Picture The Salad Bar from Publix, low in AGEs, low in price * This is part of a year-long weekly series called  52 Weeks to Eating better than Ever“. 
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One thing well worth knowing about with food is something called AGEs- Advanced Glycation End Products.  Advanced Glycation End Productsare chemical compounds produced by the heat used to cook food.  They are the result of reactions which occur with organic food materials interacting with dry heat.  Classic examples are browning pizza, browning lasagana, and barbequing meats. Anything that produces a charred surface of burnt or roasted food (like yummy BBQ, burgers, or bacon) creates AGEs, but they are also created in other cooking methods requiring heat, particularly with meat.  
Eating raw food, steaming food, or cooking it for a shorter amount of time are some of the simplest ways to avoid taking in AGEs.  I first learned about AGEs when studying the causes of aging.  Ironically, the acronym “AGE’s” looks like the word AGE, or aging, and that’s what AGEs do, they cause inflammation and cellular instability, which can eventually cause the conglomeration of cells into cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, and thus aging. 
This is from a review article at the National Institutes of Health (NIH):


Modern diets are largely heat-processed and as a result contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). Dietary advanced glycation end products (dAGEs) are known to contribute to increased oxidant stress and inflammation, which are linked to the recent epidemics of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This report significantly expands the available dAGE database, validates the dAGE testing methodology, compares cooking procedures and inhibitory agents on new dAGE formation, and introduces practical approaches for reducing dAGE consumption in daily life. Based on the findings, dry heat promotes new dAGE formation by >10- to 100-fold above the uncooked state across food categories. 

Animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new AGE formation during cooking. In contrast, carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk contain relatively few AGEs, even after cooking.The formation of new dAGEs during cooking was prevented by the AGE inhibitory compound aminoguanidine and significantly reduced by cooking with moist heat, using shorter cooking times, cooking at lower temperatures, and by use of acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar.The new dAGE database provides a valuable instrument for estimating dAGE intake and for guiding food choices to reduce dAGE intake.


AGEs in the diet represent pathogenic compounds that have been linked to the induction and progression of many chronic diseases. This report reinforces previous observations that high temperature and low moisture consistently and strongly drive AGE formation in foods, whereas comparatively brief heating time, low temperatures, high moisture, and/or pre-exposure to an acidified environment are effective strategies to limit new AGE formation in food (13).The potentially negative effects of traditional forms of cooking and food processing have typically remained outside the realm of health considerations.However, accumulation of AGEs due to the systematic heating and processing of foods offers a new explanation for the adverse health effects associated with the Western diet, reaching beyond the question of over-nutrition.

The current dAGE database demonstrates that a significantly reduced intake of dAGEs can be achieved by increasing the consumption of fish, legumes, low-fat milk products, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and by reducing intake of solid fats, fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and highly processed foods.These guidelines are consistent with recommendations by organizations such as the American Heart Association (42), the American Institute for Cancer Research (43), and the American Diabetes Association (44). It should, therefore, be possible to integrate this new evidence into established guidelines for disease prevention as well as medical nutrition therapy for a wide variety of conditions.

Equally important, consumers can be educated about low-AGE–generating cooking methods such as poaching, steaming, stewing, and boiling. 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 dAGE generation. These culinary techniques have long been featured in Mediterranean, Asian, and other cuisines throughout the world to create palatable, easily prepared dishes.

The new database may have limitations, including the fact that foods were selected from diets common in a northeastern metropolitan US area, and may thus not represent the national average. Another limitation is that only two of many AGEs have been measured. However, the fact that both are associated with markers of disease in healthy subjects and are elevated in patients with diabetes and kidney disease lends credibility to their role as pathogens in foods consumed by the general public and persons with certain chronic diseases.
Ongoing studies are needed to further expand the dAGE database and investigate additional methods for reducing AGE generation during home cooking and food processing. Future studies should continue to investigate the health effects of AGEs and refine recommendations for safe dietary intakes. However, current data support the need for a paradigm shift that acknowledges that how we prepare and process food may be equally important as nutrient composition.

Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet
J Am Diet Assoc. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2013 Jul 8.; Published in final edited form as:
J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun; 110(6): 911–16.e12.; Doi:  10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.018; PMCID: PMC3704564; NIHMSID: NIHMS482555; PMID: 20497781

I don’t want you to get too bogged down by this, or to obsess too much on it, but here are a few simple tips:

  • Eat BBQ only sparingly, and when you do eat it, ask for “inside” meat, which cuts off the black part of the meat.
  • Avoid bacon and sausage except on rare occasion 
  • Choose homemade soups over canned soups when possible.
  • Poach, steam, stew, or boil 
  • Eat less meat in general
  • Use acidic marinades such as lemon juice and vinegar
  • Focus on whole grains, fruits, nuts, legumes, and vegetables
  • Eat a more Asian or Mediterranean style diet
  • Eat more salads and fresh food
  • Choose fish over meat

This style of eating is healthier anyway, so this shouldn’t be that hard to implement.  Also, keep this link below on hand for a reference guide to the AGE content of particular foods.  Quite simply, ingesting fewer AGEs could reduce your risk of disease.

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