Why You Should Think Twice About That BBQ: A Cardiologist Explains
Without question, a plant-based, whole foods diet is one of the healthiest lifestyle choices you can make. But once your refrigerator is full of colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and grains ... is your quest for excellent nutrition complete?
Now it's time to start thinking about how you prepare your food!
An important, but overlooked component of nutrition are modified proteins and fats called advanced glycation end products (commonly referred to as AGEs). These appear in our body two ways: (1) from the food we eat and (2) when our body manufactures them naturally.
Higher levels of AGEs contribute to diabetes mellitus, and AGEs are known to fire up inflammation leading to heart disease, obesity and arthritis. AGEs also contribute to aging and are likely to speed up production of wrinkles.
The good news? Studies show that when you reduce the amount of AGEs in your body, you decrease your chances of developing debilitating chronic diseases.
The bottom line: What you want is a body low in AGEs. How your body produces AGEs
As I mentioned, there are 2 sources of AGEs: internal and external. First, let's look at internal sources of AGEs. When our blood sugar rises too high for too long, proteins and lipids are coated passively by the elevated sugars. For example, LDL cholesterol can become coated with sugars and then it becomes capable of producing arterial plaques.
Hemoglobin inside red blood cells can also be passively coated by elevated blood sugars and hemoglobin A1C (HgbA1C) is a common test that measures this process in the bloodstream.
To lower internal production of AGEs, here are some tips:
- Manage your weight
- Avoid processed foods
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables
- Avoid toxins like bisphenol A
- Get some regular exercise
How you add AGEs to your life
The second source of AGEs is "exogenous" and comes from our food. Specifically, the way food is prepared has a huge effect on the quantity of AGEs that then get absorbed into our bodies.
Frying and grilling foods (particularly dry grilling like BBQing), are among the highest sources of AGEs in our diet. For example,french fries from fast food chains have nearly 90 times the amount of AGEs of a boiled potato. Grilled or broiled chicken and chicken nuggets have up to 10 times the amount of AGEs of boiled chicken.
Even a fried egg has 50 times the AGE level of a boiled egg. Butter and cheeses are naturally high in AGE content and can have three times the amount of a grilled piece of meat. Vegetables are naturally low in AGEs and their high water content protects them from AGE production when heated. What can we do to avoid AGEing?
- Avoid charred and blackened meats. This is wise both because of the high AGE content and a reported link to pancreatic cancer.
- If you're going to grill, marinate meat before and during cooking. Moistened meats produce half of the AGEs of dry meats. (Lemon juice and vinegar combinations are particularly good marinades.)
- Cook for shorter times at lower heat. Avoid the high flames from extra lighter fluids and dripping fats.
- Clean your grill. Keeping the grill clean of old burnt residues or grilling on tin foil may help avoid charring.
- Consider steaming, poaching or boiling your foods. Healthy vegetarian and vegan diets are naturally low in AGEs and may be responsible for the longer life span of vegetarians and vegans.
- Consider supplements. Benfotiamine, carnosine, and alpha-lipoic acid may block some of the ill effects of AGEs.
July 4th is approaching and this information is not geared to put a wrinkle in your BBQ plans. Rather, intelligent planning can save a wrinkle from your face.