By Gillian Scobie
Maybe it’s not surprising that something that speeds up the aging process is called AGE, or advanced glycation end-product. The research is ongoing but there is strong evidence that glycation (from the Greek glucos (sugar)) is involved in degenerative diseases and aging.
AGEs are harmful molecules that are created when sugar sticks to a protein molecule. For instance, red blood cells are proteins that have slippery surfaces so they can get into the smallest areas of the body, such as your toes. But when sugar gets stuck to them, the structure of the protein is damaged, forming tissue that’s tough and inflexible and tears easily. Now they can’t move freely anymore and start gumming everything up. And I mean everything—these new toxic proteins end up in your brain, your nervous system, your vascular system and your vital organs.
Think of a rubber mat or hose that hardens when it’s left in the sun. In the same way, if a sugar molecule binds to proteins like collagen and elastin—the skin proteins that keep your skin smooth and young-looking—then your skin will wrinkle. AGEs also contribute to the brain plaque that causes Alzheimer’s; they collect in your eyes and cause cataracts; they also stiffen arteries and make the cells that line your blood vessel walls fragile.
Most of us eat three times more AGEs than our bodies can handle–every day. You probably already know what kinds of foods these are—yup, the barbecued, fried, grilled, and roasted meats you love to eat (glycation is the process that turns a roast turkey brown and causes age spots on skin). Hamburgers, French fries, potato chips. And bread, pastries, cookies. The more sugar you eat, the more AGEs you develop.
But of course you can do something about this.
Change Your Diet: Limit roasted, broiled and fried meats. Instead, cook with water. Boil, steam, stew or poach, stir fry, or even use a slow cooker to cook your foods. These methods cook foods at a lower heat and create more moisture during the cooking process. Water prevents these sugars from binding to the protein and fat molecules. Preparing food at temperatures less than 250° F minimizes the formation of AGEs. Use water when you cook and you eliminate the production of AGEs.
Follow these tips:
- Keep blood sugar low with a real foods diet — This will reduce the sugar supplies available for glycation.
- Eat vegetables and fruits raw, boiled, or steamed — AGEs cannot form in raw fruits or vegetables, while boiling and steaming introduce water to the cooking process. Water prevents sugars from binding to protein molecules.
- Avoid processed carbohydrates and browned foods — Food manufacturers take steps to increase caramelization and browning in their foods to make them tastier, thus increasing the levels of AGEs in the foods.
- Cook meats low and slow — Higher temperatures produce more AGEs than lower temperatures with longer cooking times. Rare and medium-rare meats will have fewer AGEs than fully cooked meats, like barbeque or well-done steak.
- Drink green tea.
Exercise: Japanese researchers have found that exercise can help to reduce AGEs. Think of exercise as a way of throwing your AGEs in the trash. Exercise burns calories and also lowers your insulin resistance. As a result, it stabilizes your blood sugar.
AGEs reduce muscle mass and because sugar is attached to muscle proteins, their normal muscle function is inhibited. That increases muscle stiffness. So when you exercise you stimulate anti-aging phenomena, such as: increasing the rate of turnover of collagen in muscles and tendons; producing growth hormones; and reducing oxidative damage. Exercise can even reverse glycation.
And remember to wear sunscreen when you’re exercising outside. A lot more AGEs occur with unprotected skin.
Gillian Scobie is an editor and writer as well as an avid cyclist, runner, swimmer and cross-country skier in Perth, Ontario. She has a special interest in nutrition and how diet can help maximize the body’s energy.
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