Could Broiling and Grilling Be Almost as Bad for You as Frying?

Here’s a twist to the adage that you are what you eat: How you cook your food may be just as important to your health as the food itself. That’s what researchers discovered recently when they looked at blood levels of compounds that form in foods during cooking. They linked the compounds to indicators of oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which increase with age and are associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.

Cooking Up Disease? The compounds?which go by the mouthful “advanced glycation endproducts” or AGEs?form when foods are exposed to high heat and little water. The higher the temperature and the less water used, the more AGEs in a food. That means that frying, broiling or grilling greatly increases AGE levels in foods compared to boiling or steaming.

The researchers, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and the National Institutes of Health, found that among both older (over 60) and younger (under 45) people, indicators of inflammation followed the same pattern as AGEs in the blood. Both are direct reflections of AGEs in the diet.

Age Affects AGE. In young, healthy people, AGEs are not a problem because the kidneys excrete them efficiently. However, the researchers speculate that when dietary levels of AGEs are high or the normal ability of the kidneys to filter blood is impaired by kidney disease, diabetes or advancing age, blood levels of AGEs could increase, leading to chronic inflammation and disease. In fact, in the study, blood levels of AGEs were indeed significantly higher in older participants, even though their intakes of dietary AGEs were lower than younger participants.

The Bottom Line. The findings of this study suggest that how you prepare your food may have a direct effect on disease-causing inflammation. Fried foods are a major offender; the high heat and absence of water create “the perfect storm” for the formation of AGEs. It helps to avoid fried foods and maybe limit how often you broil or grill. Using lower temperatures (think slow cookers) to prepare meals can significantly reduce AGEs and possibly reduce the risk of inflammation-related diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

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