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Today, conflicting information about the best approach to nutrition and food preparation is rampant. While magazines, websites, and social media sources in both the fitness and food industries tend to publish contradictory pieces of advice, one source which continues to be a definitive resource for credible information is science. Specifically, scientifically-proven, definitive dietary recommendations provide insight into the things we can do to improve our eating habits and, subsequently, our overall health.
One emerging area of interest in the food science research community is that of advanced glycation end-products, also known as AGEs. While further research must be conducted to confirm the precise role these agents play in our nutrition and overall health, this guide will examine some of the conclusions, which have been drawn from completed studies.
AGEs are a multifaceted array of compounds produced by the body as a result of various chemical reactions. They are typically formed when sugars (such as glucose and fructose) combine with free amino acids or fats. This process serves as a natural function of daily metabolism and is not inherently harmful. In healthy adults, it occurs at normal rates; however, a certain set of both controllable and uncontrollable factors can increase AGEs content in the body, causing them to reach unhealthy levels. Specifically, the process is more likely to occur when blood sugar levels are elevated; thus, individuals with poorly controlled type 2 diabetes tend to have higher AGEs levels.
Beyond affecting metabolism, elevated AGEs can also lead to an increase in oxidative stress and inflammation, both of which are key contributors to long-term chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. In general, an accumulation of AGEs wreaks havoc on the cells, leading to premature aging. Although researchers have yet to determine whether AGEs play a causative role in the following conditions, they have been linked to insulin resistance, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, kidney disease, and even certain types of cancer. Moreover, AGEs can clog tiny blood vessels, known as the microvascular system, all throughout the body. This is especially dangerous in the heart, kidneys, and brain, and could contribute to the complications many diabetes sufferers experience.
While the body has its own ways to filter out AGEs, including through enzymes and the kidneys, it simply is unable to keep up with a surplus of AGEs. And, those formed in the body are more likely to accumulate when individuals fail to control the ways through which they are consumed.
To further understand AGEs and their potential role in the development of chronic disease, we must first understand what proliferates them. Time is one known factor which leads to a rise in AGEs. With age, the body undergoes years of routine metabolic breakdown, which ultimately leads to the elevation of AGEs. Nonetheless, research shows that in healthy individuals – including older adults – the level of AGEs is normal and expected. Thus, outside of the typical proliferation of AGEs which occurs with age, we must assess other variables which can lead to the increase in AGEs. From what researchers have found, nutrition is among the most powerful causes of increased levels of AGEs.
Some foods are inherently higher in dietary AGEs than others. The typical Western diet, for instance, is high in:
These foods and their preparation methods can have a significant impact on the concentration of AGEs in the body, in addition to many other negative health markers. For instance, in a meta-analysis, fatty meats (specifically, low-quality red meats) and processed carbohydrates such as cakes, cookies, and crackers had the highest AGEs content. Dairy and other cheeses showed high AGEs content as well. Sources of lean protein, such as seafood and white meat poultry, had a lower concentration of AGEs than red meat and dairy. The lowest levels were featured in whole food, non-processed carbohydrates, including plant foods such as fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains.
Beyond the food source itself, research also tells us that the ways in which we prepare our food also accounts for a variance in AGEs level. Exposure to high heat for an extended period of time can lead to an increased level of AGEs, for instance, especially in animal products. Boiling, steaming, and stewing meat can reduce the level of AGEs by 50%, compared to frying, searing, roasting, and sautéing. In the aforementioned study, all common preparation methods for meat and poultry were compared, and the findings were telling: broiling meat and chicken can increase the content of AGEs to 5,800 kU/100g. Boiling or stewing, on the other hand, brings that figure down to 1,200 to 2,000 kU/100g.
Additionally, findings have shown that marinating food in vinegar, lemon juice, and other acidic substances activates the compound aminoguanidine. This compound inhibits the formation of AGEs in food as it cooks. Specifically, marinating meat in an acidic base up to an hour before cooking has shown to significantly lower the overall AGEs content of the food.
In addition to reducing the AGEs content in the meat we consume, it is also a wise practice to consume foods which have inherently low levels of AGEs. As mentioned previously, these food sources consist primarily of plants, including vegetables and fruits, as well as whole grains and legumes.
While they do not contain meats, processed carbohydrates including breads, cookies, crackers, and cakes tend to be much higher in AGEs. This is due to the fact that they are prepared with solid fat sources, such as non-organic and non-grass-fed dairy butter, and baked at temperatures known to increase AGEs levels.
While it might seem simple to cut out all animal products from our diet to lower the AGEs levels in our food intake, this simply isn’t realistic for many modern Americans. In fact, doing so could cause us to miss out on critical nutrients needed to support optimal health and bodily functioning.
Essential amino acids, in particular, are needed to build lean mass when combined with a well-balanced training program. While it is possible to substitute plant proteins for meat products to some degree, fish, eggs, and meat are highest in these critical nutrients. Some essential amino acids cannot be created by the body and therefore must be consumed. Animal protein has the highest ratio of essential amino acids; therefore, consuming high-quality animal protein is the most effective way to ensure healthy muscle protein synthesis.
