Meat: Grill, Fry, or Broil it?

It seems neither. A new study claims that grilled, fried, or broiled meat contain toxins called "advanced glycation end products" (AGEs). And, Robert Preidt of HealthDay News reports that AGEs can lead to a myriad of serious health problems, like diabetes and vascular disease. Here’s more:
Grilled, fried or broiled animal products such as meats and cheeses contain a class of toxins called "advanced glycation end products" (AGEs), which have been linked to inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes, vascular and kidney disease, and Alzheimer's disease, say a team from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City…


…"AGEs are quite deceptive, since they also give our food desirable tastes and smells," senior author Dr. Helen Vlassara, professor of medicine and geriatrics, and director of the Division of Experimental Diabetes and Aging at Mount Sinai, said in a prepared statement.

"So, consuming high amounts of grilled, broiled or fried food means consuming significant amounts of AGEs, and AGEs in excess are toxic. People should be given information about AGE intake and be advised to consider their intake in the same way they would think about their trans fats and salt intake. They should be warned about their AGE levels the way they are about their cholesterol levels or cigarette smoking," Vlassara said.
Dr. Fuhrman makes it pretty clear. Too much meat and other animal products can contribute to serious health problems, namely cancer and cardiovascular disease. Here are couple posts that highlight this connection:
Okay, back to cooking foods. Does it really matter how we prepare our food? Be it animal or vegetable-based. Well for starters, Dr. Fuhrman doesn’t thinking frying is a good idea. He explains why in Disease-Proof Your Child:
Water-based cooking is the preferred way to cook because you can avoid cancer-causing acrylamides that are created when foods are browned by baking or frying.


Never eat browned or overly cooked food. Burnt food forms harmful compounds. If by accident something is overcooked and browned, discard. Avoid fried food and food sautéed in oil. Experiment with low heat cooking to prevent nutritional damage to the food and the formation of dangerous heat-generated compounds.
Now, recently I asked Dr. Fuhrman if acrylamides show up in other foods, like cooked meats, specifically barbecued meat. No surprise here, his answer was yes. Actually, he pointed out that acrylamides form in all foods. Check out this study from the Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition, it sheds some light on the development of acrylamides:
The exact chemical mechanism(s) for acrylamide formation in heated foods is unknown. Several plausible mechanistic routes may be suggested, involving reactions of carbohydrates, proteins/amino acids, lipids and probably also other food components as precursors. With the data and knowledge available today it is not possible to point out any specific routes, or to exclude any possibilities. It is likely that a multitude of reaction mechanisms is involved. Acrolein is one strong precursor candidate, the origin of which could be lipids, carbohydrates or proteins/amino acids. Acrylamide is a reactive molecule and it can readily react with various other components in the food. The actual acrylamide level in a specific food product, therefore, probably reflects the balance between ease of formation and potential for further reactions in that food matrix. There are indications in support of that the Maillard reaction being an important reaction route for acrylamide formation, but lipid degradation pathways to the formation of acrolein should also be considered.
At this point it kind of seems like a basic math equation. If too many animal products are bad and eating overly cooked food is also bad, then putting the two of them together has got to be really bad, right? Well, it sure seems that way. In Disease-Proof Your Child Dr. Fuhrman considers barbequed meat (and cheese) one of the worst foods you can eat for health and longevity. From the book:
Worst Seven Foods for Health and Longevity
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Potato Chips and French Fries
  • Doughnuts
  • Salt
  • Sausage, hot dogs
  • Pickled, smoked or barbequed meat

Foods high in saturated fat and trans fat are consistently associated with high cancer rates. Cheese and butter typically contain over ten times as much saturated fat as fish and white meat chicken and turkey.


Add the carcinogenic potential from heated and overcooked oils (usually trans containing) delivered in doughnuts and fries with the powerful cancer inducing properties of carbohydrates cooked at high heat (acrylamide formation) and you have a great cancer potion.
So, will people heed these warnings and cut back on the amount of animal products they eat and be careful not to dangerously cook their food? My guess, probably not, especially with this kind of rhetoric kicking around the blogosphere. Like LivinLaVidaLowCarb’s ringing endorsement of frying meat in butter—sadly, I’m not kidding. Proceed with caution:
I agree with the advice to shun the fried foods specifically because of the breading. But if you want to fry up your meat in a pan full of butter, then knock yourself out. It’s a healthy way to enjoy that succulent protein-loaded food.


