The 40 Unhealthiest Foods if You're Over 40
Add years to your life—and prevent chronic disease—by banning these foods from your kitchen.
"I hate being over 40," my friend Tony lamented over lunch, between sips of a Diet Coke. "I look older, I move slower, and feel fatter. My body's just breaking down."
"The problem isn't with your body," I said, holding up his soda. "It's what you're putting in it."
The human body is a wondrous thing at any age—but when you hit 40, our metabolism doesn't purr quite like it used to, wrinkles and gray hair appear, and we're at greater risk of developing chronic disease. The good news is that, by eating the right foods (like these 25), you can limit, reduce, or forestall the ravages of time. Here, we present 40 unhealthy foods to 86 from your diet once you're over 40, leading to a happier and healthier life. Read on, then add a decade to your life with this exclusive special report: 100 Ways to Live to 100.
You really shouldn't be eating this stuff at any age. It's bad for you, homeslice. But when you're in your 40s, its detrimental effects on your body are as plain as the nose on your face. "Not all fats are created equal, and margarine—more often than not—seems to give [other] fats a bad rep," shares Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, MD, also known as Dr. Taz, a weight-loss expert and author of What Doctors Eat and The 21-Day Belly Fix. "The culprit in margarine is trans fat, which destroys hydration. The less your skin is hydrated, the faster the wrinkles appear."
In the U.S., more people than ever are having children in their 40s. If you're considering procreation, consider saying goodbye to all sodas. Why? Because in addition to being laced with potentially cancer-causing dyes, they're the primary source of added sugar in the American diet. Sugar negatively impacts ovulation and has also been linked to poor sperm motility. Skipping soda—even diet—has been shown to be one of the 30 Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism Over 30.
While we're on the subject, let's flag some other foods that, ironically, are not sausage-friendly. A 2014 study published in the journal Epidemiology found an association between eating processed meats like salami and hot dogs and lower sperm count. 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.
Sadly, coffee is not the elixir of youth, and iced coffee may even hasten an older appearance. Hear me out. Downing too much caffeine can interfere with sleep quality. That's bad because while we sleep, our cells repair themselves from the damage skin sustains from UV rays and other skin stressors. Tossing and turning cuts into this rejuvenation time and can prematurely age the skin. Oh, and the ice thing? Well, we tend to drink iced drinks through a straw. Researchers have found that repetitive facial movements, like sipping through a straw, can cause fine lines and wrinkles. And to ensure you're getting sufficient, shuteye, try these 10 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight.
Convenient? Yes. Especially if your aim is to look bloated in a hurry. See, frozen meals are notoriously high in sodium. "Sodium contributes to water retention and an overall puffy, aged appearance," shares Kayleen St. John, R.D., of Natural Gourmet Institute, a health-supportive cooking school in New York City.
So ubiquitous is the bagel that you might not think of it as a food that will age you. But a bagel is a veritable carb bomb: The body converts refined carbohydrates into sugar and then glucose, a nutrient that damages collagen and other wrinkle-fighting proteins. Picking whole grains over refined will help keep your blood sugar levels even-kneeled, which aids weight maintenance and loss. Substitute these 10 Best Carbs for Your Abs.
Muffins equal muffin tops—no big surprises there. But they can also be bad for brains that are now brimming with 40-plus years of information. Many commercial muffins are spiked with waist-widening soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup and trans fats—ingredients that have been shown to decrease brain power and zap memory.
Drinks with a lot of sugar in them are bad. Drinks made with a sugar substitute are equally bad. Your pearly whites are maybe the first part of you that shows the signs of an energy-drink habit, as they can damage enamel and make it easier for stains to form on your teeth. What's more, their high caffeine and sodium content can lead to dehydration, especially if you're drinking them instead of water. "Since dehydration is one of the main factors that contributes to older-looking skin, aim to drink the recommended 8-10 glasses of water per day—and even more if you're consuming alcohol or working out," offers Sarah-Jane Bedwell, RD, LDN, a Nashville-based nutritionist and author of Schedule Me Skinny: Plan to Lose Weight and Keep it Off in Just 30 Minutes a Week. And try The Best Way to Get an Energy Boost Without Coffee or Energy Drinks.
