Scientists have revealed that the alarming increase in ‘lifestyle’ diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cancer could be directly linked to the food we consume, more specifically how we cook it. Consuming grilled, fried and baked food is progressively damaging our immune system, brain and circulation due to toxins created during the cooking process. Studies have directly linked even a moderate intake of these toxins to significant increases in the risk and severity of prostate and breast cancers.
Food becomes more tasty when cooked but at what cost? Even foods which are generally regarded as ‘good’ or ‘healthy’ can become toxic if they are prepared incorrectly. Understanding and avoiding these toxic cooking processes could prevent you developing cancers and diseases in later life.
What Happens When We Cook?
Cooking changes the texture, digestibility and even safety of the things we choose to eat. Anthropologist’s estimations vary wildly about when we started cooking, but it is generally agreed that the first instance occurred accidentally. Our pre-historic relatives may have stumbled upon an animal or plant charred by a forest fire and thought “hmmm, that tastes better” and we haven’t looked back since.
We have become so familiar with the concept of cooking that we don’t stop to examine if it is really in our best interests. No other animal eats cooked food. Our cooked food preferences is one of the reasons why we are suffering degenerative illnesses, casually referred to as ‘lifestyle’ diseases. These diseases are caused by how we live and primarily the food we consume.
There are both physical and chemical changes which take place during cooking. Starch, long chains of sugar molecules, in foods like potatoes, breakdown into shorter chains when it is heated. These shorter chains are further broken down by enzymes in our saliva to release sugars which we use to fuel our bodies. Heating often causes the texture of our food to change.
The energy added to food during cooking makes the atoms vibrate extremely fast,causing the bonds between molecules to break. Plant cellulose (which gives fruit and vegetables rigidity) is damaged by cooking, causing the food to soften, so it needs less chewing.
Animal proteins are also changed by heating: it can cause softening, for example the collagen in meat; it can also cause proteins to become harder, for example when you cook an egg. Animal proteins are very temperature sensitive because they have evolved to work inside a body. They consist of very intricate folding to create a specific shape, which determines their function.
Why do we cook?
Heating food above 150 degrees Fahrenheit (70oC) kills dangerous bacteria, reducing the chances of food making you immediately ill. However, the main reason we cook our food is to make it more enjoyable. Frying and roasting food makes it crispier, which we like.
Food also develops specific flavors as a result of changes occurring on a molecular level. The ‘browning’ of meat and vegetables through cooking is a result of two chemical reactions: the first is referred to as the ‘Maillard Reaction’, named after the scientist who discovered it; the second is caramelization.
The Maillard reaction is when amino acids (protein building blocks) bond with natural sugars in the food creating aroma compounds with malty or earthy flavors. Caramelization occurs in sugar molecules and gives a nutty flavor. The ratio of protein to sugars in the food determines the exact flavor: meat contains a higher ratio of protein so would incur less caramelization than carrots.
Both processes increase the hotter and longer you cook food for, so quickly frying incurs less chemical changes than prolonged charring on the BBQ. The amount of chemical reaction is also demonstrated by the color of the browning (or blackening!) of food.
As far back as the 1980’s scientists discovered that browning proteins through cooking actually reduces the amount we were able to absorb successfully into our bodies. Children’s universal dislike of bread crusts could be because they instinctively knew it contained 15% less absorbable protein.
Cooking can also reduce the amount, and quality, of available nutrients as water soluble vitamins will get lost in the cooking water and fat soluble ones will get dispersed in the fat.
The significance of temperature and moisture
Both caramelization and the Maillard reaction only occur when food is cooked over 300-320 degrees Fahrenheit (140-145oC) with hot and dry methods of cooking, like roasting, grilling, BBQing, frying and microwaving. Wetter and cooler forms of cooking, such as steaming and boiling do not provide the conditions for the chemical reactions, which is why boiled meat or carrots will never go brown and crispy.
