You may think grilling season is over now that autumn has officially arrived, but for 56 percent of the 200 million Americans who live in a home with a grill (charcoal or gas) barbecuing is a year-round passion. And that means you may be getting endlessly dosed with potentially cancer-, diabetes-, heart disease- and wrinkle-causing AGEs, or advanced glycation end products.
AGEs are compounds that are produced when proteins and fats are grilled, broiled, seared, roasted or fried. Ingesting them ups inflammation throughout your body that damages your circulatory system, promotes insulin resistance and feeds cancer cells.
When these foods are cooked at high temperatures, a chemical reaction happens that forms AGEs. And although AGEs are found naturally in your body, levels are hugely increased by eating AGE-laden foods, such as beef, pork, lamb, chicken, even fatty fish like salmon, that are cooked with high and dry heat. Studies show that this increases AGEs in foods by 10 to over 100 percent.
About 3 ounces of raw, skinless chicken contains 692 AGEs; broil a 3-ounce chicken breast with skin and the level zooms up to 4,364 AGEs. One roasted then barbecued chicken thigh has 7,922 AGEs. Three ounces of raw beef dishes up 636 AGEs, but grill or broil it and you hit 6,674. Even 3 ounces of oh-so-good-for-you salmon has 475 AGEs when it’s raw, but delivers 3,012 when dry-broiled.
Research indicates that many folks take in 20,000 or more AGEs a day, and that number is strongly correlated with all kinds of chronic health problems that you want to avoid! Cutting what you consume in a day by HALF has enormous benefits, easing heart disease risk, insulin resistance and all kinds of conditions that are triggered or made worse by excess inflammation.
So, you can have some AGEs -- if they don’t come from the saturated-fat bombs found in red and processed meats and high-fat dairy. But you’ll probably want to do whatever you can to reduce your intake.
1. Marinate mucho. When you grill proteins (stick with skinless chicken or fish), marinate them for at least two hours and use ample amounts of lemon juice or vinegar. Daphne Oz (co-host of “The Chew”) offers this tasty marinade for chicken thighs: orange juice and zest, grapefruit juice and zest, garlic, parsley and EVOO!
2. When grilling, go for veggies and fruits. If you crave that grilled flavor, opt for grilling asparagus, eggplant, squash, broccoli and mushrooms (doused with garlic and lemon juice or balsamic vinegar). About 3 ounces of eggplant raw has 116 AGEs; 3 ounces grilled with balsamic vinegar has 256; and 3 ounces of grilled broccoli comes in at 226 AGEs. (Grilling nonfatty foods helps you avoid another grilling-related toxin, too: When meat is cooked at high temperatures and charred, it forms hydrocarbons that fuel DNA changes and cancer risk.)
3. Dig into baked, stewed, poached and simmered entrees. Particularly tasty: poached salmon with a white wine, lemon, dill and vegetable broth liquid; chicken cacciatore; baked salmon burgers; chicken steamed en papillote (in foil on the grill) with artichoke hearts, tomatoes, red bell peppers and a lemon sauce.
4. On the stove, cook low and slow. A scrambled egg cooked over medium-low heat has about half the AGEs of a hot-griddle or hot-pan cooked egg. It’s time to reconsider that diner breakfast special with browned, dry-heat-cooked eggs, super-browned toast (more AGEs) and that not-as-virtuous-as-you-think side of super-crispy (often deep-fried) turkey bacon.
5. Avoid processed foods. Cut down on prepared foods and packaged meals. They usually are made using high temperature cooking to make sure all lurking bacteria are slain before packaging. That lengthens the processed foods’ shelf life, but not yours!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.