1. Agave syrup
Agave syrup is often perceived as a healthier alternative to the usual syrups and sweeteners we use to flavour our food. However, despite being plant-based, the agave syrup that we consume today is normally heavily processed, which means that it loses most of its inherent goodness – the antioxidants and enzymes – and, instead, you are left with syrup that’s extremely dense in fructose.
Fructose is a type of sugar that’s naturally found in fruit and, in small amounts, your body can process it quite well. In large amounts, though, it can place pressure on your liver, the only organ capable of metabolising it, and this can impact your skin by depleting your stores of collagen. Agave syrup, like many other forms of sugar, can also promote inflammation and glycation, leading to more sensitive, older-looking skin.
My swap: There’s no such thing as ‘healthy syrup’ but, if you really do want to add some sweetness to your food, I’d recommend experimenting with other alternatives such as honey. Honey has natural anti-inflammatory benefits and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine when it comes to easing a sore throat or warding off a cold. Just be aware that a little goes a long way! Alternatively, you could experiment with spices like cinnamon, which has plenty of flavour but without the sugar!
2. Flavoured yoghurt
If you’re after a healthy snack, you may feel as though flavoured yoghurt is a safe option. Unfortunately, these types of yoghurt can be rich in our enemy – sugar! Some popular brands of yoghurt contain almost 16g of refined sugar per serving, which, naturally, can be problematic for your skin, again encouraging glycation to occur.1
Why is glycation so terrible for your skin? Well, when glucose and fructose bond with the amino acids present in structural proteins like collagen and elastin, they produce advanced glycation end products (AGEs), harmful compounds which can age your skin as well as impact other areas of your health.
My swap: If you can, always opt for plain yoghurt. Don’t be fooled by low-fat or low-sugar alternatives – as I’ll soon discuss, these are never as healthy as advertised. Instead, go for plain yoghurt, which should be naturally rich in probiotics to help support your gut, and add your own flavour, either by sprinkling with cinnamon, drizzling with honey or topping with fresh fruit.
3. Rice cakes
Rice cakes are usually a staple amongst dieters, prized for their low calorie content. The problem is that, aside from not containing much calorie-wise, they don’t actually contain all that many nutrients either. They’re low in fibre, they’re low in antioxidants and they’re low in protein.
What rice cakes do have is a high glycemic index (GI) which means that they can raise your blood glucose levels very quickly. In terms of your skin, this is bad news as elevated blood glucose levels can sometimes lead to acne outbreaks and, again, break down your production of collagen, leading to skin that looks visibly aged.
My swap: Most people seek out rice cakes as an alternative to bread but, actually, there are quite a lot of nutrients packed into your average slice, providing you opt for wholegrain varieties. Wholegrain bread, for example, tends to be very rich in fibre and energy-boosting B-vitamins. However, if you really are desperate to escape bread, you could try opting for oatcakes instead!
4. Chewing gum
Okay, so most of us are aware that chewing gum isn’t perhaps the healthiest thing out there but that doesn’t stop many of us from using it on a regular basis. The main issue with chewing gum is that it forces us to work the same muscles over and over again. Initially, this might not sound like a bad thing but, over time, this can cause problems with our jaw, promoting swelling and encouraging the development of fine lines and wrinkles around the mouth.
My swap: Experts usually recommend that you only chew gum for 10 minutes at a time so I would definitely suggest sticking to this guideline. If you really do need a quick fix to freshen up your breath, though, there are alternatives out there. You could try chewing on fresh mint leaves instead or including more breath-friendly foods in your diet like apples or plain yoghurt. Drinking green tea and plenty of water are also good options but, if you really want to ensure that your breath stays fresh, you could try using our Dentaforce Mouth Wash.
5. Vegetable oils
Vegetable oils might initially sound quite healthy – after all, vegetables are supposed to be good for us, right? Well, as our Nutritionist Emma discusses in her blog, ‘Our guide to the healthiest cooking oils’, some vegetable-based oils are definitely better than others. But, overall, the real problem lies with how they are manufactured.
Most vegetable oils are heavily processed and refined which means that, not only do they lose their innate goodness, they’re also now chockfull of chemicals and unwanted nasties. You also have to bear in mind that certain vegetable oils, like sunflower oil, are rich in omega-6. Now, if we’re consuming the right amount of omega-3 in relation to omega-6, then this is fine but, on its own, too much omega-6 can encourage inflammation.
My swap: Quality, not quantity, really counts when it comes to the type of cooking oil you are going to use. Ideally, you want to go organic and extra virgin with all your oils as this means they are far less processed. In terms of which oil to cook with, as Emma highlights in her blog, extra virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil definitely come out on top when compared to more traditional options like sunflower oil or cooking sprays!
6. Pre-bottled smoothies
Smoothies – they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants so, initially, they might appear to be a pretty safe choice. Unfortunately, most pre-bottled smoothies come with an added dose of sugar and sweeteners. In fact, some popular brands you might find lurking on the shelves of your local supermarket contain over 20g of sugar per bottle!
My swap: If you enjoy drinking smoothies then there’s an easy swap – just make your own at home! It’s extremely quick and simple – all you need is a blender and the right ingredients. Here at A.Vogel, we have a fantastic range of smoothie recipes, from our Hayfever Blasting Smoothie to our Three Energy-Boosting Smoothies.
If you’re after a drink that has more direct benefits for your skin, though, then you could try Biotta’s Carrot Juice which, in addition to being extremely rich in beta-carotene, is also lacto-fermented, making it a better choice for your gut too!
7. Red meat
Red meat has garnered something of a poor reputation recently, which isn’t entirely earned. A little bit of red meat, say once or twice a week, can actually be very beneficial for your health as it offers plenty of iron and vitamin B12, nutrients which are crucial for your metabolism and energy levels.
Problems only arise with red meat when it comes to how much we’re really eating. If you’re eating red meat on a daily basis then this can put you at risk of certain health problems and it won’t do your skin any favours either – especially if the forms of red meat you are eating are heavily processed!
Think bacon, pepperoni or sausages – these types of meat usually contain abundant amounts of salt, which can encourage water retention, alongside other pro-inflammatory chemicals. This is why the NHS recommends cutting down your intake of such meats to 70g a day.2
My swap: As I’ve mentioned, a little bit of red meat in your diet can actually be beneficial but, as with so many other foods on this list, the quality matters. Instead of opting for processed meats, opt for leaner cuts that you can prepare at home yourself. This should reduce the content of salt and unhealthy fats, allowing you to enjoy a healthier meal that’s not as detrimental to your complexion!
8. Low-fat foods
If you’re trying to lose weight or adhere to a healthier lifestyle, then you might consider fat to be the enemy. That’s why there’s such an enormous market for low-fat alternatives but, as I shall soon explain, these options are rarely as healthy as they appear. It’s a sad truth but, most of the time, if something claims to be low-fat, you can be sure it’s high in sugar.
The BBC appears to recognise this too, citing that, in addition to altering the oils that they use to produce low-fat foods, most manufacturers will also add sugar to their products to improve the taste.3 This means that many ‘low-fat’ foods are often high in refined carbohydrates and trans-fats, which will easily upset your blood glucose levels and inspire a reaction from your skin.
My swap: Thanks to the media, it’s easy to demonise fats and lump them all in the same category; however, not all fats are created equal. Instead of opting for these suspect low-fat alternatives, why not increase your intake of healthy fats? Avocados, chia seeds and coconut oil are all rich in healthy fats that could potentially improve your cardiovascular health – plus, they’re all extremely nourishing for ageing skin, containing natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties!