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Foods That Age You

Expertly reviewed by Chris Icamen · Dietetics and Nutrition

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 30, 2022

    Foods That Age You

    Aging is a natural process, but a recent study concluded that some foods can drive you to age faster. What are these foods that age you and how do they affect your chromosomes?

    In a recent study, professors Maria Bes-Rastrollo and Amelia Marti from the University of Navarra in Spain wanted to see whether there was a connection between high consumption of junk food and aging through the shrinking of telomeres, which are part of our DNA.

    Our Chromosomes: A Review

    Before you can fully understand how chromosomes are affected by foods that age you, let’s first have a review about chromosomes. Here are some important concepts:

    • All the instructions for our body to function well are contained in our DNA.
    • Our DNA is like a thread, but coiled and packed tightly into structures called chromosomes.
    • Each of us has 23 pairs of chromosomes, meaning we have 46 chromosomes in total.
    • The first 22 pairs are called autosomes. These are common to both men and women.
    • The remaining pair is called the sex chromosomes – because they indicate your gender.
    • You can find these 23 pairs of chromosomes in EACH cell of your body.

    It’s important to appreciate that throughout our lives, the cells in our body divide. This is so we can produce new cells for growth. Cell division is also important if we want to make new cells to replace old or damaged ones.

    Remember: When our cells divide, the chromosomes inside the cells divide too, so that the new cells can “copy” our DNA.

    Telomeres and Aging

    Understanding the reason why there are foods that age you require us to talk about telomeres.

    You see, when we visualize our chromosomes, they look like tightly-packed threads coiled into a very small letter “X.”  At the end of these chromosomes are structures called telomeres.

    Scientists explain that each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. The shortening is kind of problematic, because telomeres perform very important roles, including:

    • Helping organize the 46 chromosomes inside our cells.
    • Protecting the end of the chromosomes from sticking to other chromosomes. (Think of telomeres as the plastic tip on shoelaces).
    • Allowing chromosome to replicate properly each time a cell divides.

    When the telomeres become too short, our cells will no longer divide. Hence, we would not have new cells. This leads to aging, and eventually, death.

    This is the reason why medical experts claim that a shortened telomere is a “marker for biological aging at a cellular level.” To put it simply, the telomeres act as our cells’ “biological clocks.”

    The Relationship Between Junk Food and Telomeres

    According to a study, some junk foods that age you can possibly shorten the telomeres. This could mean that with excessive consumption of these junk foods, we might age faster.

    The results of the study reveal that people who have three or more servings of “ultra-processed foods” daily “double the odds” that the telomeres would be shorter. This is in comparison to people who “rarely” eat these foods.

    Still, researchers agree that even though the correlation between ultra-processed foods and telomere-shortening is strong, it’s still “speculative.”

    foods that age you

    Ultra-Processed Foods vs Processed Foods

    The foods that age you or those that can potentially shorten the telomeres when consumed excessively are not just processed foods, but “ultra-processed foods.”

    What’s the difference?

    When we say unprocessed or minimally processed, these are whole foods that still contain vitamins and nutrients. This means that they are natural or in their “nearly natural state.” Additionally, minimally processed foods might undergo processes to remove some of their “inedible parts.” Examples of these unprocessed or minimally processed foods are fruits and veggies.

    We also have processed foods. These are foods that have added sugars, salts, and oils before manufacturers packaged them. Experts explain that these foods are “altered” but not in a way that would harm us. Examples include canned beans, bread, cheese, and tofu.

    But these foods are not the foods that age you. Those would be the ultra-processed foods. These are food products that have a lot of added salt, fat, sugars, preservatives, and artificial colors.

    The most common examples of ultra-processed foods that age you are:

    • Soft drinks
    • Chocolates
    • Chips
    • Ice cream
    • Chicken nuggets
    • Fries
    • Hotdogs
    • Packaged soups

    Health experts emphasize that these foods that potentially age you also have a lot of disadvantages. For instance, people who consume a lot of ultra-processed foods are more likely to develop obesity, cardiovascular diseases (including stroke), and diabetes.

    How to Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods

    Due to the results of the recent study, you would want to try and avoid these ultra-processed foods that age you. But, how?

    The key is you need to learn how to identify ultra-processed foods from those that are minimally processed and processed.

    For instance, potatoes are minimally processed while baked potatoes are considered processed. The ultra-processed version is French fries. Another example is corn. On its own, corn is minimally processed. Canned corn is processed, while corn chips are ultra-processed.

    Once you know how to properly identify the foods that age you, you can make better dietary choices. Other tips to avoid ultra-processed foods are:

    • Eat more homecooked meals without using ultra-processed ingredients.
    • Consider meal prepping.
    • Choose your foods when dining out. Once you receive the menu, consider your foods carefully and order the least processed options.

    Key Takeaways

    When you think about avoiding the ultra-processed foods that age you, don’t forget to also consider the benefits of eating fresh and unprocessed foods. These slow down the aging process and they also contain vitamins and nutrients that help your body stay healthy.

    Learn more about Healthy Eating here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Expertly reviewed by

    Chris Icamen

    Dietetics and Nutrition

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Sep 30, 2022

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