It’s common knowledge that what we eat today can directly affect our health in the years to come.
Insulin resistance and diabetes are products of chronic inflammation caused by obesity and overeating, but it seems that these two factors are not alone. Science has come to identify that these conditions are made worse by excessive consumption of advanced glycation end products, known as AGEs.
What are AGEs exactly? They are harmful compounds that form naturally in the body when proteins and fats combine with sugars in a process known as glycation. They also can be created outside the body when we cook foods at high temperatures to brown or produce char, especially red meats. Highly processed foods, prepackaged products, high fat meats, fats, fried foods, and sugary foods are also high in AGEs. The harm exists in when they build up in the body causing inflammation that can lead to the development or worsening of cardiovascular disease, liver disease and Alzheimer’s.
While the body can naturally rid itself of harmful AGE compounds, when we eat too many we simply cannot completely remove them all, leaving excess AGEs to damage our cells. It is important to know that all of our cells are affected by the accumulation of AGEs and they are linked to the aging of our cells.
So now that these compounds have been identified, what can we do to lessen their impact? Simply modifying our cooking methods is a good place to start. Instead of roasting, broiling or grilling your meats, move towards moist heat methods such as boiling, steaming, poaching or using a slow cooker to utilize less heat and slow down cooking time. Adding acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar to a marinade have been shown to help reduce AGEs production as well. Additionally, consuming foods that contain a phytonutrient called iridoids found in deeply colored blueberries and cranberries can help lower AGEs in the body.
The good news is that the healthy foods we know we’re supposed to eat like fruits and vegetables, seafood, whole grains, pasta, low-fat breads and vegetarian burgers are low in AGEs. Choosing a healthy well-balanced diet is key to avoiding excess AGE consumption.
One last thing worth mentioning: adequate sleep, daily activity and stress reduction play a very important role in reducing AGEs in our bodies. Yet another reason to take a look at our lifestyle and eating habits and consider making changes to live a longer, healthier life. For more information on AGEs, you can visit the AGE foundation website at agefoundation.com.
Mary is a clinical dietitian at Banner Churchill Community Hospital and consultant for Pershing General Hospital. Your nutrition questions are welcome--send questions to Mary C. Koch, R.D. in care of this newspaper.