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Life Extension Magazine

Are You Cooking Yourself to Death?

By William Faloon

William Faloon
William Faloon

People nowadays categorize foods as being healthy or risky.

Overlooked are robust findings showing that how food is cooked has a lot to do with whether it prevents or causes disease.

One example is fish. We know that those who eat ocean fish have fewer heart attacks…but if one eats only fried fish, risk of heart disease increases.1,2

Depending on the cooking method, the same food can either accelerate obesity or aid in weight loss. Less understood are prevalent ways of cooking that convert foods into deadly toxins.

Back in 2003, I described a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that eating foods cooked at high temperature increases the rate at which we age. Scientists uncovered back then that ingestion of high temperature cooked foods resulted in chronic inflammation and accelerated glycation.3

Newly published studies confirm these dangers. For example, breast and prostate cancers are sharply increased in those who eat heavily cooked meat like hamburgers.4-8

This article will explain how to choose safely cooked foods and methods to protect your body against the lethal impact of foods prepared at excessively high temperatures.

When any food is heated to high temperature (over 300 degrees), chemical changes occur that inflict damage to our cells after we eat that food.9-11

Be it fat, carbohydrate, or protein, when exposed to high temperatures, toxic compounds form that you don't want in your body. We have repeatedly warned about the dangers of eating over-cooked foods…especially meat.

BBQ Meats  

A study released in 2012 from a prestigious medical center found that men who ate just 1.5 servings of pan-fried red meat each week increased their risk of advanced prostate cancer by 30%. Men who ate more than 2.5 servings of red meat cooked at high temperature were 40% more likely to have advanced prostate cancer.12 Considering that some men eat high temperature cooked meat every day, is it any wonder that aging men suffer epidemic rates of prostate cancer?

Fortunately most Life Extension® members take supplements with meals that help neutralize the proven carcinogens that form when meat is overcooked.13

Eating Lower-Temperature Cooked Foods Promotes Weight Loss

In 2003, we reported on a fascinating study showing that diabetics who consumed a low-temperature cooked diet lost weight compared to a group that consumed the same numbers of calories, carbohydrates, fats, and protein cooked at higher temperature. Not only did the low-temperature prepared diet facilitate weight loss, but there were also reductions in blood glucose.3


This six-week study showed that eating the same food cooked at low-temperature reduced glycated-LDL by 33%, whereas diabetics consuming the same higher temperature prepared foods increased glycated-LDL by 32%.3

Move forward to 2012 and a team of researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine identified a compound in over-cooked foods that plays a major role in the development of abdominal obesity and its related diseases.

The scientists found that mice with sustained exposure to this compound (methyl-glyoxal) developed significant abdominal weight gain, early insulin resistance, immune changes consistent with inflammation/oxidation and type II diabetes.14 Methyl-glyoxal is a type of advanced glycation end product that is produced when food is cooked with dry heat.

Most of you already know that glycation is a deadly mechanism of aging that destroys functioning proteins in the body and induces chronic inflammation, which in turn promotes weight gain.15-19 Nutrients like carnosine,20-25 benfotiamine,26-32 and pyridoxal-5-phosphate33-36 are potent anti-glycation agents.

In the Mount Sinai study, one group of mice was fed a diet high in methyl-glyoxal over four generations, while the control group was fed a diet without methyl-glyoxal. Both diets had normal calories and fat. Over four generations, the mice that ate the methyl-glyoxal developed early insulin resistance and increased body fat, whereas the control group had neither of these conditions.14

This study showed how a specific glycation-inducing compound (methyl-glyoxal), abundant in over-cooked foods, contributes to an increase in weight gain, insulin resistance, and diabetes. This same pattern of metabolic disturbance has occurred in human populations over recent decades.

Changes in Cooking Methods Can Slow Aging

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) or glycotoxins are found in foods that are overheated or cooked at very high temperatures. This includes foods that have been fried, barbecued, broiled or cooked in the microwave.