They're filled with delicious cream—and also 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 Lisa Moskovitz, registered dietitian and founder of the NY Nutrition Group. "Unfortunately, as the body ages, exercise still has plenty of positive benefits, but weight loss is often not one of them."
"Baked goods and other sweets are often rich in added sugars and fat, which can lead to weight gain and poor dental health," says Alexandra Miller, RDN, LDN, a corporate dietitian at Medifast. "Sugar promotes an unhealthy microbiome and it's also pro-inflammatory. All of these characteristics can accelerate the aging process," she says. Stock your kitchen with these anti-inflammatory 25 Foods That'll Keep You Young Forever.
They're seemingly innocuous, but when compared to burgers made from cows, veggie patties compare poorly when it comes to providing Vitamin B12. If you want to forestall graying, B12 is what you need. Worried about the fat and calories in a beef burger? 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 turbo-charge fat loss.
Bacon, Ham and Sausage
Yes, breakfast meats are indeed delicious. We're not going to deny that. But there's also no denying that several studies have been published in recent years which connect the consumption of processed meats to several types of cancer including prostate cancer which, when you hit your 40s, you're at an increased and increased risk of having. "Preservatives used in processed meats may create free radicals within the body," says Lisa Hayim, MS, RD, and founder of The WellNecessities. "Free radicals lead to oxidation of your cells and DNA, and they can cause enough damage to lead to cancer or other health conditions." To fight that, work these 20 Amazing Healing Foods into your diet!
High fructose corn syrup
It's in our 40s that gravity pulls hard on our jowls and doesn't let go until we stage an intervention or die. So give it a helping hand by avoiding this additive. See, while excessive sugar intake is detrimental to looking young altogether, high fructose corn syrup is believed to be the worst kind for your skin (and overall health), according to Deborah Orlick Levy, M.S., R.D., Carrington Farms health and nutrition consultant. "The sugar in your diet can damage your skin's collagen and elastin, making you look wrinkled with skin that is no longer firm," she adds.
John Stamos or Rob Lowe notwithstanding, it's currently impossible to stop the aging process. It is, however, possible to preserve your youthful complexion by cutting back on sugar, a nutrient that's been shown to accelerate wrinkling and sagging. "Sugar causes inflammation, which is a major inhibitor to having clear, beautiful skin," says Dr. Taz. "To make matters worse, sugar also damages collagen and elastin, which keeps the skin looking soft and supple." Start today with these 7 Ways to Sneak Away From Sugar.
What do piña coladas, margaritas and mojitos have in common? They all contain large amounts of the thing we just finished telling you about: Sugar. "When simple sugar is consumed in excess, the sugar molecules combine with proteins in the body and form compounds that can damage the skin's collagen. This, in turn, has an aging effect," says Bedwell. "These sweet drinks can have over 50 grams of added sugar in a single cocktail! Plus, the alcohol in the drinks can dehydrate you, making fine lines and wrinkles more apparent."
Unless you make some changes in how you move, getting older means a slowing metabolism. To put it another way: 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. Everyone knows that when you open a bag of a snack like Doritos, you're bound to polish it off. 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. Cutting out unhealthy snacks is just one of these these 50 Easy Ways to Look Younger in Your 50s.
While the cocktails mentioned above contain more sugar than most drinks, drinking too much of any booze isn't known for giving you a fresh and youthful complexion. "Alcohol…robs the body of vitamin A, an antioxidant that's essential for cell renewal and turnover," says Dr. Taz. "If you do drink, reach for drinks without added sugars, such as wine, champagne, or a vodka soda with lime. Also, be sure to drink in moderation and alternate each alcoholic drink with a water," advises Bedwell.
Burnt meat is a guilty pleasure for more than a few of us, but unless you're in a hurry to look weathered, you may want to consider skipping it all together. "Meat that has been cooked to a blackened status is very inflammatory to the body," explains St. John. "Inflammation may actually break down collagen levels in the skin, leading to an aged appearance," she says. Research has also found that high consumption of well-done, fried or barbecued meats is associated with increased risks of colorectal, pancreatic and prostate cancer—all of which we're at higher risk of developing in our 40s. Make this Ultimate Healthy Burger Recipe instead.
