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heavy black skillet on gas stove cooking beef

For Better or Worse - Cooking Changes Food

  blog post author icon   blog post published date icon   11/22/21

Cooking  Disease  Nutrition  

Is healthy food still healthy AFTER you cook it? If you want to continue to improve your overall health and wellbeing OR you've been trying to improve a chronic health condition like diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, then you MUST know how food preparation (cooking) can positively or negatively impact your health.

What is Cooking Really?

We all have fond connections to our kitchen experiences - at least I do! Two things I recall the most are my grandmother's homes. Gram B always had a skillet of bacon grease on the stove. When we'd show up, she would turn the stove on and fry some WONDERFUL eggs in that bacon grease. My other Grandmother, still living at age 99, would make thin pancakes (of course, fried in bacon grease!) and roll them with sour cream and jam filling.

It has been over 20 years since, but these memories are still rich... AND IMPACTFUL. To this day, even though I have expertise in human physiology and wellness, I default to cooking the way I was raised, and I definitely eat too much bacon!

Cooking is a Chemistry Experiment

Cooking is a chemistry experiment: sugars, proteins, and fats are combined in various amounts and heated under various conditions for a certain amount of time.

This is chemistry! And, in chemistry, the combining of sugar and protein under heat is called a Maillard Reaction, not cooking.

Time and temperature cause the breakdown of proteins and complex carbohydrate structures (like the softening of carrots). With time and temperature, a couple of things can happen to the food:

  1. The sugars bind to the proteins to create NEW molecules, which are called advanced glycation end products.
  2. The fats are damaged by the heat, called oxidation.

AGEing: How do advanced glycation end products contribute to diseases like diabetes?

Even though most people do not know it, science has firmly established the link between how meat is cooked and risks for diseases like diabetes.

Science has also established that THREE things most impact the health of our food when we cook them:

  1. Cooking TIME
  2. Cooking TEMPERATURE
  3. Moisture present

So, food changes the MOST (and generally becomes more stressful and less healthy to the human body) with LONG cooking times, DRY heat, and HIGH temperatures.

QUICK TIP: If you want to get started with healthier eating, just turn down the heat and try to cover your food to keep it moist during the cooking process.

I do have some bad news for you... those wonderful flavors your grandmother created when she fried the onions in bacon grease, when your dad chargrilled your burgers and steaks, and that crispy skin on your baked (healthy?) chicken and turkey... those wonderful flavors are actually created by the Maillard reaction!

I hate to say it, but there is some truth to the colloquial comment by many health experts, "If it tastes good, spit it out!"

Fortunately, taste is a subjective phenomenon, and anyone can develop a LOVE for fresh, healthy, raw or minimally cooked foods!

How can highly cooked food hurt our health?

Ok, now we know that cooking under high temperature, for prolonged time, and especially under dry heat conditions causes NEW chemicals to be created in food called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGE).

We know that these AGE can contribute to the modern diseases we see like diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

But, HOW do these AGE products cause disease?

The AGE chemicals are oxidants. AGE are chemically reactive substances. This means that these chemicals, created by cooking, can REACT with other molecules in the human body. When AGE react with other chemicals in the body, like proteins or cell surface receptors, the AGE can attach to these important parts of the cell and disrupt how the cell functions.

For illustration, think of a receptor on a cell. The cell is the smallest working part of the body. Every organ is made up of certain cell types. These cells work together to cause the organ to function. Each cell of the organ has "receptors" on its surface... these receptors are like antennae that allow the cell to communicate with other cells and with its environment.

If the receptor of a cell is BOUND by an AGE, then that receptor will either send an inaccurate signal into the cell OR block the reception of correct signals into the cell. Remember, the cell does its proper operation for the body ONLY when it can receive the correct signal.

The food we eat, and how that food is cooked, will create a healthy or stressful environment in the human body. We truly ARE what we eat.

Now I want you to imagine the average American diet. Day by day, month after month, and year after year a person can eat highly processed and highly cooked meats, eggs, and processed shelf-stable food.

Research tells us that "Ultra-Processed" foods account for 50% of the standard American diet and further account for 90% of added sugar intake.

Now imagine the impact of this highly stressful food can have on the human body after decades of eating... every day for decades.

Essentially, Americans struggling with chronic disease are just suffering from too much chemical stress on their bodies from eat processed foods, super-heated foods, and probably the chemicals from food processing.

How can food processing lead to immune system problems and food allergy?

Processing of foods and the subsequent Maillard Reaction (AGE formation) can create chemicals that disrupt cell communication (as discussed above). The immune system communicates through cell receptors. So, when the receptors on the immune system cells are blocked or disrupted the immune system can overreact or under react.

The immune reactivity can contribute to a heightened low grade chronic inflammatory state in the body. As we've discussed before, chronic inflammation is linked to complex chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

When we eat foods that disrupt the communication of immune system cells, this can lead to immune disease and even food allergies.

What can we do now? Simple steps to begin to clean up our physiology and live a better life!

The benefits of reducing the intake of ultra-processed foods, super-heated meats and foods, and foods with long shelf life can be profound. (By the way, an ultra-processed food is any food that could get lost in your pantry for months and still look the same!)

Animal research has shown that the restriction of dietary AGE (superheated meats and ultra-processed foods) PREVENTS blood vessel and kidney disease, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, improves wound healing and insulin sensitivity (meaning, the receptors on the cell work better and so the cell functions better... leading to better physiology... and greater wellbeing!)

Step 1: Believe that HOW you cook your food WILL impact your health

Probably not today or tomorrow, but definitely over time.

Step 2: Teach your children and grandchildren

And start feeding them natural, minimally processed and gently cooked foods.

Step 3: Do a Food Journal

Writing down the foods that you are eating will allow you to OBJECTIVELY understand what you are really eating, how frequently, and the quality (or not) of the foods that you are eating.

Step 4: Believe that good food does NOT cost more in the long run

When you eat better food, you eat less. Why? Because processed foods are chemically designed to make you overeat. AND processed foods that cause inflammation disrupt your "I'm full now" receptors so you generally over-eat.

The human body does NOT need very much high-quality food. But I recognize that eating is something that we do for social and other psychological reasons (like boredom or to get a break from stress), so this is a tough thing to believe. But, in my experience it is still true!

Step 5: Learn more

Here's a research article that is very thorough. These researchers have tested a wide variety of foods to determine how stressful they are on the body (how high the food's AGE content is).

You can use this simple list to get a more detailed understanding of what foods you should start avoiding right away.

Take a look at these whole-foods recipes that taste great and are relatively easy to make.

I hope this article is valuable to you as you continue your journey to better health, health freedom, and authentic wellbeing.


Dr. Jamie

Jamie Wright wellness expert

Dr. Jamie Wright, DO, MS, FACOOG, ABAARM has over 20 years of experience in the medical field. He graduated from Michigan State University / College of Osteopathic Medicine medical school in 2001. He is Double Board Certified with a Master's Degree in Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine.

Learn more about Jamie Wright.

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