While the worst culprits are animal products, since they contain a higher amount of "bad" fats that speed up the formation of glycotoxins, any food exposed to extreme high heat can scorch the natural sugars in food and create glycotoxins.168-170 This is also true of many pre-packed foods that have been preserved, pasteurized, homogenized, or refined, such as white flour, cake mixes, canned milk, dried milk, dried eggs, dairy products including pasteurized milk, and canned or frozen pre-cooked meals.170 While it may be impossible to totally avoid glycotoxins, it is possible to reduce exposure by changing the way food is prepared. Consider steaming, boiling, poaching, stewing, stir-frying, or using a slow cooker.37,170 These methods not only cook foods with a lower amount of heat, they create more moisture during the cooking process. According to researchers, water or moisture can help delay the reactions that lead to glycotoxins.170 Marinating foods in olive oil, cider vinegar, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, and dry wines can also help.170 Finally, consider making small diet changes by adding more fresh fruits and raw and steamed vegetables to your diet.

The scientists found that the abdominal fat of the methyl-glyoxal fed mice produced pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are major causes of disease and weight gain in humans. In the presence of this glycation-inducing compound, glucose metabolism was impaired and fat turnover slowed. The result was insulin resistance and diabetes. Mice fed the low-glycation diet did not develop such problems.14

The research team that conducted this study recommends that clinical guidelines be revised to eliminate foods cooked using dry heat and replace them with methods that use lower heat or lots of moisture (water) as in stewing, poaching, or steaming.37 They gave examples of healthier dietary practices that include stewed beef, chicken, and fish instead of grilled meats.

Extinguishing Inflammatory Fires Within

As humans age, there is a systemic increase in inflammatory cytokines (destructive cell-signaling chemicals) that contribute to virtually every degenerative disease.38-49

While inflammatory cytokines can cause agonizing pain as in arthritis,50,51 they also disrupt the linings of our arteries,52-55 mutate DNA,56-59 and degrade brain cells.60-63 Chronic inflammation is directly involved in diseases as diverse as cancer,64-69 atherosclerosis,70-74 diabetes,75-77 aortic valve stenosis,78-80 congestive heart failure,81-84 Alzheimer's disease,85-88 and kidney failure.89-92

In aging people with multiple degenerative diseases, we often find elevated blood levels of C-reactive protein, indicating the presence of an inflammatory disorder.93-99 These individuals usually have excess levels of one or more of the pro-inflammatory cytokines.

The good news is that many of the nutrients, hormones and drugs being taken by Life Extension members suppress the production of these deadly cytokines. An increasing body of evidence reveals that avoiding foods cooked at very high temperatures can also reduce production of cytokines, thus helping to extinguish the inflammatory fire raging in the bodies of most aging people today. Wouldn't it be incredible if Americans could throw away side effect-laden pain killing drugs just by changing the way their food is prepared?

How Glycation Cooks Us to Death
BBQ Chicken

The glycation process that turns a chicken brown in the oven is exactly what happens to the proteins in our body as we age. When body proteins react with sugars they turn brown and fluorescent, lose elasticity and cross-link to form insoluble masses that generate free radicals. The resulting advanced glycation end products (glycotoxins) accumulate in our collagen and skin, cornea, brain and nervous system, arteries, and vital organs as we age. Unfortunately, glycotoxins are highly resistant to the normal processes of protein turnover and renewal that maintain the healthy tone of youthful body tissues and organs.

How does the body cope with these chronic assaults on proteins? Long-lived cells, such as neurons and muscle cells, contain high levels of a dipeptide called carnosine, made up of histidine and beta-alanine. Unlike ordinary antioxidants, carnosine blocks numerous pathways involved in the glycation process.

Age-Accelerating Effects of Glycation

Glycation can be described as the binding of a protein molecule to a glucose molecule resulting in the formation of damaged protein structures. Many age-related diseases such as arterial stiffening,126-130 cataracts,131-133 and neurological impairment134-139 are at least partially attributable to glycation. These destructive glycation reactions render proteins in the body barely functional. As these degraded proteins accumulate, they cause cells to emit signals that induce the production of inflammatory cytokines.

While there are nutrients (such as pyridoxal-5-phosphate and benfotiamine) that help protect against glycation,32 reducing consumption of foods cooked at high temperature can dramatically suppress deadly glycation processes, and the subsequent formation of advanced glycation end products (AGEs).

