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Cooking Methods: The Bad & The Not So Bad!

Don’t Cook Yourself To Death!

Posted by NutritionMax - September 15th, 2014

How you cook your food, especially meat, is probably one of the most overlooked components of living a healthy lifestyle. Many people are unaware of the fact that there are some cooking techniques that actually produce cancer causing chemicals, let alone make for a very unpalatable food, while other methods are less harmful and protective of the nutrients. Let’s take a look at the cooking styles you want to avoid or at least drastically minimize using.

Let’s preface the topic by acknowledging one thing many Americans encounter daily. The exposure of fast food. Despite the dreadful ingredients used, the scorching overcooked, burned burgers and deep fried french fries provide a plethora of nasty, toxic compounds. Obviously, we have no control over how the meat is cooked so when we purchase fast food, we are doing a major disservice to our body by introducing a copious amount of toxins on top of the chemical flavorings, dyes, growth hormones and antibiotics. Some of these toxic compounds are acrylamide, glycotoxins/advanced glycated end products(AGEs), aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines.

No one is immune to these toxins as they are likely present to some degree in our daily lives. The concern is rather the degree of which we are exposed to them, not the simple fact that we are exposed. When the body is overburdened with health destructive factors, then disease can manifest. Because disease is a multivariable situation, glycotoxins are just one road to an endpoint.

Cooking food naturally produces some degree of unfavorable compounds especially foods high in omega-6s, poly and monounsaturated fats and sugar.

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However, it’s at high temperatures of 300 degrees Fahrenheit and above that produce chemicals like acrylamide. While this chemical is found in plastics and food packaging we aren’t entirely ever avoiding exposure, but we can minimize it. Frying, baking, broiling and roasting are cooking styles all produce a lot of heat that unfortunately binds sugar molecules in high carbohydrate food with asparagine, an amino acid, thus creating acrylamide. The length of the cooking also directly impacts the quantity of acrylamide made. Aside from cooking induced acrylamide, many foods naturally have it from the processing like grains, breads, cookies, cereals, potato chips and of course, french fries. The darker a food becomes like bread toasted, the more acrylamide likely is present. Please keep in mind that the jury is still out on this chemical in its cancer causing ability. Evidence in human studies in inadequate and further research is warranted to determine if acrylamide causes cancer, as per the American Cancer Society. Furthermore, agencies like the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) state acrylamide is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and “likely to be a carcinogen to humans.” However, both of these claims are hinged off of animal studies (1).

Glycotoxins are another group of perilous compounds that form from the union of sugar or oxidized fats with proteins when food is cooked at high temperatures. And one of the newly discovered glycotoxins generated from dry heating cooking, methylgloxal has been shown in induce major inflammation, oxidative stress, weight gain and insulin resistance (2). As you might know by now, chronic inflammation incurred on a daily basis is the foundation for many degenerative diseases like cancer, atherosclerosis and other brain diseases by causing DNA mutations, cellular dysfunction and deterioration of the arterial lining. Put simply, the way you approach cooking can either reinforce the risk of disease or not. The evidence in the scientific literature demonstrates that overcooking meat generates those nasty carcinogens, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Case-control studies show that 2.5 servings of overcooked red meat per week increases the risk of advanced prostate cancer by 40% (3). Another study comparing inflammatory biomarkers between high and low heat cooked meat showed that high heat induced AGEs increased LDL cholesterol by 32% and C-reactive protein by 35%. Whereas, the low heat group experienced the opposite; a 33% reduction in LDL cholesterol and even reduced weight and fasting blood glucose levels (4). These subjects were diabetics, which are more prone to AGE accumulation due to high blood sugar levels, but that doesn’t mean those without type-2 diabetes are in the clear. Regular consumption of scorched food can promote risk of type-2 diabetes.

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Dry heat cooking methods is really the killer here. So, what’s the preferred solution? Boiling, stir-frying, stewing, steaming, poaching and even using a slow cooker. Basically, anything that involves some water is ideal because moisture inhibits the formation of glycotoxins (5). Marinating meat with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, wine and lemon juice is not only a fantastic way to enhance flavor, but also discourages glycation.

Beware that many frozen and pre-packaged foods are also loaded with glycotoxins due to the nature of the processing. This is one of the major gripes I have with the dairy industry. Pasteurized and homogenized dairy not only incinerates many of the valuable micronutrients and immunoglobulins, but the heat processing literally binds the sugar with the protein molecules. The same principles can be applied to cooking red meat or fish. A gentle, quick sear of fish or rare to medium-rare of meat is the way to go. You minimize glycotoxin formation and you preserve the integrity of the food. Let’s be honest, it tastes better this way anyway.

Again, I’m not suggesting that every time you prepare meat you need to avoid grilling and broiling for the rest of your life. I’m quite aware that certain dishes favor certain cooking styles. I’m also not going to pretend I don’t grill. I certainly do. It’s just a matter of making a judicious decision when given the option, most of the time. And remember, your ability to combat glycotoxins is more the issue than anything (Topic for next articlepost) because no one is really immune to glycotoxins or AGEs. I’m just submitting ways to reduce exposure to them.

So in short, don’t cook yourself to death!



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NASM CPT, Master's in Human Nutrition
Precision Nutrition Sports & Exercise Nutritionist

Justin Janoska is a professional fitness coach and a clinical nutritionist who specializes in helping people with challenging diseases. He runs an online coaching platform where he helps people like you reach build muscle or lose weight.

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Saw the reference to "grilling" which is cooking over open flame/direct heat.  What are your thoughts on low and slow BBQ?  I use a water pan and typically cook @225 until meat is at desired internal temp.  Never OVER COOKED!!! (thats a cardinal sin in BBQ).  I also typically stray from any type of crap or processed ingredients on my BBQ. I make my own rubs and sauces for that specific reason. 

NutritionMax  Edit  Delete  Close

Low heat and long cook time is really always the better option for the aforementioned reasons, regardless if it's on the grill or now. The only time that's not advisable is when it's processed meat, then higher heat is needed to kill the unknown stuff and bacteria present. 


I suck at cooking, needed to read this.




Yet another reason not to eat your meats burnt like a piece of shoe leather :-)



Vervuel  Edit  Delete  Close

Good thing we live in New Zealand, with no Mad Cow disease, so undercooked beef is not so dangerous!

Scott_Herman  Edit  Delete  Close

haha..well then looks like you don't want me to cook for you John.. Better let Erica handle that if you ever come to visit!