This type of AGE-ing has nothing to do with the number of candles on your birthday cake. It does however, have everything to do with how we “age” on the inside. We know that inflammation is literally a fire, and the higher the fire rages, the more damage it can do to our bodies. Essentially, it overcooks, leading the body to compensate, and the result is that aging is accelerated.

The trick to healthy aging is to keep our internal flame on a slow burn, not too high and not too low. Turns out, one of the most fascinating ways to understand this concept of “overcooking” on the inside is to compare it to the chemical change that food has when we heat it at high temperatures. We’ve all heard that eating fried food is bad for your health and that a plant-based diet is the way to go. Ever wondered why? 

The “browning effect” is the chemical reaction that occurs when sugar and proteins are cooked together and brought to a certain temperature. According to culinary science, the browning, or Maillard reaction, creates flavor and changes the color of food. For example, until the Maillard reaction occurs, meat will have less flavor. This method is widely used, from the finest restaurants to the processed food industry. The Michelin-starred chef is aiming to reach peak flavor for your dining experience, just as a flavor scientist is inventing a compound that makes you think you are eating blueberries. Over the last 75 years, hundreds of different artificial flavor combinations have been created for our taste buds’ enjoyment. 

The browning effect can affect our health because it causes AGEs or Advanced Glycation End Products (also known as glycotoxins) to become present in the food. According to the American Diabetic Association, restricting consumption of food AGEs showed improvement in insulin resistance and lipid profiles. In other words, there is an important link between the increased consumption of animal fat and meats and the subsequent development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Products with high AGEs include:

  • the searing of meat 
  • the browning of bread into toast
  • the color of beer, chocolate, coffee, and maple syrup
  • the flavor of roasted meat
  • the flavor in frankfurters, bacon, and other processed meats

Not only do AGEs exist in certain foods, AGEs also form within the body. As we get older, our cells become less sensitive to insulin, which leaves a higher level of glucose in the bloodstream.  This excess sugar in your blood attaches to proteins, changing their structure and making them stiff and sticky. AGEs become a “sludge” in the tissues of your body, preventing healthy growth and repair of new tissues. This sludge likes to hang out in the lining of the arteries as well as in the collagen of the skin, causing wrinkles.

According to the Journal of Research in Nursing, increasing your consumption of fish, legumes, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and whole grains, while reducing intake of solid fats, fatty meats, highly processed foods, and full-fat dairy can lower the levels of AGEs in the body. Keep in mind that foods can have the same nutrient content but have radically different effects on the body, depending on the choice of culinary technique. Get creative with how you cook your foods. Poaching, steaming, marinating, braising, or lower temperature baking are great options. The Maillard reaction generally only begins to occur above 285°F, so avoid microwaving and frying or searing at this temperature or above. Slow and steady is the winner here!

The lesson for the ages (and the point of this blog) is the more AGE-rich foods you consume, the sticker your blood becomes, leaving your body susceptible to diseases like atherosclerosis, diabetes, arthritis and cataracts — all the more reason to work towards a plant-based diet! So, in order for our health to be “well-done,” it’s better to slow cook than over cook. 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/

https://www.scienceofcooking.com/maillard_reaction.htm

Dr. Sears Institute

https://www.jrnjournal.org/article/S1051-2276(17)30104-8/pdf

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