They are the perfect accompaniment to a burger or your favorite sandwich, but French fries, chips, or anything crispy and deep-fried in oil that has been reused or is too hot—fried fish, chicken, or shrimp–can age you, says Ginger Hultin, RD and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Frying can be a good way of cooking if the oil is fresh and it is done correctly at the right temperature,” she says, “but too often the oil is reused many times and the food is being dipped into a damaged and even dangerous product that contains trans fat and free radicals from cooking at too high a temperature.” Research has proved that eating fried food at least once per week increases a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and that risk increases with the frequency of consumption of fried food. “Chronic diseases associated with the aging body can appear at younger ages with the intake of these types of foods,” says Hultin, “and the presence of inflammation can make a person feel tired, swollen, and run down.” If you crave that crispy crunch, try alternatives to French fries or baking instead of frying, says Hultin. “Coat potatoes, veggies, and meats in cornmeal or panko and bake them. This is a lower-fat option that doesn’t risk exposure to the damaged oil that can be used in frying.” Finally, there’s a vitamin that can make your blood vessels younger and help fight heart disease.
Drinking cola, root beer, or iced tea may seem harmless, but the artificial color 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), used to give these beverages their brown color, has been shown to cause cancer and inflammation. In California, manufacturers are required to label products sold in the state with a warning if it exposes consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MEI per day, equivalent to drinking one can of soda among some brands. While cola and brown soda are obvious foods that contain the chemical and pose health risks, they are not the only ones, says Hultin. “Caramel color is found in other beverages like beer and whiskey and commercially prepared foods like brown bread, chocolate and chocolate products, cookies, and even cough drops.” To avoid consumption of 4-MEI, check the product’s label and look for “caramel color” or “artificial color” among the list of ingredients. “Choose beverages that are naturally clear or get their color from fruit or vegetable extracts or natural polyphenols like tea, which can add antioxidants derived from those foods,” says Hultin.