According to the authors of a book called Your Skin, Younger, the Atkins Diet will make you age faster. This is because, they claim, all that protein, especially if it is cooked dry and at high heat, contains nasty toxins called AGEs (appropriately enough). The idea of a grilled burger being toxic struck me as a bit far-fetched, so I decided to look into it a bit more.

AGEs are advanced glycation endproducts. They are created when a sugar molecule hooks onto one of the amino acids of a protein or when a sugar combines with certain fats or other compounds in food. AGEs also form within the human body when glucose fuses to proteins, fats, or DNA. (source). This is a bad thing because AGEs have been implicated in the progression of age-related diseases and, as we’ve written about on Truth In Aging, glycation leads to cross-linking, which is the formation of chemical bridges between proteins or other large molecules. A material that undergoes cross-linking usually becomes harder, less elastic and has a tendency to tear or crack. In the aging body, cross-linking contributes to hardened arteries, wrinkled skin and stiff joints.

So far so good, but I still didn’t get where the pan-seared meet that the Atkins dieter eats with relish whilst shedding pounds came in. It seems that dry heat, protein and fat seem to conspire to produce these glycotoxins. So while a broiled hot dog has over 10,000 units of AGE’s per serving, a boiled hot dog has just under 7,000 (an apple or banana, in comparison, only has about 10 units).

I haven’t much research to back this up except for a study conducted by Mount Sinai Hospital that found that AGE levels are higher as we get older. The blood tests showed that AGE levels were 35 percent higher in individuals age 65 and older compared with those younger than age 45. But The study also showed that in all of the participants, the higher the consumption of foods rich in AGEs, the higher the blood levels of AGEs, and higher the levels of CRP and other markers of inflammation.

According to the lead researcher, Dr Vlassara, “excessive intake of fried, broiled, and grilled foods can overload the body’s natural capacity to remove AGEs so they accumulate in our tissues, and take over the body’s own built-in defenses, pushing them toward a state of inflammation. Over time, this can precipitate disease or early aging.”

Animal-derived foods that are high in fat and protein are generally AGE-rich and prone to new AGE formation during cooking. In contrast, carbohydrate-rich foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk contain relatively few AGEs, even after cooking (source). The formation of new AGEs during cooking can be significantly reduced by cooking with moist heat, using shorter cooking times, cooking at lower temperatures, and by use of acidic ingredients such as lemon juice or vinegar. Plus you can counteract them by eating plenty of antioxidant rich veg and fruit. Unless that is, you are on Atkins.

Atkins dieters are by no means off the hook, but should take some comfort in the fact that I have read that 30% of AGEs from food are absorbed by the body and elsewhere I have seen the amount as low as 10%.