How to Eat Healthier: Change How You Cook

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
April 14, 2017

High-heat cooking unleashes chemicals that have been linked to common illnesses associated with inflammation and aging. Here’s how to eat (and cook) healthier.

You’ll be eating more healthily if you favor cooking with moist heat. Whenever possible, poach, stew, or braise meats.

A rule of thumb for an egg breakfast: poached, boiled, or quickly scrambled eggs are better than fried, even if you don't use much oil in the pan. Skip the deep-fried donut and fried potatoes. If you want a starch, eat beans, but not if they’ve been deep-fried. If you want another kind of fat to feel full, add avocado to your eggs or have slices of avocado on the side.

Any high-heat cooking — grilling, broiling, frying, and roasting — unleashes chemicals called advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that have been linked to a long list of common illnesses associated with inflammation and aging. These chemicals may be a factor in polycystic ovary syndrome and aggravate complications of diabetes, for example.  


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AGEs form in food when sugar combines with protein or fat. Most foods contain these chemicals, and they’re also produced by your body. The problem is when your body is overloaded with them. Research suggests that people with diabetes and other chronic diseases have higher concentrations of the naturally produced AGEs. Evidence is accumulating that AGEs enter the body through our food and that we can improve our health by limiting the AGEs we eat.

How to eat healthier

Use moist heat. A piece of chicken, for example, might have 1,000 kilounits (kU) of AGEs if it is stewed, but up to 6,000 kU roasted or grilled. Even tofu broiled or sautéed can have from 3,000 to 5000 kU a serving.

Marinate meat. If you really want to grill, use marinades with an acid like lemon juice, wine, vinegar, or tomato juice. If you marinate that chicken, for example, the AGEs could come down to 3,000 kU. Roasted or grilled vegetables are still low in AGEs.

Eat less meat. Leaner cuts have fewer AGEs than fatty ones, but even lean cuts have AGEs when cooked with high dry heat.

Eat lower-fat and younger cheeses, or stay away from cheese. Cheese are heated during processing, which promotes AGEs. Aging also increases the AGEs. Parmesan cheese and American cheese each have around 2,500 kU each per serving. A piece of pizza can have as many AGEs as a serving of bacon, says Helen Vlassara, MD, former director of the Diabetes and Aging Division at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. She recommends substituting low-fat cheddar cheese. Look for young, minimally processed low-fat cheese. Or stay away from cheese altogether.

Skip crackers and cookies. When grains are processed into crispy brown crackers or fatty cookies, the AGE content rises dramatically.

Be generous with vegetables and spices and herbs. Certain foods actually work against the formation of AGEs in your body. Apples, chili peppers, berries, broccoli, kale, green and black tea, turmeric, cinnamon, parsley, rosemary, and sage all have this effect.


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Skip cola drinks. The color in cola comes from caramelized sugar, which contains lots of AGEs. Diet colas contain almost as much as sugary cola.

Foods to favor: fresh fruits, boiled or steamed grains, fresh or steamed vegetables (grilled and roasted have more AGEs but are still low), milk, yogurt, boiled beans, or legumes.

How advanced glycation end products affect your health

If you need convincing to abandon your grilled chicken, consider these risks and the benefits of eating more healthily:

Heart disease. AGEs can accumulate in your blood vessels, triggering a blood clot that leads to a heart attack. They can also trigger other effects that stiffen your blood vessels and cause high blood pressure.

Diabetes. If your blood sugar gets too high, it will promote AGEs in your body, damaging your pancreatic cells. Your pancreas produces insulin, so you could end up with less insulin or with insulin resistance, when your body needs more insulin to function. The end result may be damage to the nerves and blood vessels. When Vlassara and her team put a group of overweight people with diabetes on a low-AGE diet for four months, they ended up with a 35 percent decrease in blood sugar levels.

Mental decline. Diabetes is linked to mental decline, and it may be that AGEs are one of the mechanisms. AGEs hurt the blood-brain barrier that protects your brain from chemicals in other parts of the body. They can enter your brain and damage proteins, producing the amyloid plaques we see in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Kidney disease. The kidneys push AGEs out of your body. But if too big a load injures your kidneys, AGEs can accumulate in your blood and end up in tissues throughout your body, further damaging your kidneys. Patients with chronic kidney problems who eat a low-AGE diet end up with fewer AGEs in their blood and less inflammation, a factor in many illnesses.


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April 09, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN