It used to be that “high-protein” diets were drastic meat, cheese, and fat laden regimens. But these days, there are many lighter, more moderate versions to choose from featuring leaner meats, lower-fat cheeses, and healthier fats and oils as well as more “good carbs”. These healthier protein-enhanced diets are increasingly embraced as studies show that replacing some dietary carbohydrate with protein may aid weight loss, reduce blood sugar and blood pressure, improve triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels, and help prevent muscle loss. But you should also know about a downside to higher-protein diets, even the healthier versions — they may be packed with very high amounts of toxic, age-accelerating Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs).
AGEs 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). AGEs cause inflammation and oxidation and are linked to aging, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and many other health problems. Although AGEs have been studied for decades, relatively few people are aware of them.
Meats and cheeses, the staples of many high-protein diets, tend to be the richest dietary sources of AGEs. Fats, especially animal fats like cream cheese and butter, are also very AGE-rich. Therefore, most people on higher-protein diets are constantly ingesting a diet very high in AGE content. The toxic effects of frequently ingested dietary AGEs may inadvertently contribute to health problems over the long-term.
Make Your Diet AGE-Less
You can markedly reduce AGE intake just by changing cooking techniques. Cook with moist heat (steaming, poaching, braising, or stewing) instead of dry heat (roasting, broiling, grilling, or frying). This simple switch can diminish AGE intake without changing the actual composition of the diet (i.e. no changes in carbohydrates, fats, or proteins). That said, plant foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains are nutrient-rich and tend to be low in AGEs even after cooking so it is advantageous to include these in your AGE-Less diet as much as possible. Another tip to make your diet AGE-Less: Substitute olive oil for butter, as plant fats tend to form fewer AGEs than animal fats.
While people eating high-protein diets are almost certainly exposed to harmful levels of AGEs, just about everyone eats too many, since AGEs are widespread in the modern heat-processed diet. Any type of diet can be made AGE-Less. If we want to maximize the benefits of our food choices, it is essential to learn about AGE-Less eating.