The best part about being a grown-up is having the freedom to do—and eat—whatever you want. Pizza for breakfast? Yolo. But when the muffin tops and man boobs start to appear, it can be a rude wake-up call that many foods aren’t without consequence.
Even if you don’t feel any different than you did in your teens and twenties, the body changes in ways that make it harder to lose weight and remain in good health. To help you age gracefully into a body you’ll want to flaunt no matter how many years go by, the Eat This, Not That! research team dug into the science of aging and nutrition to uncover the foods that should never pass your lips after you’ve celebrated the big 3-0.
1. FLAVORED YOGURT
Even if you've started slathering on the wrinkle cream, no product changes the fact that your skin is beginning to age. After 30, collagen production slows and elastin—the protein that keeps skin firm—begins to break down, causing fine lines to form. Although it’s impossible to stop the aging process, it’s possible to keep your youthful complexion later into life by cutting back on sugar, a nutrient that’s been shown to accelerate wrinkling and sagging. Already cutting back on candy and cookies? Don’t assume you’re in the clear. Many sources of the sweet stuff are hiding in less obvious places like bread, ketchup and flavored yogurts. Dannon’s Fruit on the Bottom flavored yogurt line, for example, has about 24 grams—or an entire day’s worth—of sugar in each 6-ounce container. That’s more sugar than you’d find in an entire bag of Dark Chocolate Peanut M&Ms!
Eat This! Tip
Calm your sugar cravings by snacking on a sweet piece of fruit. We’re fans of all produce, but bananas are, hands down, one of our favorites.
2. CANNED SOUP
A cutting-edge study published in 2013 found a connection between high blood pressure and skin aging. Compared to their older-looking counterparts, female study participants with fewer wrinkles also had lower blood pressure. Although the connection between the two issues remains unclear, there’s no harm in cutting back on sodium, a mineral that’s known to raise blood pressure. Not sure how to start scaling back? Head to your pantry and take a hard look at your shelf-stable soups. U.S. guidelines call for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, but many popular cans carry 40 percent of the day’s recommended salt intake in just one serving. But that’s not the only reason you should stay away from the stuff. Many soup cans are laced with BPA, a chemical that’s been linked to cancer, infertility and weight gain.
3&4. POP-TARTS& BREAKFAST PASTRIES
Put your hands behind your head and step away from the Pop-Tarts—and all of those sugary muffins and scones, too. You’re a grown up now, it’s time to start eating like one. Most sweet a.m. treats pack over a day’s worth of sugar into a standard sized serving which spells trouble if you want to become a parent one day and live to see your kids grow up. Sugary diets cause a slew of health problems, including insulin resistance, which can lead to PCOS, a condition that’s been linked to female infertility. And if you’re lucky enough to start a family despite your diet, your sugar habit may lower the odds you’ll live long enough to see your little one grow up. People who consume between 17 and 21 percent of their daily calories from added sugar have a 38 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with people who consumed 8 percent or less of their calories from added sugar, according to recent findings.
5. SPECIAL K PROTEIN BARS
Fructose, dextrose, glycerin, sorbitol, zinc oxide, whey protein, palm oil. No, that isn’t the recipe for your niece’s Silly Putty, those are just some of the ingredients that go into Special K’s meal replacement bar. Appetizing, right? “While younger folks can get away with skipping breakfast or simply eating a starchy ‘weight loss’ cereal or bar, current research suggests that eating 20 to 30 grams of protein at each meal is ideal for satiety, metabolism and weight loss—especially as we age,” explains former sports nutritionist for the Cincinnati Bengal Chris Mohr. Aside from its Frankenfood ingredients and high sugar count, Special K’s not-so-special bar only packs 10 grams of protein, which won’t do much in terms of keeping you full and satisfied until lunch. If you typically reach for a bar like this, swap it out for a homemade protein shake.
If you and your spouse are thinking about starting a family, consider soft drinks like Coke and Pepsi your archenemies. The reason? They're laced with potentially cancer-causing dyes and are the primary source of added sugar in the American diet. And not only does sugar negatively impact ovulation, it’s been linked to poorer sperm motility, too. Simply put, sipping the stuff may make it more difficult for you to conceive.
Whether you like Red Velvet Oreos, the Birthday Cake variety or can’t live without the Mega-Stuff, all of Nabisco’s twist n' lick cookies have one thing in common: They're filled with empty calories and waist-expanding fat. “When we're younger, eating healthier seemed pointless when you could just go to the gym 24/7 to lose weight,” says registered dietitian and founder of The NY Nutrition Group Lisa Moskovitz. “Unfortunately, as the body ages, exercise still has plenty of positive benefits, but weight loss is often not one of them.” When it comes to dropping pounds, staying away from calorie-dense, hard-to-put-down snacks like Oreos is key.
8&9. COCKTAILS & BEER
As we age, the body doesn’t metabolize alcohol as efficiently, and drunk junk food cravings become harder to ignore, warns registered dietitian Martha McKittrick. “It’s also increasingly difficult to get a good night’s rest with alcohol in your system. While you may have been able to get away with minimal sleep in your 20’s, that’s not the case in your 30’s and beyond. Sleepless nights lead to carb and sugar cravings the next day, which can contribute to further weight gain,” McKittrick explains. What’s more, alcohol sucks the moisture out of your skin, which temporarily makes fine lines more noticeable and, over time if you continue to booze, causes the skin to lose elasticity and form wrinkles.
