Maillard's Reaction - Why You Might Want To Turn Down The Heat On Your Sizzlin' Sausages

Maillard's Reaction - Why You Might Want To Turn Down The Heat On Your Sizzlin' Sausages

While many people love a good fried, beautifully browned burger or sizzlin' sausage, have you ever taken a look into what's happening that gives meat that nice brown glaze?  Worse yet, have you ever wondered what that process is doing inside your body?

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Maillard's reaction is the browning effect that occurs when you use high heat to cook selected food products.  The trouble with this tasty glaze is that this process results in the production of AGEs - Advanced Glycation End Products.  This happens when protein or fat combines with sugar in the bloodstream, resulting in added burden of oxidative stress.[1]   Maillard's reaction is not the only way AGEs are produced, but it is one of the most common. [3]

Why Are AGEs Problematic?

AGEs are particularly problematic because they have been shown to contribute to disease risk including impaired LDL cholesterol, hyperglycemia, Cardiovascular risk, cancer risk and elevated inflammatory CRP biomarkers.[1]   They have heavily been implicated in complications and triggers in Type 2 Diabetes, even accelerating diabetic vascular complications. [2]  It is generally accepted that insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes stem from over nourishment and largely from inflammation and elevated oxidative stress.  The additional complication of AGEs increases this burden in diabetics. [4]

Why should this matter when it comes to a juicy grilled burger or fried slab of bacon?  Well, to people that are already at risk for the above diseases you could be adding fuel to the fire.  Outside of diabetic patients, it is also a particularly worthy consideration for those that tend towards inflammatory conditions, eat few fruits and/or vegetables, or are already diagnosed with diabetes, cancer, or heart disease.[1]   

Individuals with kidney dysfunctions need to especially be alert as well, as the AGEs are broken down by enzymes in the body, and then excreted through the kidneys. [3] This can put added burden on an already impaired organ system. 

Here is what you can put to use right now to protect yourself from needless AGE risk:

* The main factors that contribute to the level of AGEs produced are time, temperature, presence of trace metals, humidity and ph of the food itself. [3]  Popular methods of cooking that increase AGEs are broiling and frying so try to use alternative cooking methods.[1]

*  The lowest AGEs produced in cooking include steaming, poaching, boiling, stewing, stir frying and using a slow cooker. [1]  Basically moist cooking in general, over lower time frames and lower temperatures tend to produce less AGEs. 

*  When out and about at restaurants or with friends, it is best to avoid the brown or charred portions.

*  Reduce or eliminate the use of processed foods.

*  Increase the intake of fruits and vegetables which are naturally AGEs combatants with their high anti-oxidant content.[1]

*  Marinating foods before cooking them can help to reduce the overall pH of the food, reducing the amount of AGEs produced.[3]

*  The combination of diet and exercise modrate the risks of damage done by AGEs.  Studies have shown that when a low AGE diet and moderate exercise 3-5 days a week for 20-50 minutes per session are combined, a healthier lipid profile was observed. [3]  

As much as you might lean towards that juicy browned burger or sizzling sausage, it might be an important alteration to your diet as a whole to switch to methods that improve the quality of the food going in and the body's use of if once it's there.  Happy steaming!


1  Ross, K. (n.d.). Advanced Glycation End Poducts (AGEs) [PDF]. SCNM.

2  Singh R, Barden A, Mori T, Beilin L. Advanced glycation end-products: a review [published correction appears in Diabetologia 2002 Feb;45(2):293]. Diabetologia. 2001;44(2):129-146. doi:10.1007/s001250051591

3  Uribarri J, del Castillo MD, de la Maza MP, et al. Dietary advanced glycation end products and their role in health and disease. Adv Nutr. 2015;6(4):461-473. Published 2015 Jul 15. doi:10.3945/an.115.008433

4  Vlassara H, Uribarri J. Advanced glycation end products (AGE) and diabetes: cause, effect, or both?. Curr Diab Rep. 2014;14(1):453. doi:10.1007/s11892-013-0453-1

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