While it’s nice to bake, broil, and especially grill meats, don’t fall for the illusion that cooking these ways is any healthier than cooking meat in fat. Avoid the trans fats, of course, but you shouldn’t worry about saturated fats as long as you are livin’ la vida low-carb.
Take a moment to note that butter is also on Dr. Fuhrman’s list of the seven worst foods. Okay, it gets worse. Check out this quote from Carbohydrate Addict, apparently this Atkins dieter thinks grilled-cheese is fabulous—sigh. Here it is:
I think one of the reasons Atkins was so perfect for me was because I was on low fat/low cholesterol for sooooo many years. All of the forbidden foods suddenly became okay to eat without guilt and my cholesterol is finally FABULOUS. I'm still on a high when I eat them! Egg salad, bacon, chicken wings, mac and cheese, grilled cheese.... YUM!
Yum? For bacon and egg salad? Whoa! What a world we live in. Reading rants like this makes me think about the opposite. What does eating a lot of fruits and vegetables do for us? Well, when you’re talking health and disease-prevention, Dr. Fuhrman explains they’re the best! From Fruits and Veggies vs. Diabetes and Colon Cancer:
While fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of nutrients, the consumption of vegetables is more helpful in reducing cancer because they contain much higher amounts of cancer-protective compounds-- especially green vegetables. Among these green vegetables, the cruciferous family has demonstrated the most dramatic protection against cancer. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, collards, arugala, watercress, and cabbage) contain a symphony of phytonutrients with potent anti-cancer effects. Isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are perhaps the best studied, have been shown to provide protection against environmental carcinogen exposure by inducing detoxification pathways, thereby neutralizing potential carcinogens.


These vegetables also contain indole-3- carbinol (I3C). Indole-3-carbinol has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer by decreasing estrogen activity. Important recent studies have shown that cruciferous vegetables and the compounds they contain can do the following:
  • Halt the growth of breast cancer cells1
  • Dramatically reduce the risk of colon cancer2
  • Prevent the replication of prostate cancer cells and induce death of cancerous cells3
  • Inhibit the progression of lung cancer4
And here’s more, from Is Heart Disease Totally Preventable? Take a look:
The Eat to Live vegetable, fruit, nut, and bean-based diet has been shown to be the most effective cholesterol-lowering dietary approach in medical history. This newsworthy data with the potential to save millions of lives has been ignored by the mass media. With this dietary approach, most patients drop their total cholesterol below 150 and LDL below 100, without the need for medications.


During the two years that the Eat to Live vegetable, fruit, nut, and bean-based diet has been under research study by the University of Southern California, patients have shown an average weight loss of forty-nine pounds, the most sustained weight loss ever recorded in a medical study in history.

In areas of the world where people eat a diet of unrefined plant foods, people have total cholesterol levels below 150, and there is zero incidence of heart disease in the population.5
1. Johnston N. Sulforaphane halts breast cancer cell growth. Drug Discov Today 2004;9(21): 908. Rose P, Huang Q, Ong CN, Whiteman M. Broccoli and watercress suppress matrix metalloproteinase- 9 activity and invasiveness of human MDA-MB-231 breast cancer cells. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 2005;S0041-008X.

2. Seow A, Yuan JM, Sun CL, et al. Dietary isothiocyanates, glutathione S-transferase polymorphisms and colorectal cancer risk in the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Carcinogenesis 2002;23(12): 2055-261.

3. Wu HT, Lin SH, Chen YH. Inhibition of cell proliferation and in vitro markers of angiogenesis by indole-3-carbinol, a major indole metabolite present in cruciferous vegetables. J Agric Food Chem 2005:53(13):5164-5169. Singh SV, Srivastava SK, Choi S, et al. Sulphoraphane-induced cell death in human prostate cancer cells is initiated by reactive oxygen species. J Biol Chem 2005; 280(20):19911-19924. Xiao D, Srivastava SK, Lew KL, et al. Allyl isothiocyanate a constituent of cruciferous vegetables inhibits proliferation of human prostate cancer cells by causing G2/M arrest and inducing apoptosis. Carcinogenesis 2003;24(5):891-897.

