If you're worried about aging, you probably already know some of the habits that can keep you feeling younger for longer, such as exercising regularly, getting plenty of sleep, taking care of your skin, and always making time to relax. But, did you know your diet could also be speeding up the aging process? Turns out, eating too much sugar can leave you at risk for a bunch of age-related diseases.
According to a recent study from researchers at Tufts University, high-sugar diets both cause buildup of toxins associated with age-related diseases and damage our body's natural ability to clear these toxins away—it's a double whammy. (Related: The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.)
"We are beginning to understand the many ways that having excess sugar compromises many bodily functions," says Allen Taylor, co-last author and lead scientist at the Nutrition&Vision Research Team at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University.
Consuming excess sugar can also leave us in danger of age-related conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and age-related macular degeneration—an eye disease that causes loss of vision.
Here's how it works: there's a protein, p62, that serves an essential role in keeping our cells healthy. It's basically part of our body's sanitation team, clearing away harmful byproducts of high-sugar diets called advanced glycation end products, abbreviated AGEs—a fitting shorthand, since AGEs are associated with age-related cell damage.
The less p62 we have, the more these harmful AGEs accumulate. Plus, not only does eating a lot of sugar cause these harmful AGEs to build up in your body—it can also compromise p62's functions. In short, it's a lose-lose situation. Sugar both increases the amount of toxins and hurts the mechanisms that our bodies use to protect us from them.
So, how should you modify your diet to combat sugar's toxic effect on cells?
"While limiting intake of sugar is appropriate, it is not necessary to eliminate all sugar intake." Taylor explains. "Also, limiting sugar intake should not be replaced by increasing fat intake. Eating moderately, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, is probably best."
Ready to cut back on sugar, but not sure where to start? See our 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar for some helpful, evidence-based tips you can implement right now. And don't miss Eating This Fruit May Reduce Wrinkles, Says Study.