10&11. BAGELS & WHITE BREAD
Unless your go-to bagel is made with whole grains, consider it a “Not That.” Though you may not think of the popular breakfast carb as a sweet indulgence, the body converts refined carbohydrates into sugar and then glucose, a nutrient that damages collagen and other wrinkle-fighting proteins. What’s more, when it comes to bread, bagels and even pasta, picking whole grains over refined will help keep your blood sugar levels even kneeled, aiding weight maintenance and weight loss, giving you a more youthful figure.
12&13. DIET MOUNTAIN DEW & FRESCA
Drinks like Mountain Dew and Fresca may look less chemical filled than cola because of their lighter hue, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead of caramel coloring—the chemical that makes Coke brown—Diet Mountain Dew and Fresca are colored with brominated vegetable oil, a chemical used in rocket fuel and flame retardants. It’s been shown to have negative effects on thyroid hormones and fertility, a primary health concern of people in their 30s. What’s the connection? “Added chemicals like BVO can contribute to internal inflammation, which has been linked to obesity, a condition that can make it harder to conceive,” explains registered dietitian Isabel Smith.
14. VEGGIE BURGERS
Finding your first gray hair is a day you’ll never forget. It’s one of those pesky reminders from Mother Nature that you’re a full-blown adult—and an unwelcome one at that. The best way to keep early graying at bay is to ensure you’re getting enough vitamin B12, a nutrient naturally abundantly beef. So unless you’re a vegetarian don’t cut the cow out of your diet. Worried about the fat and calories? Go for grass-fed. It’s naturally leaner than conventionally raised meat and packs higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and turbocharge fat loss.
15. ICED COFFEE
Drinking a caffeinated beverage out of a straw—how most of us down our daily iced coffee—is a skin-aging double-whammy. During the day, we’re exposed to skin-stressors like UV rays, but while we sleep our cells repair themselves. However, downing too much caffeine can interfere with sleep quality, cutting into this rejuvenation time and prematurely aging the skin. What’s more, researchers have found that repetitive facial movements, like sipping through a straw, can cause fine lines and wrinkles.
Eat This! Tip
Instead of sucking down your daily iced coffee with skim, sip on hot green tea, which may ward off wrinkles by fighting inflammation and improving the skin’s elasticity.
16. SUGAR-FREE SNACKS
If you’ve become thicker around the middle since turning 30, it may be a sign that your liver isn’t functioning optimally. Avoiding toxins like artificial sweeteners will help the vital organ work more efficiently, and in turn, slim your middle. To jump-start the detox process, kick foods make with fake sweeteners (like sugar-free gum, candies and snacks) to the curb.
17. CONVENTIONAL PRODUCE
Reaching 30 means that you’ve had three decades to accumulate toxins from food, which can negatively affect metabolism and hormone balance, explains Smith. Researchers have also found that men who consume the most pesticides through produce have far fewer motile sperm than guys who’ve eaten the least—not good news if you’re trying to start or expand your family. To get the biggest bang for your buck in the supermarket, only spend money on the fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide loads. These include: apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, bell peppers, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
Butter alternatives like margarine are often made with partially-hydrogenated oils, one of the most common trans-fats. You may have heard that this type of fat is linked to heart disease, but what most people don’t know is that it may also accelerate the skin’s aging process by making the skin more vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation. When the skin gets damaged by the sun, it breaks down the skin’s elastin and collagen. But that’s not all, studies have also found that eating margarine can cause chronic inflammation, which may also accelerate wrinkle formation.
19. HEALTHY CHOICE PINEAPPLE CHICKEN
“When you were younger, you may have been able to starve yourself to drop a quick ten pounds before bikini season, but this is almost impossible once the age ‘odometer’ turns to 30. Not to mention, it’s really unhealthy, ” warns Chicago-area registered dietitian Christine M. Palumbo. Skip the unappetizing microwave diet meals—they tend to lack satiating nutrients like fiber and pack excess salt, sugar (this meal has almost an entire day’s worth of the stuff) and chemical additives your body simply doesn't need.
Bad news, bacon lovers: This beloved breakfast food may make your skin start to sag well before your AARP card arrives. The reason: Sixty-eight percent of bacon's calories come from fat, with almost half of that being the saturated variety. Besides contributing to weight gain and increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke, saturated fats can cause inflammation which accelerates skin aging. Bacon and other processed meats also contain sodium nitrate which, according to a 2013 study published in the journal European Cytokine Network, enhances oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can cause structural changes in collagen and elastin (the proteins that keep skin looking young), resulting in premature wrinkles, explains St. Petersburg Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology researchers. Luckily, you don’t have to give up bacon altogether to keep your skin smooth. Just switch to a nitrate-free variety with less than 2 grams of fat and no more than 1 gram of artery-clogging saturated fat (like Applegate Natural Good Morning Bacon) and cut yourself off after two slices.
