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Are These 7 Foods Making You Age Faster? Here's What Science Has to Say

Food is supposed to be simple. And for a while, it was. For most of American history, natural ingredients and fresh homemade meals were the norms. But that all changed in the 1950s with the rise of ultra-processed foods, mass-produced dairy and meat, and additives like hormones and new preservatives.

This introduction of fake, processed food brought unfortunate side effects: An increase in diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure, and…accelerated aging (1, 2, 3, 4). There’s even a startling statistic that processed food may kill more people prematurely than cigarette smoking (5).


In this article, you’ll learn which seven foods speed up aging, and which foods slow it down…

7 Foods That Speed Up Aging

Here are seven foods to avoid if you’re wanting to slow down aging…

1. Preservatives

1st Stage of Drying a Natural, Fresh Carrageenan Seaweeds. Philippines Seaweed Farming.

Food preservation has been around for thousands of years. In fact, it was essential for human preservation. With the help of natural preservatives like salt, alcohol, and dates, early civilizations were able to preserve their fresh food so that it could last through the winter months. However, those once harmless preservatives have now turned into toxic preservatives created in a laboratory.


The top 3 preservatives one should avoid are the following:

  1. Sodium Nitrate
  2. Carrageenan
  3. Sodium Benzoate


Sodium nitrate is a key player in processed meats, but when it’s exposed to high heat, it can turn into an unhealthy compound called nitrosamine. This compound is linked to higher risks of cancer, and potentially higher risks of type 1 diabetes (6, 7, 8).


Carrageenan is found in many dairy and dairy-alternative products. More research is needed, but early studies have found potential connections between carrageenan and glucose intolerance, inflammation, and digestive issues like ulcers (9, 10, 11).


Sodium benzoate is especially common in carbonated drinks and diet or sugar-free drinks. While generally considered safe when consumed by healthy people, sodium benzoate has potential side effects that need further research, including a decline in focus (12). When sodium benzoate is combined with vitamin C, it can convert into a compound called benzene, which may be linked to the development of cancer (13).

2. Artificial Sweeteners

Splenda Sweetener Sugar box display for sell in the supermarket shelf.

Artificial sweeteners are found in all kinds of low-sugar and/or diet foods and drinks. Some of the most common ones include aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium. These products may cause depression, anxiety, weight gain, headaches, and may even be connected to cancer risk (14, 15, 16). Artificial sweeteners may age the mind, too: One study found a potentially increased risk of stroke, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease in people who drank artificially sweetened beverages (17).

3. Artificial Coloring

Colorful candy with artificial coloring.

Certain food coloring dyes may increase the risk of cancer. Research on the dye Red 3 has shown that it can increase the risk of thyroid tumors in some animals (18, 19). Other food dyes, including Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 1, may cause allergic reactions (20). On top of this, artificial coloring is typically found in processed foods, thus increasing the risk of inflammation and early aging all the more. Artificial food coloring may make your food more technicolor, but it’s got nothing on the natural brightness and beauty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

4. Gluten

Close-up shot of bread, pasta noodles, and grains.

Gluten isn’t just a singular thing—it’s a name for several different proteins in barley, rye, wheat, and a wheat-rye hybrid called triticale (21). Many people turn down gluten because they suffer from gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, or celiac disease (a serious condition in which the body has a serious immune reaction to gluten.) Gluten is a hotly debated topic among experts. Some people feel that gluten is perfectly fine for those without a direct medical condition that prompts them to avoid it. Others feel it’s better to avoid gluten altogether.


Gluten intolerance can be hard to diagnose, and if you live with it undetected, you may suffer from lower absorption of nutrients, exhaustion, gut health issues, and joint pain (22, 23, 24).


At NativePath, our main concern with gluten is that many products with the ingredient are ultra-processed and mass-produced with additives or other ingredients that are linked to inflammation.

5. Dairy

Dairy products. Milk, cheese, sour cream, cottage, yogurt, and butter on dark background.