When it comes to consuming meat, many medical professionals would argue that the benefits received from high-quality sources, especially when prepared in ways that reduce AGEs levels, outweigh the potential risks of the remaining AGEs left in the food. However, the same cannot be said for processed foods. Cakes, cookies, crackers, and processed meats are the greatest offenders in terms of increasing AGEs, as well as other inflammatory markers. These foods tend to have high levels of simple sugars, are cooked at high temperatures, and have little to no nutritional value. They are typically low in micronutrients, or vitamins and minerals. Moreover, these foods present the greatest threat to one’s health in virtually all areas. While cutting them out of the diet to lower AGEs is a worthwhile endeavor, many individuals also reduce their intake of nutritionally deficient processed foods to achieve other goals as well, such as lower blood sugar levels (A1C) to reduce the risk of or control diabetes, or to simply lose weight.
Further research must still be done for experts to understand the effect of AGEs on the proliferation of chronic inflammation, stress, and disease. Nonetheless, based on what we have seen so far, it is clear that lowering AGEs through healthy dietary approaches can only help individuals reduce inflammation and minimize the risk of deadly diseases. Here are some key takeaways to bear in mind.
Weight training is essential to building and maintaining lean muscle mass and, in order to support this process, individuals must have ample amino acid protein sources in their diet. This facilitates muscle protein synthesis. While animal protein is considered highest in AGEs, when consumed in proper amounts according to individual needs and prepared in a way to minimize AGEs, its benefits are believed to outweigh any long-term risk of disease. Individuals should focus on consuming high-quality protein sources, such as lean animal protein, high in essential amino acids. Cooking meat slowly and marinating in vinegar, lemon or other citrus can lower the AGEs content. Minimizing consumption to red meat sources is also suggested and, when it is consumed, grass-fed beef is best. Solid fat sources, such as butter, should be from organic, grass-fed dairy and should be consumed in moderation.
While processed carbohydrates, such as those found in cookies, cakes, and breads, are high in AGEs; whole, unprocessed carbohydrates support long-term health. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are not only low in AGEs but also high in fiber, micronutrients, and phytochemicals. All of these components enable the body’s ability to remove free radicals and oxidative metabolites, strengthening its natural antioxidant system and subsequently lowering inflammation and disease risk. Although further studies must be conducted surrounding AGEs in these and other food sources, the research on AGEs supports what we already know about whole food carbohydrates, which is that they are essential to long-term health, exercise performance, and wellness.
In terms of exercise, individuals can benefit from combining cardiovascular activity, weight training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), and flexibility exercises. Pursuing a balance among these activities is the best way to maintain the strength and elasticity of the muscles. It also helps to maintain healthy blood pressure levels and resting heart rate. These exercises, when combined, also increase cardiovascular capacity and decrease the rate of oxidative stress development as we age.
Ultimately, nutrition is among the most important factors in healthy aging, and optimizing one’s diet is the most powerful approach we have at our disposal to minimize inflammation and control risk factors for serious diseases. While readily available, processed foods have the worst impact on our health; they are nutrient-poor but calorie-dense, and typically high in AGEs.
While lowering AGEs is not the only way to minimize inflammation and lower the risk of chronic illness, it stands out as an important one. As the medical field evolves its understanding of these harmful agents, it is likely proactively made attempts to control them through optimizing diet and following a balanced exercise regimen that we will see the best long-term health outcomes..
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We hope the information above assisted you in your research process.
This guide was produced with contributions from the following key resources:
Joshua D’Alessandro MS, CSCS, CISSN Nutrition & Exercise Counselor at Cenegenics New York City
The Cenegenics Education and Research Foundation
The Textbook of Age Management Medicine Volume 1: Mastering Healthy Aging Nutrition, Exercise and Hormone Replacement Therapy
Jeffrey Park Leake, M.D., CPT
Dr. Jeffrey Park Leake is a Partner and Director of Education at Cenegenics Elite Health specializing in age management and wellness. Having trained hundreds of physicians worldwide, Dr. Leake is also the Director of Education for the Clinical Strategies for Healthy Aging course at AMM Educational Foundation.
Todd David Greenberg, M.D., CSCS
Dr. Todd Greenberg is a practicing physician with a broad range of expertise, including wellness, exercise, sports injuries, and MRI of sports injuries. He is a Radiology Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Washington.
 Uribarri, Jaime, et al. “Advanced Glycation End Products in Foods and a Practical Guide to Their Reduction in the Diet.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 110, no. 6, June 2010, pp. 911–916., doi:10.1107/s0108768107067079/bk5067sup1.ci
 “What Are AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-Products)?” Berkeley Wellness. Retrieved from URL: www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/abcs-ages-advanced-glycation-end-products.
 Berkeley Wellness, see above.
 Uribarri, Jaime, et al, see above.
 Uribarri, Jaime, et al, see above.
 Uribarri, Jaime, et al, see above.