21. SKINNY COFFEE DRINKS
When it comes to drinks laced with artificial sweeteners, just say no! Researchers say these Frankenfoods confuse our bodies by making us expect calories that aren’t there which interferes with our body’s ability to regulate what we eat. The result is what they call “metabolic derangements” like poor insulin response and elevated glucose levels, which can lead to fat storage and a host of illnesses like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. “If drinks with artificial sweeteners are a staple of your diet, it’s best to kick the habit to maintain health and prevent diseases throughout the aging process,” says Moskovitz.
22. POP SECRET BUTTER POPCORN
In it’s purest form, popcorn is a healthy snack filled with energizing whole grains. But like many things, the food industry has managed transformed something wholesome into something harmful to our health. Pop Secret’s Butter Popcorn, for example, has five grams of artery-clogging trans fat per serving—that’s more than double the government recommended daily limit. “Trans Fats are particularly important to avoid as people get older because the risk for heart disease increases with age,” explains Smith.
23. MARIE CALLENDER'S LATTICE APPLE PIE
Marie Callender’s not-so-wholesome apple pie is another food packed with dangerous hydrogenated oils. One slice of the stuff packs a whopping three grams—or a day a half worth—of trans fats. Not only are trans-fats bad for your ticker, according to a Fertility and Sterility study, they can also lower sperm counts, which is bad news if you’re trying to make a baby.
24. SOY SAUCE
Puffy, dark circles under the eyes tend to become more pronounced with each passing birthday—and being dehydrated makes matters even worse. To wake up looking refreshed, steer clear of moisture-sucking salty foods like soy sauce (a mere tablespoon of the stuff has a whopping 879 milligrams of sodium) and drink plenty of water.
25&26. SALAMI &HOT DOGS
Meat may be considered the ultimate man food but if you gobble down the wrong kinds, your sperm may pay the price. A 2014 study published in the journal Epidemiology found an association between eating processed meats like salami and hot dogs and lower sperm count. And interestingly enough, the meat’s saturated fat content—a nutrient previous associated with poor sperm quality—wasn’t to blame. The study authors hypothesize that there’s something that happens during processing that's detrimental to sperm quality—they’re just not quite sure yet what that is.
27. COFFEE ICE CREAM
An after-dinner scoop of coffee ice cream—which has the caffeine equivalent to a half-shot of espresso—may have never messed with your sleep before, but once you’re in your 30s, caffeine can take more of a toll on the body. “As we age, our circadian rhythms change, as do our hormones, which can make us more sensitive to caffeine and affect our ability to sleep soundly,” says Smith. What’s wrong with getting a little less sleep? In a recent study of more than 500 participants, researchers found that losing a mere 30 minutes of shut-eye increased their risk of obesity by 17 percent! Yikes! Metabolism slows down as we age, so slacking on shut-eye will only add fuel to the waist-expanding fire.
With each passing year, the body requires and burns, fewer calories. This makes it all the more important to eat reasonable portions as you journey further into adulthood. Sounds easy enough, right? Sure. Until you pick up a bag of Doritos. Everyone knows that when you open a bag, you're bound to polish it off—and it’s no surprise, really. The recipe for the popular chip was specially designed so that no single flavor overpowers another. When foods lack a dominant flavor, people are less apt to feel full and, in turn, consume more, say researchers. What’s more, one of the first ingredients on the food’s label is monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive that’s been known to increase appetite and make foods taste more appetizing. With all of these factors working against you, it’s really no wonder you're defenseless when Doritos come around.
29. SPORTS DRINKS
Whoever invented the Gatorade Dunk—the tradition in which winning sports teams dump coolers of the stuff on their coaches—was really on to something. One scan of the nutrition label and it’s clear: The sports drink is better off seeping into the sidelines than your stomach. Sure, it provides critical post-workout electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, but it also serves up a hearty helping of calories and sugar. And the fact is, you likely don’t need the extra calories and sugar found in the sports drinks—no matter how hardcore your Crossfit or barre class may be, says Smith. “As we age, our metabolism slows, we’re also less active and more stressed which can change the way that the body metabolizes calories and sugar.” The less sugar you have in your system, the better it is for your abs and overall health.
30. COFFEE CREAMER
Coffee creamer and sunblock have more in common than you might think. They both contain titanium dioxide, an ultraviolet radiation blocker that doubles as a whitening agent. Besides lurking in many conventional creamers, it’s also found in seemingly ‘healthy’ bottles like So Delicious’ coconut milk-based varieties. The additive has been proven to cause liver and tissue damage in mice, and may also have health implications in humans, according to a recent review of the chemical. Coffee creamer is also typically packed with trans fats, often hiding under its lesser-known name: hydrogenated oil. Pretty much all of Coffee Mate’s products have this scary ingredient that has been shown to diminish memory in adults under 45 years old. If you’re working hard or don’t want to forget where you parked your car, this is one ingredient you should steer clear of. Need another reason to stay away? Moskovitz says trans fats can cause inflammation, which can exacerbate aches and pains, brought on as result of a sports injury and aging.