The joining of an amino acid to a sugar molecule, in the Maillard reaction, is also known as glycation and the longer the reaction goes on for the more Advanced Glycation End (AGE) products are created. It is these end products, also known as AGE’s which are causing significant damage to many parts of the human body.
The hotter and longer you cook for the more AGE’s are produced. Cooking at higher temperatures is also more likely to produce hetero-cyclic amines which are specifically known to mutate genes which lead to cancer formation.
Studies looking specifically at the effect these AGE compounds have found that reducing consumption for just four weeks lowers insulin resistance, leading to weight-loss (for both diabetics and non-diabetics). The popularity of Raw Food and Paleo diets has been promoted further by their ability to reduce AGE’s, a mechanism which helps people lose weight. Cooking food at lower temperatures can also reduce troublesome glycation of internal fats by 32% in just six weeks.
Dangers of Advanced Glycation End products
AGEs are produced inside the body, in very small quantities, but we get a lot more from the food we eat as Dietary Advanced Glycation End products or dAGEs. They are found naturally in food, specifically animal protein, but the amount increases dramatically after certain cooking processes.
- Raw chicken breast (naturally high in protein) contains about 700 dAGE kilo units per 90g serving
- If you boil the same piece of chicken for 1 hour it increases to 1,100 dAGEkU per serving
- If you microwave it for 3 minutes instead it’s AGE content increases to1,300 dAGEkU/s
- But, If you broil the chicken for 15 minutes this figure increases massively to 5,200dAGEkU/s
- Worse still is frying, in just 8 minutes you increase the toxic load to 6,300 dAGEkU/s
- Boiled eggs contain 200 units each, but if you fry them this increases to 1,200 units each
- Potato increases from just 17 units per serving when boiled to over 1,500 when prepared as fries
- Even an innocent apple nearly triples it’s dAGE content when baked from just 17 to 45 units each
Diabetic individuals often have higher levels of endogenous AGEs (those produced internally by the body) due to poor glucose control elevating blood sugar levels. The diseases associated with diabetes, such as cardiovascular and kidney damage, are also seen in individuals with high AGE diets.
The body can process and get rid of AGE molecules, but when there are too many in the diet it struggles to cope. The molecules therefore accumulate in various places in the body causing a lot of damage. When they accumulate in the kidney they cause damage which can lead to complete kidney failure.
Since the damage done by these molecules is slow we may not even be aware it is happening. However, the biological markers for aging, such as skin elasticity and tone, immune function and mental cognition are also affected by high AGE diets. The physical processes associated with getting older are being accelerated by what we are eating and how we are cooking it. AGE literally makes you age!
In the body AGEs cause: inflammation (by stimulating the immune response); they cause free radicals to be generated;and they attach themselves to specific tissues, accumulating and forming lumps, which cannot be broken down.
Plaques form on the inside of arterial walls which can lead to heart attacks and strokes when they impede the blood flow, a similar plaque formation process is found with Alzheimer’s disease. AGEs specifically accumulate on nucleic acids (which make DNA), proteins and fats, which is why they are now being linked to diabetes, atherosclerosis, renal failure and neuro-degenerative diseases.
Types of inflammation
Inflammation is one of the body’s responses to danger. At the site of an infection or injury the body signals for specific immune cells to go to the site of the infection to deal with problems and start repairs. Acute inflammation like the swelling and pain resulting from an injury indicates the body is working and healing.
Chronic (long term) inflammation is completely different. It is like a state of constant immune alert which has been linked to many major illnesses, premature aging and autoimmune diseases.
One of the cell receptors involved in this inflammatory immune process has been labelled RAGE (Receptor for Advanced Glycation End Productss). This name is very misleading, the receptor although responding to AGEs was not evolved for this purpose.
It is a ‘pattern recognition receptor’ which means it will allow several different molecules to bind, and therefore operate it, even if they are not an exact fit. The high levels of dAGEs are just too much for this receptor which is in a permanent state of alert, signaling to the body there is a problem. This constant over stimulation puts unnecessary stress on the immune system and it also makes it harder for the body to target and repair real problems.
