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Crispy, Golden…and Potentially Dangerous!

fried chickenGrass-fed, organic, free-range. But are you undermining those benefits with the way you cook your food?
Last week we told you about the research indicating that, although not essential, it might be a good idea to cook mushrooms before eating. This week we discuss what happens when you cook other food at higher temperatures.
Advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs, are formed when carbohydrates (and especially simple sugars) are cooked with proteins or fats—essentially, whenever meat is browned, bread is baked, and veggies are roasted: the Maillard reaction. AGEs start forming between 285° and 330°F. In the process, hundreds of different flavor compounds are created, and most people find browned foods to be far more delicious than their paler counterparts.
Unfortunately, several important studies published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences indicate that consuming foods high in AGEs, also known as glycotoxins, appear to be responsible for the induction of a low-grade but chronic state of inflammation. AGEs also accelerate aging, and may play a causative role in the blood vessel complications seen with diabetes because they speed up oxidative damage in the body.
It’s not just inflammation that is problematic—high-temperature cooking can also be carcinogenic, increasing breast cancer risk for women who ate well-done meat and prostrate cancer risk for men, as well as the risk of colon cancer.
An even bigger issue may be that many processed, pasteurized, homogenized, or refined foods have been exposed to high heat as part of production process and may contain glycotoxins. This includes white flour, cake mixes, dried eggs, canned or frozen pre-cooked meals, dried milk, and dairy products including pasteurized milk. In fact, one important study looked at a variety of processed milk products and found them far higher in glycotoxins than raw milk products. Even organic milk may have been ultra-pasteurized for longer shelf life, and ultra-pasteurization means higher heat for a longer period of time.
Since junk foods are, of course, commonly cooked at extremely high temperatures, it makes sense to avoid entirely highly processed foods such as French fries, hamburgers, potato chips, fried foods, etc. These foods not only contain many glycotoxins—they also create other metabolic disorders that can induce degenerative disease.
The good news is, there are easy ways to protect you and your family from AGEs:

  • Cook “low and slow”—that is, cook at lower temperatures, preferably under 250°F, or at least under 300°F if necessary, for longer periods of time. If you eat red meat, slow-roasting it at 200° or below will turn a tougher cut into a supple and tender roast. Or use a Crock Pot or other slow cooker. Techniques like poaching, steaming, braising, stewing, and slow-cooking use less heat than baking or grilling. Utilize them whenever you can.
  • The Life Extension Foundation has been a leader in pointing out the dangers of AGEs. It suggests a little prep work if you plan to grill: neutralize harmful toxins by marinating meat for several hours in protective ingredients such as rosemary, turmeric, olive oil, mustard, wine, and garlic.
  • Don’t think that dry heat solves the problem. Although cooking in oil increases glycation, using dry heat can also increase glycation. Cooking with liquids helps reduce it. Also, the glycotoxins are found in places where the browning is greatest, so consider cutting off some of the char.
  • Consider adding more raw and steamed vegetables to your diet along with a small amount of fresh fruit. Too much fruit, especially dried fruit, means too much fructose. (The jury is not in on this one, but one apple and one banana per day might be reasonable.) Another reason to eat more raw food: cooking may destroy health-giving enzymes.
  • LEF recommends supplementing with fish oil, DHEA, vitamin K, and nettle leaf extract to reduce inflammation caused by AGEs. Consuming at least 1000 mg a day of carnosine can also inhibit pathological glycation reactions in the body, as does Benfotiamine, a thiamine derivative.

We understand that some of us will never be able to resist crisp chicken skin or a nice sear on that salmon. Remember that it’s the cumulative effect of all one’s food choices that makes the greatest difference. So fall in love with raw food or wonderful slow or low-cooked braises and stews. Save the grill marks for special (and rare) occasions.

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