A poor diet does more than make us fat. It also makes us old. Here are four food habits that put excessive wear-and-tear on our body and brain: 

  • First: Scarfing down saturated fats. Research shows that people who get most of their dietary fat from animal products, like red meat and full-fat dairy, have more age-related memory problems compared to people who get more monounsaturated fats from fish and plant-based foods, like olive oil. That’s because saturated fats reduce blood flow, so our brain can’t get all the oxygen it needs. 

  • Another food that ages us prematurely: Salt. Excess salt puts unnecessary strain on our heart and kidneys. And according to osteoporosis expert Dr. Deborah Sellmeyer, high sodium levels prevent our bones from absorbing calcium, which raises our risk for fractures. And here’s the surprising part: Experts say that most of us could toss our saltshakers and never sprinkle another crystal on our food, and we’d still get more than our recommended daily allowance of sodium. So start cutting back. 

  • Also: Eating sweets makes us older, sooner. UCLA researchers found that people who ingest a lot of sugar and high fructose corn syrup have less gray matter compared to people who eat fewer sweets. And the loss of brain mass makes it harder to focus, limits our ability to concentrate and triples our risk of major memory lapses. Sugar also breaks down the collagen in our skin, making us wrinkled before our time.  

  • And the last habit that’ll make us old before our time: Desktop and dashboard dining. Eating while you’re rushed or stressed increases production of the stress hormone cortisol which prompts your body to send blood to your extremities. And that shift in blood flow makes it harder for your body to digest food and absorb nutrients, which can lead to dry, brittle skin, hair, and nails. Stress can also lead to over-eating and obesity and contributes to feelings of fatigue, which will make you look – and feel – old before your time.