There are several different methods you can use to look at how food causes inflammation. We’ve looked at several. One of the measurements scientists are currently studying are advanced glycation end products (AGEs.) Dietary AGEs have been shown in several studies to increase inflammation and oxidative stress on the body.
Advanced glycation end products form when sugars combine with proteins or fats. This process is called glycation. We get AGEs in two ways: our bodies create them, and we get them from the environment. We consume them in high-fat foods, and we take them in from being around tobacco smoke.
AGEs are found primarily in foods high in sugar and in animal-based foods that are high in fat and protein. Also, new AGEs form when that food is cooked using high, dry heat, like grilling. How you prepare your meals can increase your consumption of AGEs by up to 25%. Other foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and even milk have very few AGEs, even after being cooked.
Low AGE Foods:
- Low Fat Milk
High AGE Foods:
When our bodies are healthy, the kidneys have ways of dealing with these compounds. However, they can only cope with so much. As we age, AGEs can accumulate. They become a problem when excessively high levels accumulate in tissues. High amounts of AGEs have been linked with the development of several diseases, including type 2 diabetes, arthritis, kidney failure, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and even premature aging.
You can reduce AGEs in foods by using moist heat (like steaming), using shorter cooking times, cooking at lower temperatures, and by the addition of an acid, like lemon juice or vinegar.
Let’s look at a few examples:
- An average-sized apple has 45 AGE kU per serving.
- Three ounces of raw beef has 636 kU per serving.
Not that you would likely be eating your meat raw, but this is where the cooking method makes a big difference.
For example, if we take that same 3 ounces of beef and apply different cooking techniques, you’ll see the following:
Ground beef (20% fat) made into a hamburger and pan-fried has 4,435 AGE kU per serving. Take that same meat and marinate it for 10 minutes in lemon juice first? It goes down to 3,450 AGE kU. Boil that marinated beef instead of pan-frying it? It drops again to 1,384 AGE kU.
Here is another excellent example: 3 ounces of raw chicken breast has 692 AGE kU. If you steam it in aluminum foil, it goes to 952 AGE kU – not bad at all. Microwave it? It is just 1,372 AGE kU. But if you bread it and deep fry it instead? You are now looking at 8,750 AGE kU!
Why the big difference? You create more AGEs when you grill, broil, roast, sear, or fry food. To reduce AGEs, you can poach, stew, boil, or steam your food over low heat. Adding an acid, like vinegar or citrus juice, also helps. So, you can marinate that steak ahead of time or make sure that you are getting a balanced diet that doesn’t lean too heavily towards high AGE foods.
Even foods that are good for you can end up with a high AGE rating, depending on how you prepare them. A serving of shrimp, fried and breaded, has 3,895 AGE kU. However, if you marinate them with lemon and steam them instead, it is just 903 AGE kU. That’s a huge difference!
Here’s another example of how cooking a portion of food can change the levels of AGEs: bacon, fried for 5 minutes with no extra oil was 11,905 AGE kU. But, if you microwave the bacon instead, it comes out at just 1,173.
Let’s take one more look at how (and who) cooking a potato changes things:
- A white potato, boiled = 17 AGE kU
- A white potato roasted for 45 minutes with a serving of olive oil = 72 AGE kU
- Homemade French fries = 694 AGE kU
- McDonald’s French Fries = 1,522 AGE kU
In other words, you can reduce your AGE exposure in half by making your home-cooked fries, rather than going through a drive-through. Better yet to have them baked or boiled.
Sometimes you can easily adjust the AGE rating with just a slight change. Sesame oil (1,084) has almost twice the amount of AGEs as olive oil (502), and sunflower oil has even less (197). In most dishes, you won’t even notice the difference.
Here are a few foods with high AGEs that you might not expect:
- Roasted Cashews – 2,942
- Cream cheese – 3,265
- McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets – 7,764
- A broiled hot dog – 10,143
- Chicken with skin, roasted, then BBQ’d – 16,668 AGE kU
Does this mean you should never have grilled steak again? Or never eat a burger and fries? Of course not! As with everything, it is about balance. But you can see how the American diet, which is high in protein and fat and frequently cooked at high temperatures, can lead to health problems – even above the calorie count. These foods lead to inflammation and obesity.
How To Make Wise Choices
While scientists are continuing to study AGEs and how they affect our health, there are many good reasons to limit high-fat foods, especially those that cooked in high heat. Fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains tend to be good for your body, and low in AGEs. People who are already at risk for high levels of chronic inflammation, (those who are overweight, have diabetes or prediabetes) can lower markers for inflammation by making good meal choices and choosing to boil, poach or steam foods, rather than broiling, grilling and frying them. If you do know that you are going out to a summer cookout, consider balancing your diet the rest of the week with foods low in AGEs. Most importantly, when it is time to choose what to eat, think about your goals.
Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704564/
Advanced Glycation End Products, Inflammation, and Chronic Metabolic Diseases: Links in a Chain? https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10408398.2012.744738?journalCode=bfsn20
Advanced Glycation End Products https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.621854
Dietary Advanced Glycation End Products and Their Role in Health and Disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4496742/
The ABCs of AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-Products)n https://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/abcs-ages-advanced-glycation-end-products
Diet‐Derived Advanced Glycation End Products Are Major Contributors to the Body’s AGE Pool and Induce Inflammation in Healthy Subjects https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1196/annals.1333.052
Association of Dietary Advanced Glycation End Products with Metabolic Syndrome in Young Mexican Adults https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6313307/