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Slow cooking may be healthier: study Last Updated Tue, 12 Nov 2002 12:51:42

NEW YORK – Preparing foods at high temperatures increases the levels of a potentially toxic compound, according to a new study.

Researchers say the compound is formed when sugar, proteins and fat are cooked or browned at high temperatures by frying, grilling or microwaving.

Cooking meat high in fat was the worst culprit The compounds, called advanced glycation end products or AGEs, are associated with disease when found in the body.

Dr. Helen Vlassara, a diabetes researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, led the study. She said the compound can prompt an inflammatory reaction from the immune system, which may eventually damage blood vessels.

Diabetics are particularly sensitive to vessel damage by AGEs, she said.

Eugene Barret, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and president-elect of the American Diabetes Association, said the study is potentially important in the control of diabetes.

But he added the research is too preliminary to conclude that limiting AGEs will help diabetics.

Study too short to detect health changes, researchers caution

Vlassara and her colleagues studied 24 diabetes patients for six weeks. They were all given identical diets including chicken, fish and meat, but the foods were prepared differently.

Half of them ate grilled tuna, for example, while others ate it poached. Foods cooked using low temperature methods such as boiling and steaming did not contain as much of the compounds, the researchers found.

Those who ate the high AGE diet had more AGE in their blood, the researchers wrote. The other group showed declines ranging from 33 per cent to 40 per cent, Vlassara said.

The inflammatory chemicals have been linked to the progression of heart disease and diabetes-related damage such as blindness, nerve damage and kidney damage.

But Vlassara said it is too soon to tell what the health effects are, if any. In animal studies, a low-AGE diet helped to prevent the development of type I diabetes, where the body mistakenly destroys insulin-producing cells.

Vlassara said the key to lowering AGEs is to cook foods for a short time in the presence of high humidity. Meat should be boiled or steamed for the minimum time required. Sauteed meat should be cut very thin and cooked quickly with a small amount of oil.

The study appears in this week’s issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Written by CBC News Online staff