Why burnt toast gives you wrinkles

Your bones, skin, brain, heart and more could all be damaged by one thing in your daily diet. Known as advanced glycation end products, or AGEs for short, they might be causing you to get old before your time.

AGEs are formed when proteins or fats bind with sugars, a process called glycation. This can happen in foods when they’re cooked or as the result of elevated levels of blood glucose in the body.

In small quantities, the AGEs you produce or consume get eliminated naturally, but ingest or create too many and your body can’t tackle them before they do harm. “AGEs cause a process called cross-linking, which damages proteins in the body,” says associate professor Barbora de Courten, from Melbourne’s Monash University. “This damage is linked to ageing and disease.”

The most obvious effect of this is the formation of wrinkles because cross-linking causes collagen in the skin to stiffen and lose elasticity, which creates the lines and folds you develop as you age. However, evidence is emerging that AGEs are responsible for a lot more.

In the past few months, researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine in the US have linked high intakes of AGEs with decreases in bone quality and a greater risk of fracture.

Meanwhile, a research team in the Netherlands has found they lead to reduced levels of physical activity in seniors.

A new study by the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne also suggests AGEs could reduce fertility.

They’re linked to increased levels of inflammation in the body and if that inflammation occurs in the womb, it’s believed to make it harder for an embryo to implant.

Conversely, cutting down on AGEs has shown positive effects. In a trial by de Courten, people swapping to a low-AGEs diet for two weeks increased their sensitivity to insulin, which is linked to a lower risk of type-2 diabetes and better management of the condition in those already diagnosed.

An earlier trial from the Icahn School of Medicine also showed lowered insulin levels in response to decreased levels of AGEs in the diet, as well as reported weight loss and lower inflammation.

“Our results suggest that cutting out AGEs can prevent type-2 diabetes,” de Courten says. “But long-term studies are needed to confirm this.”

Reduce your exposure

While scientists further explore the impact of AGEs, there’s certainly no harm in cutting down your exposure to them.

There are two ways to do this: consume less and create less.

“We create AGEs in the body in response to high sugar levels in the blood,” Fiona Tuck, author of The Forensic Nutritionist, explains. “So it helps to avoid sugars and refined carbs like white bread, white rice and pasta, which raise your blood sugar levels quickly. Instead, focus on consuming high-fibre, lower-GI foods like wholegrains, fresh fruit and vegetables.”

Smoking and carrying excess weight also create AGEs so avoiding both are key steps.

Although consuming less means changing your diet, the good news is this might not involve the deprivation you think. Here’s how to reduce the amount of AGEs in your daily diet:

Cook carefully

AGEs are created in foods containing high amounts of fat or protein, particularly red meat and dairy, but what significantly influences their amount is how the food is cooked. Incorrect preparation can even turn foods that are normally thought of as healthy like fish, chicken and nuts into AGEs bombs.

“The higher the temperature and the less fluid involved in a cooking process, the more AGEs are formed when an item is cooked,” de Courten says.

“Grilling, roasting and frying lead to high concentrations, while steaming and stewing create fewer AGEs.”

Some simple swaps during preparation can make a big difference; stewing chicken instead of grilling, poaching eggs rather than frying, and choosing raw nuts over roasted can all diminish the number of AGEs in your diet without you having to give up your favourite foods.

Mind the heat

AGEs are produced when a food burns. The more you brown something – like meat or toast – the more AGEs it will have. Toasting a slice of bread, for example, increases the AGEs it contains by about one-quarter. Try not to chargrill or burn foods and adjust your toaster setting to the lowest level you can handle.

Also, cook slowly. Scrambled eggs prepared on a low heat contain about half the number of AGEs as those made quickly at a high heat.

Marinate your meat

If grilling meat, you can also reduce the amount of AGEs created by marinating them beforehand. “Acidic marinades, like those containing lemon juice, limit the amount of AGEs formed,” de Courten says. A trial published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showed that marinating beef in lemon juice for an hour before grilling cut the amount of AGEs produced by half.

Spice up your life

Herbs and spices also seem to help. In a clinical test, rosemary was found to cut the amount of AGEs by more than 90 per cent.

“Rosemary is a very powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, and both of these help reduce AGE formation,” Tuck says. “It’s interesting that many cultures combined meats and rosemary when cooking before science even proved it was a good idea.”

And if you needed another reason to embrace turmeric, the Indian spice also seems to reduce the effects of AGEs.

Lastly, sticking to some common sense food rules can diminish the AGEs in your diet.

Grains, legumes, vegetables and fruit contain the lowest amount of all the food groups, so base your diet around these.

The more refined carbs in a food like bread, the more AGEs it will produce when cooked, so stick with wholegrains.

Higher fat and aged cheeses (like parmesan) also contain more AGEs than lower-fat, non-aged varieties. Ditto butter.

Scrambled eggs cooked with a little cooking spray were found to have 40 per cent fewer AGEs than those made with butter.

The idea that how you prepare your food could make such a big difference to how you age isn’t revolutionary, but it’s definitely an easier change for many of us to stick to than giving up some foods. Plus, it should make you think twice before you eat that piece of burnt toast!

For more on this topic, this is how you clean products are ageing you. Plus, this is how the keto diet can slow down the ageing process.

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