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The scoop on dietary AGEs.

Emma Stirling
Emma Stirling APD

Have you heard about dietary AGEs? No we’re not talking about your real age compared with a predicted health age, but a fascinating and emerging area of sophisticated nutrition science. AGE’s stand for Advanced Glycation End Products and researchers are becoming more interested in the role they play in triggering inflammation and damaging our health as we age. Let’s explore …

AGE gracefully? Advanced Glycation End Products are formed in many different foods, even natural foods like fruit and vegetables, like the browning of a cut apple or toasting bread. However, the levels are much, much higher in processed foods and our modern way of eating. AGEs are commonly formed in foods that have been heated to extreme temperatures like the commercial frying or manufacture of foods, but also in other processes like long term storage and refrigeration. Research suggests that the level of AGEs in our food supply may accelerate physiological aging and lead to premature disease development such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular and renal (kidney) disease. So it’s no surprise that scientists are on the path to discover a whole lot more.

Act your AGE It’s impossible to completely eliminate AGEs from your diet, but there are many steps you can take to lower your intake. In fact a recent study by Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia has provided evidence that dietary intervention using diets low in AGE content may improve inflammatory profiles, insulin sensitivity plus risk and complications of type 2 diabetes in overweight people. This has built on previous research, including a paper in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association stating that avoiding fast, processed and fried foods and returning to traditional methods of cooking such as boiling and stewing, can reduce the AGE content of the diet by up to 50%.

According to Associate Professor Josephine Forbes, formerly at Baker IDI and now at the Mater Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, ‘Glycation is a major problem in diabetes and these molecules have the capacity to do major damage to the organs of a diabetic person over several decades. Essentially, it speeds up the ageing process, and can lead to a ‘caramelisation’ of organs such as the kidney.’

Lower your AGE So it would seem that the old mantra ‘fresh is best’ shines through once again, and we now have new evidence for the superiority of eating seasonal, just picked produce as well. We asked Professor Forbes for her top tips on lowering dietary AGEs.

  • Cut right down on processed foods and eat more whole foods close to their natural source
  • Follow the seasons and eat like a locavore, avoiding food that has been in long storage
  • Look for handmade, artisan food products like breads and wholegrain breakfast cereals
  • Favour cooking techniques like steaming and poaching, over grilling and frying
  • Add plenty of aromatic fresh herbs and acidic juices (such as lemon and lime) to your meals.

Emma Stirling is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health writer with over ten years experience writing for major publications. She is editor of The Scoop on Nutrition – a blog by expert dietitians. Check it out for hot news bites and a healthy serve of what’s in flavour.