BBQ Season. Hmm. I find myself often pondering between good and healthy, rarely does it become as abundantly clear to me as when grilling season is upon us again.
Almost everything we eat contains some component that can be interpreted as dangerous, but in that exact same bite may also be things that are undoubtedly good for our health.
Even when I think that I manage to make a sensible decision for health purposes, that sand castle can quickly deteriorate when climate, environment, fair trade and animal welfare are also accounted for.
And to add to that stack, it would be nice if the food taste good too.
Barbecue season is officially here and along with it pops up the issue of: AGE. It is an abbreviation of advanced glycation end products. This topic has already been breached here on Food Pharmacy by Stig Bengmark , he has highlighted the dangers of AGE for quite some time and that’s good.
Simplified, it’s about amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) reacting when they come into contact with sugars. AGE is considered to be one of several factors behind the aging process and is considered to contribute to Alzheimer’s. The effect has been similar to when an old rubber band dries up and cracks, with the slight difference of that it is happening within your own tissue in the skin, blood vessels and heart valves.
High blood sugar is a risk factor, but you can also absorb AGE directly through food. The largest direct source of AGE via the diet is by far from consuming meat that is fried or roasted at high temperatures. Other sources are processed food and pasteurized products, including hard cheese made from pasteurized milk.
One way to circumvent this is of course to avoid the dominant sources, but AGE can be formed to some extent in quite a few foods when heated up. One tactic is then to only eat foods that have not been heated above 70-80 degrees, but I think this is a rather sad solution because many flavors and fragrances are released just by heating through the so-called Maillard reaction and also by the process of caramelization. Cooking and heating can also have other advantages such as increasing the uptake of some substances which, on the contrary, are protective.
For the risk averse, there may be a golden middle road. In 2009, a study showed that test persons who ate a low-AGE diet could lower their AGE values by as much as 60 percent in four months. Because AGE is sometimes used as a measure of biological aging, they were, at least according to this single parameter, younger. How did their low-AGE diet look? In addition to eating a lot of vegetables with antioxidants, they prepared their meat by poaching, steaming or using it in stews. Since water never gets warmer than 100 degrees, no large amounts of AGE are formed.
AGE is also counteracted by vitamin E, which is found among other things in nuts and seeds. I myself draw two conclusions, but you’re welcome to oppose. The first is that, it is not just about removing the dangerous sources, but also about adding vegetables to the plate that at least partially neutralize the harmful effects.
The second is that I will once again be taking out the grill this year. No one can live a completely risk-free life. Some want to take their chances parachuting or climbing mountains. I myself choose to not to heavily weigh the dangers of occasionally roasting something like these:
Roasted carrot with arugula, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds and orange
2 bunches of carrots
3 tablespoons olive oil
6-8 thyme sprigs
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
100 g of goat cheese (chevre)
1 handful arugula
Peel and split the carrots lengthwise. Heat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Put the carrots on a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, thyme twigs and a pinch of salt. Roast in the oven until the carrots begin to get some color, about 25 minutes.
Roast the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan on medium heat. Grate the peel of the orange and squeeze out the juice. Combine with olive oil and a pinch of salt to create a dressing. Garnish the carrots with goat cheese, orange dressing, arugula and roasted pumpkin seeds.
So simple, so appetizing and so good.
But aren’t there harmful substances formed when the carrot is heated to such high temperature? My Answer: Raw materials stuffed with antioxidants provide protection, but don’t let it burn. The best is just when it starts to take on some color.
Photo: David Loftus
Henrik Ennart, together with Niklas Ekstedt, is the author of the recently published book Happy Food 2.0 (currently only available in Swedish, however your can find their first book Happy Food in English here.).