You may have heard that grilling is bad for you. That’s because when you heat food on your grill to high temperatures, the characteristic “browning” makes AGEs. That is the “advanced glycation end products.” AGEs are molecules that are formed when a sugar molecule reacts with a protein. When that happens, the protein becomes damaged. This can be a big problem when the protein is in the kidney or in the blood vessels. It can lead to heart disease, blindness, atherosclerosis, and kidney disease. So the fewer AGEs you have in your body, the better.
But here’s the thing. You can also get AGEs in your food. Many assumed that because AGEs in your body are bad for you, eating them can be bad too. But no one had ever proved this assumption. In fact, many have said no, the AGEs in food don’t count because they don’t actually destroy body proteins. But others have warned that it may not be that simple. And now a new study has proven that the AGEs you eat are not a problem.
The study looked at the effect of a diet high in AGEs in 24 healthy men and women between the ages of 50-69. Before the study started, the researchers measured various factors that can be influenced by AGEs when they are made in the body. The tests included peripheral arterial tonometry. This is a test that determines something called endothelial function. The endothelial cells are those that are primarily responsible for circulation. Poor endothelial function is what causes most of the problems attributed to AGEs.
They also measured all the important markers of AGEs (soluble receptor for AGEs and endogenous secretory receptor for AGEs) as well as markers of inflammation (interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, vascular adhesion molecule-1, and tumor necrosis factor-α receptors I and II). The point in listing all these tests is just to let you know that they missed virtually nothing in this study.
Once the tests were in the bag, the researchers gave half of the participants a diet high in AGEs, and the other half a diet low in AGEs. Then after six weeks, they rechecked all the tests again. What happened? Absolutely nothing. There was no difference at all in any of the tests. The effect of eating all those high AGEs foods was negligible. The results of this study should close the door on all the debate.
Browning your food isn’t dangerous. But it does make it taste great. So eating BBQ, grilled meats, brown rice, and sautéed vegetables isn’t a problem. This is good news for food lovers. But it’s also a sobering reminder for sugar eaters. The more sugar you eat, the higher your blood sugar will be, the more AGEs your body will make, and the faster your body will age.
One inexpensive and easy-to-do test that can indicate how much AGEs are forming in your body is the A1c blood test. A1c measures the amount of glycation that has taken place on the hemoglobin protein. It is a pretty good indicator of how much glycation is probably taking place in your body right now. Normal levels are between 4.6 to 5.8%. But lower is better. So enjoy your grilled meats and veggies, but skip any additional sugar.
by Frank Shallenberger, MD
REF: Semba RD, Gebauer SK, Baer DJ, et al. Dietary intake of advanced glycation end products did not affect endothelial function and inflammation in healthy adults in a randomized controlled trial. J Nutr. 2014 Jul;144(7):1037-42.