Why Keto Diets Might Be Aging You & How To Fix It, From A Nutrition Expert
People praise keto diets for an array of potential benefits. However, as a celebrity nutrition expert, I'm here to tell you that may not always be the case. Unfortunately, if you're eating a meat-heavy version of keto, it can also carry a dark side.
That's because foods cooked in high heat (foods that have been baked, broiled, grilled, or fried) are prone to AGEs formation. Let me explain.
What are AGEs?
Oxidative stress occurs when increased levels of damaging free radicals2 overpower the body's antioxidant defense system. Increased levels of oxidative stress can harm cells, potentially destroy tissues, and lead to disease. Likewise, researchers link chronic inflammation3—a festering, low-grade type of inflammation that can stay silent for years—to nearly every serious health issue.
Researchers once believed that AGEs only formed endogenously, such as with high blood sugar that can lead to diabetes. Today, we know that AGEs in foods4 also significantly contribute to AGEs formation.
"High-temperature cooking or grilling (veggies or meat) produces toxic compounds, including…advanced glycation end products (AGEs)," says Mark Hyman, M.D., in The Pegan Diet.
5 ways to reduce AGEs formation.
If you're on a keto diet and eating red meat and other animal products, these foods are prone to AGEs formation during cooking. In other words, you increase the risk of oxidative stress, inflammation, and other problems that AGEs can create in your body.
That's why researchers recommend restricting your AGE intake as much as possible (ideally less than 15,000 ku of AGEs). Most vegetables, fruits, and other plant foods contain relatively few AGEs, even after cooking. On the other hand, animal foods as well as plant foods, like nuts processed with oils, tend to be high in AGEs.
Whether you're doing a keto diet or often eat red meat and other high-AGEs foods, these five strategies can help reduce the harmful effects of these aging compounds:
Lower the temperature on your meat.
A 3-ounce broiled steak contains 7,479 ku of AGEs. Pan-fry that steak, and the number goes up to 10,058 ku. In other words, lower cooking temperatures can help reduce AGEs formation. So can cooking methods that involve liquids, such as steaming, braising, and poaching. Don't brown your meats (cooking the outside of meat to give it more flavor and attractive color) either, which can increase AGEs.
Try AGE-lowering marinades.
Cooking meat with vinegar, tomato juice, or lemon juice can reduce AGE production by up to 50%. These acidic ingredients help tenderize meat, plus they make your food taste so much better.
Spice it up.
Hyman recommends cooking your meat with spices. "The Maasai people of Africa eat only milk and meat, but they add 12 spices to their milk and 28 spices to their meat, preventing the production of harmful compounds that can occur during cooking," he says. "The slow cooking of meat with dozens of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory spices is protective." Nutrient-packed rosemary, sage, garlic, and turmeric are some of my favorite ways to spice up meat.
Make an oil change.
The problem with AGEs goes beyond meat. Vegetable oils also tend to be high, due to the amount of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that can be easily oxidized or damaged when manufacturers process these fats at high heat. Inflammatory oils can slip into unsuspecting places, like roasted almonds. Twenty roasted almonds pack a whopping 1,995 ku of AGEs. Read labels carefully, and always opt for raw nuts and seeds (or better yet, soak or sprout your own).
Focus on anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich foods.
Even the strictest keto diet allows leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. You can even slip in lower-sugar fruits like berries and avocado and still stay in ketosis. These nutrient rock stars help combat the inflammation and other damage that high-AGE foods can create. Learn more about incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into your plan here.
And one last thing: If you're eating animal products from factory-farmed animals that have lived life crammed in a pen or otherwise have been treated poorly, pumped full of hormones, and fed GMO corn and soy, you're eating all of their chemicals and stress. Always, always choose the best sources of your animal protein, including grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, and wild-caught seafood.
Eating keto can be healthy, but you'll want to stay mindful of high-AGEs foods so that you don't jeopardize your success on this plan and contribute to aging and disease. If you're curious about a keto diet while avoiding its pitfalls, this comprehensive article provides an excellent primer.
JJ Virgin, CNS, BCHN, is a celebrity nutrition and fitness expert who helps clients lose weight fast by breaking free from food intolerance. A certified nutrition specialist, board certified Holistic Nutritionist, and Certified Exercise Physiologist, she is the author of the New York Times best-sellers The Virgin Diet: Drop 7 Foods, Lose 7 Pounds, Just 7 Days and The Virgin Diet Cookbook: 150 Easy and Delicious Recipes to Lose Weight and Feel Better Fast.