It is not only red blood cells that become glycated. Just like with high HA1C levels, excessive glycation in the body is not a good thing. When sugar undergoes glycation—which is to say that it bonds with a fat or protein—it forms something called advanced glycogen end products or AGEs. These may contribute to oxidative stress, inflammation, and degenerative conditions similar to those associated with the aging process. So maybe it is not such a coincidence that these products are abbreviated AGEs—they do indeed age you! Compared to other sugars, fructose is even more prone to causing this reaction/process.
Glycation is a normal part of our metabolism; our body is usually able to eliminate its end products. It is only when glycation happens at excessively high rates that we start to have trouble. How, exactly? The problem with glycation is that it alters proteins so they are unable to perform their job. In addition, glycated proteins tend to clump together, a formation that can lead to cardiovascular issues, eye problems, and many of the same types of issues that diabetics commonly experience. Not surprisingly, studies have shown that diabetics age faster than those without blood sugar issues. It’s clear: we don’t want AGEs!
Where are AGES found?
Besides AGEs produced by the body, AGEs are also found naturally in animal foods. AGE production is then increased with certain methods of cooking: grilling, broiling, roasting, searing, and frying. Essentially, anything that has been browned or charred indicates that AGEs have formed. And unlike what was previously thought, scientists now understand that high-AGE-containing foods can also have a negative impact as they are absorbed and contribute to the body’s AGE pool. The Journal of American Dietetic Association lists the AGE content of 549 foods:
How should we cook to reduce AGES?
There is no recommended daily value for AGE consumption that I know of, but the suggestion is that less is better. Let’s look at different foods so that you can see how food processing affects the AGEs. Bread is 83 when untoasted; when it’s toasted, it’s 107. No big deal. The same cannot be said for eggs, though: a poached egg is rated 90, an egg scrambled with olive oil on high heat is 243, and when fried, the same egg soars to 2,749. Fried bacon was found to be the number-one culprit at 91,577.
The method of cooking should be carefully considered for each type of food. “For example, the high AGE content of broiled chicken (5,828 kU/100 g) and broiled beef (5,963 kU/100 g) can be significantly reduced (1,124 kU/100 g and 2,230 kU/100 g, respectively) when the same piece of meat is either boiled or stewed. The use of acidic marinades, such as lemon juice and vinegar, before cooking can also be encouraged to limit AGE generation.“
How can we minimize AGES?
The paper “Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet” states that the AGE load can be minimized by eating more fish, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and by reducing intake of solid fats, fatty meats, and highly processed foods.
You might also want to consider these additional recommendations:
- Choose moist heat over dry heat
- Do not eat foods that have been charred
- Use the lowest possible temperature for cooking and do not overcook your food
- Use a slow cooker for meats
- Do not eat an excessive amount of animal products high in fat and protein (or stick to grass-fed animals that are truly free-range)
- Use acidic ingredients such as lemon or vinegar to help minimize AGE formation
- Jill Nussinow, MS and RDN (a.k.a. “The Veggie Queen”) and author of The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Pressure Cooks Book, believes that pressure cooking may help reduce AGEs.
Again, diet is all about balance—we don’t want to minimize eating good, healthy foods just because they can possibly glycate. I think it’s good to understand how to best process our foods while also trying to avoid consuming burned and overprocessed/overcooked foods.