I don’t like steamed broccoli… but if you present a platter of roasted broccoli with ample olive oil, I’ll eat the whole plate. For me, the joy of food is heavily influenced by what you do to it to make it delicious. Catfish? Meh. Blackened catfish? Now we’re talking.
I love the flavor and textures that you get from different cooking methods like pan frying and grilling; but your method of cooking actually has a very big impact on more than just taste. What you eat and how you prepare it may create toxicities that simply aren't doing your body any favors.
Today we learn about Advance Glycation End Products (AGEs).
AGE compounds are molecular crosslinks of a fat or protein with sugar; and are formed either in the bloodstream or food. This particular combination under certain conditions chemically creates AGEs and is considered a glycotoxin. Why should you care? Because they increase inflammation and oxidative stress in the human body, which science has shown to be the root of most chronic diseases. AGEs may increase risk or worsen various chronic ailments like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, hypertension, PCOS, kidney function, etc. (1). Basically, they wreak havoc on your metabolic health. There are no established limits of AGE levels in the body, but everyone is susceptible since everyone eats. The most vulnerable and likely individuals to form AGEs in the blood are those with high blood sugar, aka diabetics. However, any inflammatory state or physical ailment is only worsened by AGE molecules.
Your body does use antioxidants and enzymes to mitigate the damaging impact of AGE molecules’, but your diet largely dictates the AGE levels and whether your body can properly eliminate the onslaught of its ingestion and development. It only becomes problematic when the consumption exceeds elimination. In the land of no carbohydrates for fuel, this scenario is likely. Let me explain.
The three main sources of AGEs formation are:
Let’s talk about the two that we can actually control: food and method of cooking.
Type of Food
Most foods have the potential to develop AGEs because even a piece of bread will have small amounts of protein and fat in it. Vegetarians rejoice, animal products are most susceptible to AGEs development. If you are following a ketogenic or Paleo diet, you’ll likely consume higher amounts of red meat, eggs, butter, cheese, chicken and fish. These animal products will likely result in higher AGE levels, unless you're intentionally choosing specific foods and cooking methods to offset its production. The worst culprits are processed meats, red meat, turkey, and chicken. Wipe the smile off your face vegetarian/vegans; as avocados, cheese, peanuts, tofu, oils, and nuts can pack a decent wallop too, so keep reading. To see how your favorite foods’ stack up, here’s a link to a study that measured AGE levels in various foods (2).
Method of Cooking
Any form of high dry heat can increase AGEs levels anywhere from 10-100 times (1). This includes BBQ, grilling searing, toasting, pan frying, roasting, broiling, sautéing, and deep-fat frying. This is really hard for me personally because dry heat is my preferred cooking method. It just tastes better to me; unfortunately, it also pours gasoline on the fire because AGE compounds increase significantly (in plant or animal foods) with high dry heat. For example:
- raw sunflower seeds have an AGE level of 753 kU/serving versus
- roasted sunflower seeds 1408 kU/serving
- a fried egg contains 1,235 kU/serving versus
- a poached egg contains 27 kU/serving (2)
The best way to combat this is to simply change the method of cooking from a high dry heat to a high moist heat. Try poaching, stewing, boiling, braising, simmering, or steaming. Maybe master the art of soft-boiling an egg?
Here are some more tips to simply and easily reduce AGE compounds in your food and body:
Does this suggest that you eliminate animal product consumption? No.
Should this induce culinary anality? Absolutely not.
To some extent, AGE ingestion is unavoidable. However, regardless of your diet, it is a very good reminder to eat mostly vegetables, vegetables, vegetables! Why? Because the high antioxidant content will offset increased inflammation and oxidative stress, regardless of the source. They are the true fountain of youth.
Try your best to avoid: dry heat cooking methods, foods with high AGEs, processed foods and fried foods. Moderately exercise and remember, the bigger your plate of vegetables, the less likely you’ll need to worry about the impact of AGEs.
Shannon is a registered dietitian and functional nutritionist with a penchant for provocative topics, almond butter, and local theater.