4. Conaway CC, Wang CX, Pittman B, et al. Phenethyl isothiocyanate and sulforaphane and their n-acetylcysteine conjugates inhibit malignant progression of lung adenomas induced by tobacco carcinogens in A/J mice. Cancer Res 2005;65(18): 8548-8557.

5. Breslow JL. Cardiovascular disease myths and facts. Cleve Clin J Med 1998:65(6):286-287. Campbell TC, Parpia B, Chen J. et al. Diet, lifestyle and the etiology of coronary artery disease: the Cornell China Study. Am J Cardiol 1998; 8210B):18T-21T.
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Comments (8) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Kent A - April 25, 2007 12:37 PM

Funny after three years of being on the Atkins Diet, I have been sick a grand total of 0 days even during the recent flu epidemic, which ran through my family. My cholesterol is through the floor, and my other blood work numbers are excellent. While I am not discounting the necessity of fruits/vegetables in one's diet (I certainly eat my share of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), my eating of red meat, butter, and other animal products daily certainly has not caused any quantifiable or qualitative negative effects in my life.

row - April 25, 2007 4:12 PM

kent, when you say your cholesterol #'s are through the floor, does that mean the #'s are low or high. What are your #'s and what is your age.

Kent A - April 25, 2007 7:58 PM

ROW - when I meant through the floor, I meant my numbers were low. Here are my numbers from my annual company physical: (before Atkins numbers will be in parentheses)

Age: 35
Triglycerides: 35
Total Cholesterol: 145 (BA- 196)
HDL Chol: 48 (BA- 35)
LDL Chol: 90 (BA- 140)
Chol/HDLC Ratio: 3.0 (BA- 5.6)

Kate - April 25, 2007 8:05 PM

I think this is really a great article! ;) It truely makes you wonder how the food we eat can potentially affect us in the long run. It also has helped me come to the conlusion that I need to reevaluate my food choices. Thanks for the info!

LLouise - April 26, 2007 10:17 AM

I agree, Kate; as we know, one "good" reading does not always portend well for the future; it IS the long run with which we need to concern ourselves. Many, many conditions are activated, but not detected for years. We know this about excess salt intake, sun exposure, and certainly poor eating habits. Going by one test result is irresponsible and dangerous.

A lot of folks are "healthy"; then 10, 20 years down the road, it hits them like a ton of bricks. Smokers are a good example.
Even my father, who ate horribly all his life used to brag at how healthy he was and how he had no health problems, none; now, in his 60's it's all coming down. He's got arthritis, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, sleep apnea, and diabetes (probably more that he hasn't revealed); and I expect, sadly, more to come.

Kirsten - April 26, 2007 10:20 AM

Kent, that's great that your cholesterol numbers are so low, but we are also looking at the function of the many thousands of phytonutrients in vegetables and fruits that work to fight cancers and heart disease.

row - April 26, 2007 11:03 AM

kent,
will you good blood levels, protect you from the cancer- meat connection that is the major concern of this article??

Kent A - April 27, 2007 11:13 PM

Kirsten - I never discounted the necessity of fruits/vegetables (I eat more than my fair share - >4 cups daily). Dr. Atkins was a huge believer in ensuring his followers had enough phytonutrients in their diet. That was his second calling for research. I simply caution against discounting the value of eating meat in one's diet as well.

ROW - Sorry I was addressing the only half the argument ("serious health problems, namely cancer and cardiovascular disease") about the cardiovascular disease. It is also the only one that one can point or diagnose precursor levels before and easiest to disprove. The cancer argument is highly subjective and likely where I and the readers of diseaseproof will part company. I can for instance point to recent studies like the one found here (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?alias=low-cal-ketogenic-diet-sl&chanId=sa003&modsrc=reuters) which point to low carb ketogenic diets slowing the growth of brain cancer in rats. Or the links or the higher carb diets leading to higher percentage of pancreatic cancer. It becomes a "which study do you believe" game. I would much more likely to point to actual numbers or hard evidence than to point to studies, whose biases sometimes can apparent by who funded the foundation.

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