Cooking and Aging Have Similar Biological Properties

Cooking foods at high temperatures results in a "browning" effect, where sugars and certain oxidized fats react with proteins to form glycotoxins in the food. Normal aging can also be regarded as a slow cooking process, since these same glycotoxins form in the skin, arteries, eye lenses, joints, and cartilage of our body.

Studies show that consuming foods high in glycotoxins can be responsible for the induction of a low-grade, but chronic state of inflammation.15 In addition, the glycotoxins in food cooked at high temperatures also promote the formation of glycotoxins in our living tissues.3,140 Thus when we eat foods altered by high temperature cooking, these foods inflict similar damage to living proteins in our body.

Don't "Cook" Yourself to Death

Most Life Extension members already follow a healthy lifestyle that helps prevent glycation and chronic inflammation.

Protect Your Genes Against Overcooked Foods
Coocked Vegetables

It has long been known that heavily cooked foods inflict massive damage to the genes.

A group at the University of Minnesota reported that women who ate overcooked hamburgers had a 50% greater risk of breast cancer than women who ate rare or medium hamburgers. The famous Iowa Women's Health Study found that women who consistently eat well-done steak, hamburgers, and bacon have a 4.62-fold increased risk of breast cancer.171

Cooking foods at high temperatures causes the formation of gene-mutating heterocyclic amines, which is why deep fried foods are so dangerous to eat. Heterocyclic amines have been linked to prostate, breast, colorectal, esophageal, lung, liver, and other cancers. While health conscious people try to avoid foods that are known carcinogens, even grilled salmon contains a potent dose of gene-mutating heterocyclic amines.172

While one can reduce their exposure to cancer-causing heterocyclic amines, it may be impossible to keep them from forming within the body. Enzymatic activities that naturally occur in the liver can inadvertently manufacture heterocyclic amines from otherwise harmless organic compounds.173

Neutralizing Dietary Carcinogens

The first lines of defense against carcinogens consumed in the diet are agents that prevent gene mutation. Many anti-mutagenic agents have been identified in fruits and vegetables, the most potent being indole-3-carbinol and chlorophyllin.174

Life Extension introduced members to the anti-mutagenic effects of chlorophyllin back in 1989. The recommendation to supplement with chlorophyllin was based on a study published in the journal Mutation Research175 showing that this plant extract was a more effective anti-mutagenic agent than all other known anti-cancer vitamins at that time.

What impressed us most about the Mutation Research study was that chlorophyllin suppressed the mutagenic activity of carcinogens such as fried pork, diesel emissions, and coal dust by more than 90%! No other supplement came close to chlorophyllin's ability to inhibit deadly gene mutations.

The great majority of studies about chlorophyllin's health benefits concern its anti-mutagenic and anti-carcinogenic properties. Chlorophyllin 'traps' heterocyclic hydrocarbon carcinogens by reacting with their 'backbone,' making it impossible for them to form adducts with DNA.176,177

Additional Protection Against Carcinogens

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is found in anti-cancer vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. When I3C is given to rodents before they are treated with cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens), the number of tumors can be reduced by 96%. I3C has been shown to extend the length of the time between exposure to carcinogens and development of tumors by nearly 200%.178

One of the ways I3C protects cells against cancerous changes is by preventing DNA damage. I3C protects DNA not only in breast tissue, but in other tissues as well. A study from the Medical College of Ohio shows that I3C can cut the rate of DNA damage from chemicals in breast tissue by almost 92%.179 Others have shown that I3C decreases DNA damage in white blood cells by 82%, colon by 67%, and liver by 69%.179 This would seem almost unbelievable if it hadn't been confirmed by others who have shown that I3C can reduce DMBA-induced liver DNA damage by 90%, lung and trachea by 55%, and other tissues by similar amounts.180

Based on this plethora of evidence, if one happens to eat overcooked food, it makes sense to take at the same time, 100 mg of chlorophyllin and/or 80-240 mg of indole-3-carbinol and other cruciferous vegetables extracts. Most Life Extension members already obtain these nutrients in supplement formulas they take with meals.