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There’s something intuitively wrong about food that’s a bit burnt and crispy at the edges. Maybe it’s because we instinctively feel that our food deserves a bit more care – or perhaps it’s a gut feeling that’s telling us all those chargrilled edges might be doing us some harm.  

If you’ve heard of AGEs you’ll know where I’m going with this.  If you haven’t, or aren’t sure what they are – you must read on.

AGEs or Advanced Glycation End Products (as they’re ‘snappily’ termed!) are compounds that naturally form in our bodies from the chemical reaction of sugars with proteins or fats (glycation). The formation of AGEs is a normal part of metabolism, but if these compounds build up to an excessive amount in the bloodstream, they can become harmful and cause damage to almost every bodily tissue and organ. AGEs are associated with increased oxidative stress, premature ageing and chronic inflammation – they bind with AGE receptors (RAGEs), which permanently triggers low-level inflammation. In fact, research is beginning to show that AGEs are directly involved with or accelerate the progression of many common chronic diseases including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, allergy and autoimmune diseases, and some forms of cancer to name just a few. 

AGEs linked to diabetic complications

A large body of evidence also suggests that whilst hyperglycaemia is still considered the primary cause of diabetic complications, such as retinopathy, nephropathy and increased risk of atherosclerosis, AGEs are important pathogenic mediators of almost all complications too. For example, research has shown increased accumulation of AGEs in nerves of diabetic patients.

Are you feeding chronic disease?

Scientists have found that as well as endogenous production (AGEs produced within the body), AGEs also enter our bloodstream via the food we eat. Some foods naturally contain higher levels of AGEs than others. Cooking methods can have a big impact on the AGE content of food too.  Research has shown that restricting dietary AGEs lowers markers of oxidative stress and inflammation. Researchers have suggested that there is significant potential to increase human lifespan, reduce risks of common chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and limit many of the longer-term complications that co-occur in Type 1 & 2 diabetes when dietary intake of AGEs is reduced.

How to reduce dietary AGEs in 3 steps:

Step 1 – Know high & low AGE foods

The first step to reducing intake of AGEs is to familiarise yourself with the amounts found in common foods. Below is a table summary of AGE content in foods. A more comprehensive version can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/table/T1/

You’ll notice that fruits, vegetables, most carbohydrates, legumes, soy, tofu, milk, eggs and yoghurt are low in AGEs. Most fast and processed foods and animal-derived products such as meat are higher in AGEs, however the content increases dramatically after cooking, especially after grilling, BBQ, roasting or frying. Have a look at the AGE content of boiled chicken with lemon (957 kU/100g) compared to fried bacon (91,577 kU/100g - yikes!). Fats such as butter and olive oil are high, and even nuts and seeds are relatively high, especially when roasted. 

Step 2 – Choose cooking methods that minimize AGE formation

 • Avoid high temperature dry heat cooking methods such as roasting
Avoid grilling, chargrilling, frying, deep-frying, broiling and BBQ
Choose foods cooked with moist heat, shorter cooking times and lower temperatures – eg. boiling, poaching and steaming
Add acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar as this can help to reduce AGE production whilst cooking. 

Step 3 – Sleep more, move more, stress less

People who are sleep deprived have higher circulating AGEs so make sure you are regularly getting a good night’s sleep. In addition, daily activity and stress reduction can help to reduce AGEs.

AGE Content of Common Foods

Food Item AGE Content kU/100g
Vanilla yoghurt 3
Dairy milk (whole) 5
Banana 9
White rice, quick cook (10 mins) 9
Apple 13
Quaker oats, prepared 14
White potato, boiled 17
Cantaloupe 20
Tomato 23
Cucumber 31
Soy milk 31
Onion 36
Celery 43
Pitta bread 53
Sweet potato, roasted, 1 h 72
Egg, poached, below simmer, 5 min 90
Red kidney beans, raw 116
Pistachios, salted 380
Tofu, soft, boiled 5 min + 2 min return to boil 628
Raw beef 707
Raw skinless chicken breast 769
Chicken boiled in water with lemon 957
Cottage cheese 1,453
Salmon fillet, poached 2,292
Beef stewed 2,443
Sunflower seeds, raw, hulled 2,510
Dry roasted peanuts 6,447
Chicken nuggets, fast food (McDonalds) 8,627
Beef, steak, pan fried with olive oil 10,058
Olive oil 11,900
Parmesan cheese 16,900
Margarine 17,520
Chicken skin, back or thigh, roasted then BBQ 18,520
Sesame oil 21,680
Butter, whipped 26,480
Bacon, fried 5 min, no added oil 91,577

For a comprehensive list of AGE content in foods: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/table/T1/

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