Monthly health columns are by a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He's an author and has appeared on national TV, including "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors Show."
By Joel Kahn
A plant-based, whole foods diet is one of the healthiest lifestyle choices. But buying fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and grains is just part of your quest for excellent nutrition.
You also must consider how you prepare the food.
Important components of nutrition are modified proteins and fats called advanced glycation end products, commonly referred to as AGEs. These appear in our body from what we eat and when our body manufactures them naturally.
Higher levels of AGEs contribute to diabetes mellitus and are known to fire up inflammation leading to heart disease, obesity and arthritis. AGEs also contribute to aging and are likely to speed up production of wrinkles.
The good news? Studies show that when you reduce the amounts of AGEs in your diet you slow the aging in your body.
When our blood sugar rises too high for too long, proteins and lipids are coated passively by the elevated sugars. For example, LDL cholesterol can become coated with sugars and can produce arterial plaques.
Hemoglobin inside red blood cells can also be passively coated by elevated blood sugars. Hemoglobin A1C is a common test that measures this process in the bloodstream. The bottom line is to get added sugars out of your holiday diet.
The second source of AGEs comes from food.
Frying and grilling -- particularly dry grilling like barbecuing -- are among the highest sources of AGEs in our diet. For example:
French fries from fast-food chains have nearly 90 times the amount of AGEs of a boiled potato.
Grilled or broiled chicken and chicken nuggets have up to 10 times the amounts of AGEs of boiled chicken.
Vegetables are naturally low in AGEs and their high-water content protects them from AGE production when heated.
Here are ways to combat "AGEing:"
Avoid charred and blackened meats. This is wise both because of the high AGE content and a reported link to pancreatic cancer.
Marinate meat before and during grilling. Moistened meats produce half of the AGEs of dry cuts. Lemon juice and vinegar combinations are particularly good marinades.
Cook for shorter times at lower heat. Avoid the high flames from extra lighter fluids and dripping fats.
Clean your grill. Removing burned residues or grilling on foil may help avoid charring.
Consider steaming, poaching or boiling. Healthful vegetarian and vegan diets are naturally low in AGEs and may be responsible for the longer lifespan of vegetarians and vegans.