First up, understanding and preventing the causes of inflammation is fundamental to building the strong foundations for longevity and good health.
So what is inflammation?
In its simplest form, inflammation is a self-protection mechanism of the body. It is the process where the body attempts to remove what is causing unease and is the precursor to the healing process.
And in it’s not-so-simple form?
Chronic inflammation and ageing is linked to a chemical process called glycation that occurs naturally in the body. This process also occurs in cooking as the browning reaction between sugars and proteins due to high or prolonged temperatures. Roast meats, chargrilled foods, chips and baked goods are the result of glycation.
Glycation occurs in our body slowly over time, in fact the longer a protein lives, the more chance it will be exposed to the glycation process. In reality we are all slowly roasting away at 37°C much the same as a rotisserie chicken!
When a sugar molecule binds to a protein, fat or nucleic acid, it creates a mutated molecule that is not recognised by the body and therefore can’t be metabolised normally. These mutated or damaged molecules are acted on by free radicals to form advanced glycation end products (AGEs). As the sugar molecules bind with proteins, the cells become stiffer, less pliable and prone to damage.
This particularly affects collagen and elastin, leading to premature ageing (lines, wrinkles, sagging skin), joint and cartilage stiffening and hardening of the arteries. It also happens to proteins and fats in foods via cooking techniques such as barbecuing and chargrilling, and affects our skin externally through environmental factors such as UV exposure. The more AGEs or mutated molecules we eat, the more we age on the inside. Makes you think twice before you eat your burnt toast, doesn’t it?
AGEs-related disorders are also linked to telomere shortening or damage. Telomeres are DNA protein structures that are located at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres shorten with cell replication, leading to ageing and cell damage. Shortened telomeres impair cellular function, which leads to disease.
Not only do AGEs lead to ageing of the skin, they damage the structures in the eyes, leading to poor vision and, even worse, damage to the blood vessels increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks and dementia.
Common foods that we eat on a daily basis contain AGEs and we are happily eating them oblivious to the fact they may be assisting with the formation of lines and wrinkles. Many foods are made to look appealing using the browning process to give the food an enticing colour, texture or flavour. There is a strong relationship between the levels of AGEs in our blood and AGEs consumed in our diets. Heating foods at high temperatures increases the production of AGEs in food, and eating heat-treated foods readily transfers AGEs to the body. In short, the more AGEs-rich foods you eat, the higher your AGEs levels will be.
Foods that are high in AGEs are those that are grilled, fried, roasted, pasteurised or sterilised. Any food that’s browned or chargrilled, particularly high-fat, high-protein food, is also likely to be high in AGEs. Eating a low-AGEs diet can reduce levels of chronic inflammation and therefore reduce the risk of age-related disease in your body.
So what foods should we be cutting back on?
- Refined sugar
- White flours and breads
- Omega-6 vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower and canola (which are found hidden in many processed foods)
- Moderate alcohol consumption – have at least three to four alcohol-free days per week.
- Nightshade vegetables contain a chemical alkaloid, solanine, which may trigger inflammation in some people limit your intake of nightshade vegetables such as tomatoes, white potatoes, paprika, eggplants, goji berries and capsicum if you suffer from an inflammatory condition.
- Reduce intake of roasted and salted nuts, which are highly inflammatory due to the roasting process causing the natural oils to become rancid.
- Try to avoid excessive consumption of red meat and chicken (no more than 2–3 times per week), as it may aggravate inflammation. A lot of commercially produced poultry and livestock are fed corn and soy in their diet. This means meat has a lot of omega-6, which can be pro-inflammatory. Choose grass-fed meat.
RELATED: 6 Superfoods For Younger Skin
What should we be eating instead?
- Include fresh anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, garlic, rosemary, clove and ginger in your diet.
- Ensure regular intake of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and flaxseed oils. Fresh fish, particularly oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel, are a great anti-inflammatory food.
- Follow a low GI (glycemic index) diet including whole grains, legumes and lightly steamed vegetables.
- Eat foods high in antioxidants such as garlic, onion, broccoli, kale, berries, grapeseed extract and capsicum.
How should we be cooking our food?
- Avoid grilling, roasting or barbecued foods on a daily basis.
- Cooking on a slow or low heat in the presence of excess humidity, such as boiling, poaching and steaming will prevent the caramelisation, or glycation, of foods.
For further information purchase 'The Forensic Nutritionist'. The book will be available via Fiona’s website in August and sold in health foods stores in September. RRP $39.95