Are veggies good for you? Yes, provided they didn't come out of a can. Why? Well, the preservatives and sauces that keep the vitamin-filled veggies company inside the container are packed with sodium. And if you prefer to sip your greens rather than chew them, you really ought to stick with the freshly made varieties from a local juice shop (or your kitchen). The bottled versions are filled to the brim with salt. For example, just 8 ounces of V8 Vegetable Juice Essential Antioxidants has 480 milligrams of sodium. If you have to sip the bottled variety, go for V8's low-sodium blend. It will save you 340 milligrams of sodium, which over the course of a month can really make a difference in your blood pressure levels.
You might not expect that cottage cheese would raise your blood pressure, but a one-cup serving can carry almost 700 milligrams of the stuff. That's more than one-third of what you're supposed to consume in an entire day, according to the FDA. A better protein-rich option would be a container of Greek yogurt. It's a low-salt, high-protein cottage cheese substitute that we're big fans of. Try it, and adopt these guaranteed 10 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure All Day.
Beef jerky's appearance is where steak meats scab, but it's trendy despite that, thanks to the Paleo craze. A small 1-ounce serving can have more than 700 milligrams of salt—over four times what you'd find in the same serving of chips! Packed with protein? Yeah. But it's also got plenty of salt. That's bad news if you're hitting your 40s and would like to have a healthy ticker for decades to come.
Grilled chicken breast is a great option for losing fat and putting on/maintaining muscle, but when you keep the skin on and dunk it into a deep fryer, the nutritional reality of your meal changes fast. One 4-ounce serving of fried chicken with skin on has as much cholesterol as 11 strips of bacon! Do your heart a favor and opt for a more heart-healthy piece of poultry. For more sound dietary advice, check out these 6 Quick Ways to Lose Weight Fast.
Pop Secret butter popcorn
Generally speaking, the more a whole food source is processed, the less wholesome it becomes. Want an example? Plain popcorn can be is a healthy snack filled with energizing whole grains. Pop Secret's Butter Popcorn, however, has five grams of artery-clogging trans fat per serving—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 registered dietitian Isabel Smith.
"Skinny" coffee drinks
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. Those can lead to fat storage and a host of illnesses like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Dropping these from your diet is just one of these 30 Best Ways to Boost Your Metabolism After 30.
This "food" was almost certainly created with a child in mind and should have been purged from your diet before you got your driver's license. But old habits die hard, so we'll give you an adult reason to banish them from your kitchen. These things are basically sugared cardboard with a sugary filling. 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.
Special K protein bars
Aside from its Frankenfood ingredients (fructose, dextrose, glycerin, sorbitol, zinc oxide) 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, or opt for one of these 5 Perfect High-Protein Snacks.
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.
If you want to stay young, you'll need to stay on top of what's happening in the world, and for that, you have to keep your noggin in tip-top shape. Foods that are high in fat can cause fatigue, making your brain feel far less sharp, according to findings published in the journal Nutrients. Although chips, ice cream and cookies are all major offenders, some frozen pizzas have 24 grams, or 40 percent of a day's fat, in a single serving!
Coffee-Flavored Ice Cream
To be sure, neither coffee nor ice cream will keep you looking and feeling young, but combined, that can accelerate the pace at which you appear elderly. Firstly, there's the caffeine. "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.That's a big deal. 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. Less sleep plus a tub of empty carbs means waving your svelte, youthful figure goodbye. Having problems in the sack? These 10 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight will help you get the best shuteye of your life.
Yes, tuna is a great and delicious protein source. But it can also contribute to the dulling of your mind. See, bigeye, ahi, albacore and yellowfin tuna are all high in mercury. Consuming too much of the heavy metal can cause cognitive decline. To stay safe, incorporate other types of fish into your diet like anchovies, wild salmon, or trout, which boast many of the same brain-boosting benefits but don't carry the risk of excess mercury exposure.
Coffee creamer contains titanium dioxide, a whitening agent that has been proven to cause liver and tissue damage in mice. It might also have health implications in humans, according to a recent review of the chemical. 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. Moskovitz says trans fats can cause inflammation, which can exacerbate aches and pains. Combat this by eating foods with surprising medicinal properties—add these 20 Amazing Healing Foods to your shopping list.
