Alluring AGEs – the Tasty Toxins that Most People Never Heard of

Despite many great advances in nutrition science we are not getting any healthier. Aging-related diseases like obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and kidney disease persist as though something continues to elude us. Food components like trans fats, cholesterol, and sugar have all been implicated in certain diseases. But mounting evidence points to another issue that has not been addressed yet — the abundant presence of oxidants in food.  We have heard a lot about oxidants that cause the generation of free radicals in the body. Too many free radicals cause faster aging and disease. We now know that oxidants are everywhere around us – and are especially abundant in our food. Among the most important oxidants is a class of compounds called Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs), also known as glycotoxins.

Tasty Toxins  

AGEs are quite familiar to our senses. They are created when dry heat is applied during cooking and processing, and impart color, flavor, and aroma to food (this is also known as the Maillard or browning reaction). The golden-brown appearance on the surface of grilled, baked, and fried foods comes from AGEs, as does the crispy brown appearance of many snack foods.  Being that AGEs look, taste, and smell good, their use is widespread in modern foods, which makes it easy for us to overeat and for AGEs to build up to toxic levels in our tissues. That is when they cause trouble in the form of diabetes, as well as heart, brain, or kidney disease, dementia, and more. AGEs make us age before our time.

 Some Ways that AGEs Can Affect Us:

  • Act as oxidants, creating harmful free radicals
  • Chemically alter the ways that proteins, fats, and nucleic acids work
  • Increase inflammation (the body reacts to AGEs as if they were “foreign,” much like bacteria).
  • Increase insulin resistance and diabetes
  • Possibly build up abdominal fat
  • Increase “bad” cholesterol in the arteries
  • Build bridges between collagen proteins that harden arteries, stiffen joints, cause cataracts, and wrinkle skin

The AGE-Less Way 

Simple dietary strategies can help us dramatically reduce our intake of toxic, age-accelerating AGEs.  Learning which foods and food groups are lower in AGEs and applying moist-heat cooking methods such as steaming, stewing, braising, and poaching are central to the AGE-Less diet.  For example, instead of baking chicken, simmer it in a pot with broth, wine, and herbs. Rather than roasting meat, try braising with tomatoes and vegetables. As an alternative to broiled salmon, poach or cook en papillote with lemon and seasonings.

Cooking with moist heat reduces AGE formation.

Evidence for the AGE-Less Diet 

The AGE-Less Way has been studied extensively in both animals and humans. AGE restriction in mice has been found to improve immune function; ease inflammation; prevent weight gain, diabetes and its complications; and extend lifespan.  In humans, AGE restriction has been found to reduce markers of inflammation and disease.  For many people, reducing dietary AGEs by half is a reasonable goal. More details on these studies will be covered in future articles.

The key is to cut back. It is not necessary to totally eliminate all of your favorite foods.  If you love a certain grilled or roasted dish, enjoy it, but less often. Similarly, Thanksgiving comes only once a year so there is no reason to give up that perfectly browned turkey. The AGE-Less Way constitutes a new and exciting paradigm for disease prevention — how food is cooked and processed may be as important to health as the food itself.

Please note: The information presented here is meant for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 
Always consult with your physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding specific dietary instructions, medical concerns, or treatments. The inclusion of links to external web sites 
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