My diet is at least 50 percent raw but I do love my oven and grill. Roasted or grilled in-season produce are always staples on my plate, from zucchini and stone fruits in the summer to Brussels sprouts and pears in the winter. So I was disheartened to read the Mount Sinai School of Medicine study linking dry heat cooking to belly fat and type 2 diabetes.
In the study, researchers found that mice with continued exposure to a compound called methyl-glyoxal (MG), gained significantly more mid-body weight, and developed type 2 diabetes. MG is a type of advanced glycation end product or AGE, which is produced when food is cooked to high temperatures using dry heat, like roasting, baking, broiling, and grilling. Previous research has found that AGEs lower the body's ability to control inflammation, a known trigger of premature aging and disease.
To test the effects scientists fed one group of mice a diet high in MG over four generations. Another control group was fed a diet similar in calories and fat without MG. The unwanted side effects, seen within a few generations in the MG group, did not occur in the control group. In addition, the belly fat of the MG-fed mice produced inflammatory molecules, which led to the development of diabetes. In another recent study scientists found that a modest decrease in foods high in AGEs improved insulin regulation in humans with type 2 diabetes, without a reduction in fat or carbohydrate intake.
I was aware of the link between AGEs, inflammation and disease, but the accumulation of excess belly fat is new to me, and with studies piling up about the effects of AGEs, I plan to reduce my intake. To lower your exposure and the associated risks, here are five strategies to put into action:
Reduce the frequency of dry cooking. Eat veggies raw or steamed and poach or stew lean proteins, or consume them in soups.
Cook for shorter times, which may require cooking smaller batches of food.
Cook food at lower temperatures. In one study, scrambled eggs that were prepared in an open pan over medium-low heat contained about half the AGE levels of eggs prepared the exact same way over high heat.
Use acidic ingredients, which have been shown to reduce AGEs, including lemon juice and vinegar. Marinating meat for one hour slashes AGEs by more than half.
Eat more raw fresh vegetables and fruits and experiment with raw recipes. If you’re looking for a resource about raw cuisine and nutrition I highly recommend the book Becoming Raw: The Essential Guide to Raw Vegan Diets, written by registered dietitians Brenda Davis and Vesanto Melina.
What’s your take on this topic? Have you heard about the link between AGEs, belly fat and disease? Please tweet your thoughts to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine. To learn more about the raw diet check out one SHAPE editors attempt at going 100 percent raw for a week!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.