Q: How risky are the compounds called AGEs in cooked meats?
A: AGEs (advanced glycation end products) are compounds that seem to increase oxidation and inflammation in the body; they are linked to heart disease, and may play some role in cancer development. These compounds form when beef, pork, chicken and fish are cooked, especially at higher temperatures and with dry heat (roasting, grilling, frying and broiling). However, they also form in other foods and within the body. AGEs form when high-fat foods are heated to high temperatures and in production of dry-heat processed snack foods (such as crackers, chips and cookies). Animal and limited human research suggests that greater consumption of AGEs raises their level in the body. Although many foods contain these compounds, research suggests that people who eat the major sources – diets high in grilled or roasted meats, fats and highly processed foods – may consume more than double the AGEs of people who eat meals rich in plant foods with smaller amounts of meat, especially prepared by moist heat (in soup or stew, microwaved or poached). It would be premature to make dietary changes solely based on concern about AGEs, but the mostly plant-based diet with meats in only moderate portions (infrequently cooked at high temperatures) and with limited use of highly processed foods is already the advice to reduce risk of cancer and promote overall health. AGEs form within the body during normal metabolism, but in greater amounts in people with high blood sugar and perhaps with obesity. So the bottom line is that the basic steps that decrease risk of cancer and heart disease seem to also go a long way to decrease exposure to AGEs.