Toxins in the Cooking Process
A group of chemical compounds that form during cooking are believed to accelerate the aging process and to contribute to heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and the organ damage caused by diabetes and kidney disease. Now, researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have measured the concentration of these toxic compounds in 250 commonly consumed foods and published their findings in the Journal of American Dietetic Association (2004;104:1287–91). This information will allow people to make relatively simple changes in their diet that have the potential to greatly improve their health.
The chemicals in question, advanced glycation end products (AGEs), are created when a sugar molecule hooks onto one of the amino acids of a protein or when a sugar combines with certain fats or other compounds in food. AGEs also form within the human body when glucose fuses to proteins, fats, or DNA. There is strong evidence that AGEs produced within the body contribute to the aging process and to organ damage in people with diabetes.
Research performed over the past several years by the Mount Sinai group has shown that about 10% of the AGEs in food are absorbed into the body and remain in various tissues for considerable periods of time. Food-derived AGEs have some of the same adverse effects as the AGEs manufactured in the body. In animal studies, restriction of dietary AGEs slowed the progression of atherosclerosis and diabetes. A study in humans found that a low-AGE diet reduced blood levels of C-reactive protein, which is a measure of inflammation and a known risk factor for heart disease.
AGEs form as food browns during cooking, primarily when foods high in protein or fat are subjected to high temperatures. Cooking at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time creates more AGEs than cooking at lower temperatures for longer periods of time. Also, exposure to dry heat produces more AGEs than cooking in liquid. Thus, broiling, frying, or grilling of meats creates more AGEs than boiling, poaching, or stewing. For example, a chicken breast broiled for 15 minutes contains more than five times as many AGEs as the same food boiled for one hour.
A typical American diet contains an average daily AGE intake of approximately 16,000 kilounits. Some of the foods evaluated in the study include (kilounits and serving size in parentheses): pizza (6,825 for 3.5 ounces), toasted cheese sandwich (4,333 per 3.5 ounces), hamburger fried for 6 minutes (2,375 per 3 ounces), fast food hamburger (4,876 for 3 ounces), chicken broiled for 15 minutes (5,245 for 3 ounces), chicken boiled for one hour (1,011), hot dog broiled for 5 minutes (10,143), hot dog boiled for 7 minutes (6,736), homemade french fries (694 per 3.5 ounces), fast food French fries (1,522 per 3.5 ounces), potato chips (3,028 per 3.5 ounces), and baked potato (218 per 3.5 ounces). Cream cheese (3,265 for 1 ounce), butter (1,324 per teaspoon), and margarine (876 per teaspoon) contain fairly large amounts of AGEs. Most fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are low in AGEs (for example, 18 for an apple, 10 for 3.5 ounces of canned carrots), unless they are grilled or subjected to other harsh processing methods. Sugary baked goods contain moderate amounts of AGEs.
This study makes it possible for people to deliberately reduce their daily intake of toxic AGEs by choosing particular foods and altering the way they prepare their food. The Mount Sinai researchers have shown previously that it is possible to vary the AGE content of the diet by as much as five-fold, by varying the cooking time and temperature. While additional research is needed to determine how much value there is in decreasing AGE intake, the evidence so far suggests that the benefit could be substantial.
Alan R. Gaby, MD, an expert in nutritional therapies, testified to the White House Commission on CAM upon request in December 2001. Dr. Gaby served as a member of the Ad-Hoc Advisory Panel of the National Institutes of Health Office of Alternative Medicine. He is the author of Preventing and Reversing Osteoporosis (Prima, 1994), and co-author of The Natural Pharmacy, 2nd Edition (Healthnotes, Three Rivers Press, 1999), the A–Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions (Healthnotes, Three Rivers Press, 1999), Clinical Essentials Volume 1 and 2 (Healthnotes, 2000), and The Patient’s Book of Natural Healing (Prima, 1999). A former professor at Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences, in Kenmore, WA, where he served as the Endowed Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Gaby is the Chief Medical Editor for Healthnotes, Inc.
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