This section could be called “Be Carb Smart,” but we want to impress upon you that when we talk about carbohydrates, we’re really talking about sugars. That’s because all carbohydrates are broken down (metabolized) into simple sugars. Therefore, because sugars are the bottom line when it comes to carbohydrates and their metabolism, we think it’s important to begin there. Once you see the connection between carbs and aging, you’ll never look at carbs quite the same way again. Here’s the story.
Carbs come in two forms: simple or refined, and complex. Simple sugars include table sugar and natural sugars found in fruits, honey, and milk. Refined carbs are in white flour, white rice, baked goods, and refined pasta. Simple/refined sugars not only get stored as fat if you eat too much of them, but they also cause blood glucose levels to rise. Elevated blood glucose levels, especially chronically, can lead to insulin resistance (when the body cannot produce enough insulin or cannot adequately use the insulin it does produce) and eventually result in diabetes and its many complications, including heart disease, kidney disease, nerve disorders, and blindness.
But the link between carbs and aging is this: high blood glucose (sugar) levels accelerate aging through a process called glycation. Glycation is a natural occurrence in which glucose molecules and certain fat molecules interact with and attach to protein molecules, forming AGEs—advanced glycation end-products—and damage the protein. Wrinkling of skin is one example of what glycation can do, as collagen and other proteins in skin are damaged by glucose. Although glycation occurs in everyone, it speeds up when there’s a lot of glucose present. The rest of the bad news is that glycation is not reversible, so the goal is to prevent it as much as possible. How do you do that?
What You Can Do Now
You can be sugar smart and keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range (ideally, a fasting glucose level that is less than 100 mg/dL). Since carbohydrates are a key energy source, you need to provide your body with the best fuel in the form of smart carbs—complex carbs rather than simple ones. Complex carbs are more complicated in structure and generally higher in nutritional value than simple carbs. A diet that includes a moderate amount of carbs (about 50% of total caloric intake), mostly the complex type, can help keep blood glucose levels in check, as complex carbs generally cause a moderate increase in blood glucose levels while simple ones cause a sharp, rapid (and unhealthy) rise.
Another factor to consider is the glycemic index, which is a gauge of how quickly foods convert into glucose. Foods with a low value (generally 50 or lower) convert into glucose slower, which keeps blood glucose levels more balanced throughout the day and thus helps fight aging. Here are some smart carb tips, followed by a sample glycemic index.
Choose brown or wild rice instead of white rice.
Substitute whole-wheat or other whole-grain breads, rolls, and bagels for their white flour cousins.
Include one to two servings (½ cup per serving) of beans daily: lima, butter, white, pinto, black, soy, kidney, or garbanzo.
Choose yams or sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes.
Include one serving of oatmeal or all-bran cereal daily.
Choose whole fresh fruits for dessert.
Choose a whole-grain pasta (wheat, spelt, buckwheat, rye) instead of white pasta.
Significantly reduce or eliminate white sugar and white sugar products from your diet.
If you use fruit juices or fruit products, choose unsweetened varieties: unsweetened apple sauce, juices and nectars, canned or jarred fruits (in natural juices only).