Much of the dairy on grocery store shelves today is produced on factory farms, where cows produce milk under extreme stress in cramped conditions, and hormone additives are a regular occurrence (25).


Dairy has been found to increase inflammation for some people, which can lead to oxidative stress, one of the top causes of aging. Some research even linked a low-dairy diet to fewer sun-related wrinkles (26).

6. Sugar

Sugar and brown sugar cubes on a dark table.

Sugar is a notorious instigator of many health issues, including an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes (27, 28, 29). It’s also a culprit when it comes to aging skin. This is because it reacts with protein in the body to create compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. These compounds have been found to play a role in aging by damaging your body’s collagen and elastin. What’s more, studies have also linked high sugar consumption to a more wrinkled appearance (30, 31).

7. Soy

Human hands with soy harvest.

There’s a reason we don’t include soy in any of our products. This common ingredient has been linked to an increased risk of thyroid issues, digestive problems, lower nutrient absorption, and hormone imbalances (32, 33).

Soy has high levels of a plant compound called phytoestrogen, which has a similar chemical structure to the hormone estrogen. This could confuse the body into thinking these compounds are estrogen, which could lead to hormonal side effects that can certainly make you feel like you’re aging (34).

Anti Aging Foods to Keep You Healthy

The good news is that there are much better options to choose from than the fake foods above…

1. Antioxidants

Antioxidants have an anti-inflammatory effect that may help ease some of the inflammation created by ultra-processed foods from the modern American diet (35). They also help protect your cells from free radicals, which can raise cancer risk and cause signs of aging (36). Foods high in antioxidants include strawberries, blueberries, kale, extra virgin olive oil, red peppers, and certain nuts. Supplements with a potent antioxidant profile include turmeric with black seed oil and Antarctic krill oil.

2. Healthy Fats

Healthy fats can offer a boost of youthful energy and increase your body’s ability to absorb nutrients while improving brain health and mental function (37, 38). To eat more healthy fats, reach for foods like pecans, avocados, eggs, ground flax seed, fatty fish, and plant-based cooking oils, along with a supplement like MCT powder or Antarctic krill oil.

3. Protein

When it comes to anti-aging, protein is your best friend. Protein can help the body produce elastin (the protein responsible for keeping your skin vibrant and youthful) (39).

Of course, one of the most beneficial types of protein for anti-aging is collagen. This amino acid building block can boost skin health and restore your youthful glow while reducing aches and pains too (40, 41, 42). As we age, our body’s natural supply of collagen declines—but supplementing with collagen helps combat this by replenishing those stores.

The Bottom Line

The everyday American diet is packed with ingredients that can age us prematurely—both internally and externally. If you’re wondering how to look younger (and feel younger!), trade in fake foods like preservatives, artificial sweeteners and coloring, gluten, dairy, sugar, and soy for healthy, age-defying foods and supplements that are rich in antioxidants, healthy fats, and collagen protein.


The food you eat each day is more than just a meal—it’s a choice of whether you want to feel drained and unhealthy or vibrant, youthful, and full of energy.

As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus16.pdf#053
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33148359/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6704802/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34904160/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6146358/#bibr2-1559827618766483
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16865769
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108955/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5065663/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4390184/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22579587
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1242073/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22538314
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4745501/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5617129/
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3277925
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24436139
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5405737/
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2824305
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2160137
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23026007
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28244676
  22. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5437500/
  23. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31276043/
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5591866/
  25. https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/product-safety-information/bovine-somatotropin-bst
  26. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29731617/
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3712514/
  28. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29801420/
  29. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27707695/
  30. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20620757/
  31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583887/
  32. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3459182/
  33. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24491722/
  34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5188409/
  35. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33673390/
  36. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2685276/
  37. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5577766/
  38. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/ 
  39. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32761577/
  40. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35223163/
  41. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33742704/
  42. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30368550/

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Medical Disclaimer
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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