How to cook your way to healthier skin: the story of AGEs

‘Healthy eating’ has long been shown to slow ageing processes, with diets high in antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables and low in saturated animal fats, processed foods and high sugar contents doing the opposite, but what about healthy cooking? You might not be aware but the way we actually cook our food might actually have an impact on ageing, health and inflammation. So how does this work and what can we do about it?

Inflammation is one of the main causes of cellular ageing, in the skin and all other tissues. It can result from many causes: disease, ultraviolet light exposure, smoking and infection, to name but a few.

But what about the food we eat? Aside from what we eat, there is increasing evidence that the methods we use to cook our foods can actually have an impact on inflammation and ageing. Fear not though, there are easy changes we can make to avoid this.

What are AGEs and how do they effect my body and skin health?

AGEs is the acronym for advanced glycation end products - molecules that are formed when protein and fat molecules in the tissues and blood link together with sugar molecules to create highly oxidative and damaging molecules. These in turn cause inflammation in our tissues (including the skin), which can result in damage to collagen in the skin, narrowing of our arteries as well as many other harmful effects over time.

Thankfully our bodies normally combat these by producing ‘antioxidants’ which neutralise AGEs and other ‘free radical’ molecules, but when the balance of antioxidants vs AGEs is lost, it becomes a losing battle to eliminate them and they accumulate.

AGEs do occur naturally in the body but they also are abundant in foods that have been exposed to high temperatures. When food burns, AGEs tend to be very high. When we consume foods rich in AGEs, they are believed to cause inflammation in the gut, disrupting the normal bacterial load and the gut barrier (which, in itself can cause issues) but we also absorb them into our bloodstream, where they are distributed throughout the body and can wreak havoc on other tissues, such as the cardiovascular system and skin. Indeed, many conditions have been linked to accumulation of AGEs including alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular disease.

AGEs and cooking methods

Dry heating methods such as grilling and frying, which use very high temperatures have been strongly linked to the production of AGEs, with studies showing that ‘wet’ heating methods such as steaming and slow cooking avoid production of these damaging molecules. Therefore, it may be advisable to steam heat foods rather than frying or grilling (broiling) wherever possible, and avoiding consumption of any burnt areas on the foods you are eating, as the burnt areas tend to be higher in AGEs

AGEs and high sugar diet

AGEs are also linked to diets high in simple sugars. Whenever there is a spike in blood sugar levels after you eat sugary foods, there tends to be an increased level of binding of these sugars to structural molecules in the blood vessels and tissues, such as collagen. This process of ‘glycation’ again is thought to result in inflammation, which over time will cause longer term destruction of collagen and elastin, including in the skin, which may cause thinning of the skin and fine lines and wrinkles over time. If you are looking to cut down on your sugar intake, try my SkinShake as a sugar free alternative for something sweet in your daily smoothie.