Yeah, you heard us, ice. Yes, it's made only of water and has no sugar or other additives. But many of us are fond of crunching it. Chewing on hard substances can damage enamel and enable staining. If anything will age your appearance, it's stained, cracked teeth.
Middle age is when your age begins to show around your middle, and by 40, we all tend to notice a thickening in that area. Some of that widening may be attributable to sub-optimal liver function. 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. Then, fill your plate with these 25 Foods Men Over 45 Should Eat.
Produce with pesticides
Toxins from food can negatively affect metabolism and hormone balance, and by age 40, you've been accumulating them for a while. That's bad for all sorts of reasons, including your ability to have children. Researchers have found that men who consume the most pesticides through produce have far fewer motile sperm than guys who've eaten the least. The most popular produce that has the highest amounts of pesticides and should be organic whenever possible include: Apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, bell peppers, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
Tilefish has been deemed worse for you than shark and swordfish. You might as well drink some battery acid with the amount of mercury in these ocean creatures.
Fast Food Chicken Nuggets
Chicken nuggets all start with chicken but also contain several synthetic ingredients from diglycerides to Red #40 to carrageenan. These chemicals help make overly-processed foods like chicken nuggets possible because that's what keeps the (very few) organic materials in the nuggets from going bad (or looking weird) after days spent traveling on the road or months in the freezer. But even if you buy them at the grocery store, you might not be safe. Instead, chop up organic chicken breasts cut into pieces, coat them with egg and breadcrumbs, and bake them in your oven.
It's natural. It's packed with Vitamin C. It comes from Florida. What could be wrong? Well, while 100 percent fruit juice is a better pick than sugary drinks like Sunny D, even the all-natural stuff still packs up to 36 grams of sugar per cup—or about what you'd get from popping 4 Krispy Kreme glazed donuts into a blender and hitting frappe. What's more, most of the sweetness in juice comes from fructose, a type of sugar associated with the development of visceral adipose tissue—yep, that's belly fat.
What do cancer-causing artificial colors, flame retardants and fat-causing fake sugars all have in common? They're ingredients in all your favorite diet fizzy drinks. Shove all that into a bottle laced with BPA, a chemical that's been linked to obesity, and you've pretty much got the worst drink ever. Nearly all popular diet sodas contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener that raises glucose levels, overloading the liver and causing the excess to convert into fat. And that's not all: The caramel coloring found in brown beverages like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper has been proven to cause cancer in animals and is a possible carcinogen for humans. If citrus-flavored sodas like Diet Mountain Dew and Fresca are your go-to, you're not off scot-free. Instead of caramel coloring they contain BVO, a chemical used in rocket fuel and flame retardants that may reduce fertility and can negatively affect thyroid hormones. And: it ages you.
It's not your imagination: This orange, puffy snack melts the second it hits your tongue—a phenomenon scientists have dubbed "vanishing caloric density." And it's definitely not an accidental quality of your chips, either. Food developers know that when foods melt quickly, it tricks the brain into thinking you're not eating as many calories. In turn, snackers wind up eating a much larger serving. The sound Cheetos make when you bite into them was also specially developed to get you hooked. The crunchy sound makes them taste more appetizing, likely because we associate the sound with freshness, according to a recent Oxford University study. What's more, Cheetos are doused with MSG, which has been shown to increase appetite and make foods taste even more delicious.
Atlantic salmon is the Kid Rock album release of the refrigerator section: Always bad news. By definition, all Atlantic salmon is farm-raised and packed with inflammatory omega-6s. Because salmon farmers feed their fish soy, farmed salmon has around 1,900 milligrams of the unhealthy fatty acid while wild salmon has just 114 milligrams. It gets worse: Farmed salmon are usually dyed pink, have been found to be high in PCBs (cancer-causing industrial chemicals that were banned in 1979), and have one-fourth the belly-flattening vitamin D of their wild cousins. Instead, eat wild salmon. It's high in omega-3 acids, which fight inflammation throughout the body.
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