugar makes you look older.

Wrinkles, deep lines, and sagging skin are all partially the result of a process known as glycation, in which sugar in the bloodstream attaches to fat and protein. This results in the formation of harmful molecules known as “advanced glycation endproducts,” appropriately referred to as AGEs, which cause protein fibers to become stiff and weak.

The proteins most at risk of glycation are the ones that give skin its elasticity and supple appearance: collagen and elastin. When these fibers are bonded with sugar, they lose their strength and flexibility. This shows up on the skin as wrinkles, sagginess, and a dull appearance. But that’s not all: the presence of AGEs makes the skin more vulnerable to damage from other factors, such as cigarette smoke and UV light. And exposure to UV light accelerates glycation, contributing to further aging.

AGE formation can also result in symptoms such as:

  • Age spots
  • Hyperpigmentation
  • Uneven skin tone
  • Inflammation
  • Tumors

Scientists discovered the effects of AGEs on the skin through diabetes research. When studying the effects of high blood sugar, researchers discovered that people with uncontrolled diabetes tended to age faster than people with lower blood sugar. The more glucose we have in our bloodstream, the more AGEs we produce, and the more damage occurs to our skin as a result.

The effects of glycation typically begin to appear in the mid-thirties. When we’re younger, our bodies are more resistant to damage, and they’re also producing more collagen. But as we age, advanced glycation end products begin to build up, and collagen production slows down, leading to visible signs of aging.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize the effects of glycation and keep skin looking young:

  1. Cut back on sugar. Most of us eat too much of it anyway, especially when you consider hidden sources of sugar such as condiments and salad dressings. Read labels, and look all of sugar’s various names, such as anything that ends in “ose” (maltose, sucrose, etc.) and any form of syrup (high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup solids).
  2. Choose low-glycemic foods. It isn’t just baked goods and cookies that raise blood sugar; it’s also simple carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, white rice, and potatoes. Choose complex carbohydrates instead: leafy greens, vegetables, berries, whole grains, eggs, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins are all lower on the glycemic index.
  3. Consider going on a low-carb diet. Many people exhibit symptoms of carbohydrate intolerance and are genetically suited to do better on a low-carb diet. This may mean reducing your carb intake to less than 125 grams per day, or it could mean reducing carbs to only five percent of your total caloric intake so that your body learns to use fat as energy instead.
  4. Protect your skin from sun damage. Use sunscreen and protective clothing if you’re going to be in the sun for an extended period of time. Don’t let yourself get burned!
  5. Avoid blackened meat. Cooking techniques that blacken food — such as barbecuing and searing — can actually create AGEs in your food, which are added to your body when you eat them. Cook meat slowly at lower temperatures.
  6. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight, especially in the abdominal area, can contribute to the formation of AGEs.
  7. Do strength training. Muscles use glucose, so the more muscle you have, the less excess glucose you’ll have in your bloodstream. Reduction in muscle mass — which naturally occurs with age — also increases blood sugar levels.
  8. Consume antioxidants. All fruits and vegetables, as well as tea and dark chocolate, contain antioxidants that can protect against glycation. Some foods with the highest antioxidant content include goji berries, blueberries, pecans, elderberries, and dark green veggies.
  9. Take a vitamin B complex, or a multivitamin containing B1 and B6. Studies have shown these vitamins can help prevent the formation of AGEs.
  10. Have your skin tested. Certain genetic factors can influence the appearance of your skin and its susceptibility to glycation, as well as other factors that contribute to aging. Your genetic skin profile from Vivaliti DNA provides personalized insights that will help you develop a skin care regimen and diet that meets the unique needs of your skin. Learn how your personalized Vivaliti Skin report can help you get younger-looking skin!