Scientists have found that when the RAGE receptors are over stimulated there is a positive feedback loop which actually causes the body to synthesize even more receptors, increasing the immune react even. A very high number of RAGE receptors have been found in tumors, indicating they have a direct relationship to tumor formation.
A high number of RAGE receptors is now considered to be indicative of a ‘pro-tumorgenic micro environment’. This means if you have lots of these receptors, because they are being over expressed as due to dietary AGE stimulation, you are much more likely to develop cancer.
Inflammation and cancer
Our cells have innate repair mechanisms, they are able to heal themselves or self-destruct if they detect problems. Unfortunately during long periods of immune stress they are unable to carry out protective repair functions. The constant stimulation of the RAGE receptors leads to large amounts of inflammatory cytokines (messenger molecules) to be released.
This signals an immune response is needed, however, it can also lead to the immune system mistakenly attacking the bodies own cells. When high levels of inflammatory cytokines are produced it leads to immune confusion and weakness.
The severe pain associated with arthritis, damage to brain cells and even mutation of DNA are the result of these cytokines being released. They are being released as a result of immune receptor stimulation by toxins in cooked food, and they are doing a lot of damage.
One method doctors use to look at a patient’s immune system is measuring the amount of C-reactive protein in the blood. This gives doctors an idea of the severity and duration of inflammation. The presence of the protein indicates a history of immune stimulation and is associated with high levels of cytokines. The levels of C-Reactive protein can help understand disease progression.
There are some diseases known to be a direct result of specific immune problems, known as autoimmune diseases including asthma, arthritis, diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome. These diseases often occur in body tissues less able to repair the damage of the out of control immune functions. Recent studies by the Mount Scieni School of Medicine linked multiple diseases to problems with the immune system related to chronic inflammation. They linked high levels of dietary AGEs to cancer, obesity, heart disease and cardiovascular problems. The American Journal of Epidemiology reported that just 1 to 2 servings of fried red meat per week can increase the risk of prostate cancer by 30%. If you have an average of 3 servings per week this risk goes up to 40%, and it is more likely the cancer will be more severe.
While we have been consuming, and cooking our food for eons, it is clear that we have reached a tipping point. The body can no longer cope with the influx of toxins we consume. The higher risk of cancers in later years is directly related to the toxic build-up within our bodies.
Alternative cooking methods
To reduce the amount of AGE’s you consume use cooking methods which are quicker, wetter and cooler. For example: steam, boil, poach or stew food. Stir frying is also less toxic: it exposes the food for less time and the stirring keeps the moist parts of the vegetables in contact with the pan, stopping the Maillard reaction.
Processed foods, specifically refined, canned, dried or pasteurized contain a very high number of AGEs as they are cooked for prolonged periods. Acidic marinades, such as using lemon juice or vinegar can reduce AGE formation by inhibiting the Maillard reaction.
Eating more raw foods and increasing intake of Omega-3 fats can also reduce chronic inflammation. Consume more foods which are naturally low in AGEs such as fuits and vegetables, seafood and whole grains cooked quick/wet and cool.
Dehydrating is an excellent alternative method to create the crispy crunchy texture enjoyed by many and is much healthier.
Time to make a change
It’s never too late to make changes to your diet. Eliminating these toxins can significantly improve your health, help you lose weight and even make you look younger. Cutting out processed and carcinogenic foods from your diet could quite simply save your life and significantly reduce your chance of developing deadly ‘lifestyle’ diseases.
Scientists and doctors are agreeing that chronic inflammation plays a key role in almost all diseases common to a Western lifestyle and diet. However, simple changes to your approach to cooking could halt these diseases in their tracks.
Adopting healthier cooking methods can quickly impact your long term well-being, and it doesn’t have to be difficult. Researching and writing this article has made me think even more carefully about what I put into my body. This morning instead of frying my eggs, I poached them and they were just as delicious!
To find out more about how to use foods as medicines, you can go to the next page and watch my video on ‘3 Alkaline Secrets to revitalize your health and body’.
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About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice.
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