Today’s diets contain high levels of harmful compounds called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, which accumulate in the body over time. All of our cells are affected when too many AGEs build up, a process linked to aging and the development or worsening of chronic illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and liver diseases. AGEs contribute to increased oxidant stress and inflammation, which also are tied to the epidemic of diabetes.
AGEs form inside the body naturally when proteins or fats combine with sugars, a process called glycation. The functioning of cells is affected, making them more susceptible to damage and premature aging. Sugary and highly processed foods are high in AGEs. Cooking methods that require high temperatures to brown or char foods, such as broiling, roasting or grilling, can significantly raise the amount of AGEs formed and consumed.
Foods derived from animal products high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new AGE formation during cooking. Carbohydrate-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk contain relatively few AGEs, even after they have been cooked.
The body can rid itself of AGE compounds. However, it can’t eliminate them effectively when too many are eaten at one time.
How diet can reduce AGE
To reduce AGE consumption, eat foods that contain low AGE levels. A study published in the July 2011 issue of the journal Diabetes Care reported that AGE consumption contributes to insulin resistance in Type 2 diabetes. Two groups of diabetes patients participated in the study and were randomized to a high or low AGE diet. Restricting AGE foods may help preserve the body’s natural defenses against insulin resistance by preventing the development of oxidative stress, the study found.
In another study published in Current Diabetes Reports, researchers found subjects who consumed a meal with a high AGE content experienced increased circulation of AGEs in the body. By lowering dietary AGE intake, hyperinsulinemia, a condition involving excess levels of insulin in the blood, was improved by 40 percent in patients with Type 2 diabetes.
Modify your cooking methods
Modifying your cooking methods is the most effective way to reduce your intake of foods high in AGEs. Research published in a recent edition of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association comparing different methods of cooking found a link between heat-processed foods and AGEs. Dry heat promoted AGE formation by more than 10- to 100-fold above uncooked foods in all categories. Meats high in protein and fat were likely to form AGEs during cooking, while carbohydrate-rich foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables maintained low AGE levels after cooking.
The formation of AGEs can be prevented by cooking with moist heat, using shorter cooking times, cooking at lower temperatures, and by using acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Penobscot Community Health Care in Bangor. She provides nutrition consultant services through Mainely Nutrition in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.