Why grilling meats slowly this summer can add years to your life

Anissa Ford's picture

Summertime and the Fourth of July are all about the grill, but achtung! Research shows frying and grilling certain foods at high temps are risky precursors to disease.

When it comes to health, many people tend to only focus on their cholesterol, blood pressure, and body mass index (BMI), and overlook another key medical marker: Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs).

AGEs are harmful compounds that develop in the body or are ingested through certain foods, including browned, sugary, and processed foods. “Research at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York shows that frying or grilling certain foods at high temperatures produces compounds that can increase inflammation in the body” (arthritistoday.org)

The compounds "are known to be scoundrels, showing up in the blood of people with chronic diseases associated with inflammation, including diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. AGEs detected in blood were thought to come solely from our body’s natural supply of AGEs, but – here’s the bad news – now scientists have found that foods cooked at high temps create AGEs that can be absorbed by the body. Perhaps 10 percent of AGEs we get from eating seared burgers and fried chicken may be absorbed" (arthritistoday.org)

The A.G.E. Foundation, a nonprofit consumer awareness group, launched A.G.E. Awareness Day on summer solstice Friday.

"We launched A.G.E. Awareness Day on summer solstice, the longest day of the year as a way to connect the conversation to longevity in life." said Shon Whitney, chief executive officer, A.G.E. Foundation. "We know that people are looking for ways to live healthy, vibrant lives and the AGE conversation is an important topic that is being overlooked in today's health and wellness conversations."

A.G.E. Foundation's findings in a recent survey on eating habits and the impact of cooking methods on aging.

According to the survey, 76 percent of Americans know that eating processed food can accelerate aging. Thirty-two percent cited the manner in which the food was cooked as having an impact on aging, while just 11 percent indicated cooking food at high temperatures affected aging.

With the start of the summer season, people will be heating up the grill with limited awareness of the way to reduce AGEs. The survey showed that six in 10 people prefer grilling their meat over oven-roasting (23 percent), stir-frying (nine percent), steaming (three percent) and poaching (one percent).

"It is important for people to limit the amount of barbecued, sautéed, or even toasted food," said Michelle Davenport, Ph.D., board member, A.G.E. Foundation. "We've found that when we cook at higher temperatures, more AGEs form in the food — so our recommendation is to cook your meat at a low temperature for a longer period of time."

The survey also showed that when people are eating processed, fried or sugary foods, 81 percent are more concerned with the impact on their weight, while 58 percent are more concerned about the effect on their internal organs. More women than men worry about these issues, especially the effect these foods can have on their skin (42 percent versus 30 percent).

The key to lowering AGEs: reduce heat, extend cooking time and incorporate more water and acid into your food preparation. Water-based cooking methods (i.e., steaming, poaching) dramatically reduce AGEs. When asked about healthy ways to prepare meats for grilling, 34 percent of those surveyed ranked herb and oil as the healthiest, followed by "straight to the grill" at 21 percent. Only 17 percent of respondents cited an acid-based marinade as the healthiest way to prepare meats. "Adding a marinade in the form of lemon, lime or vinegar can cut AGEs by 50 percent," said Dr. Davenport.

Brightly colored fruits and vegetables and whole grains, which are low in AGEs, are also recommended. Fruits and vegetables like noni, blueberries, olives and cornelian cherries are particularly beneficial, and contain natural elements called iridoids, which can lower a person's AGE levels.

Arthritis Today offers similar suggestions:

Limit the amount of grilled, broiled, fried and microwaved meats in your diet.
Reduce the cooking temperature of meats and proteins. Steam fish and seafood, simmer chicken in a sauce and braise red meat in a cooking liquid.
Cut down on processed foods. Many prepared foods have been exposed to a high cooking temperature to lengthen shelf life, so they may have high AGE contents.
Get more fruits and veggies in your diet. Cooked or raw, they’re naturally low in AGEs, and many contain compounds such as antioxidants that can decrease some of the damage done by AGEs.

Know Your Numbers
Just like cholesterol, BMI, and blood pressure, AGE levels are also a key medical marker. Knowing AGE levels is important because it impacts how long and how well you live. In addition to eating a healthy, fresh diet and preparing low-AGE level foods, it's important to quit smoking, exercise regularly, get the recommended amounts of sleep, and control stress levels to achieve an AGE-less lifestyle.

sources: arthritistoday.org, The A.G.E. Foundation