Why would an interventional cardiologist care what you do in your kitchen? Well, I care so much that I recently wrote The Holistic Heart Book to provide a simple to read and contemporary source of information integrating Western, Eastern, nutritional, and holistic treatments to prevent and reverse established heart disease. Without question, your kitchen, your grocery store, and your farmers’ market is more important to your health than your visits to your doctor.
Don’t get me wrong. Screening for diseases with colonoscopy, breast imaging, pap smears, digital rectal exams, and heart artery calcium CT scans can detect the early phases and have a role. But I believe so much in preventing the disease before it forms that I own the trademark “Prevent Not Stent™.” Can you turn your kitchen into a holistic center for Whole Heart Healing? Let me help you with a few steps you may not know about.
Hopefully you know about the ability of food to act as a messenger for health or sickness in your body and on your genes. This is called epigenetics, and you can turn on healthy gene production and turn off harmful gene production (like inflammatory products) in just 90 days by changing what you put on your fork.
You probably know now that you should be spending most of your time and money in the grocery store on the outside perimeter where you will find colorful organic produce packed with healing nutrition such as fiber, vitamins, and phytonutrients “fighting” for your health. Perhaps you have even mastered the knowledge that spending more money for organic produce, at least the “dirty dozen” listed at www.ewg.org, is going to provide you and your family more nutrition and fewer chemicals to disrupt your elegant biochemistry.
So the bags of groceries are in the house and put away, you have some of your favorite recipes out for company coming over, and you think “my holistic heart job is done.”
Well, actually, not quite yet. Food science has advanced to guide us to appreciate not only that what we eat matters, but also how we prepare our foods. The method you use to cook can make a huge difference in the healing impact of your meal. Have you ever heard of AGEs? We are not talking about how old you are. Rather, we are talking about the fact that the way you cook your food and how many advanced glycation end-products (AGEs) are in the meal may determine how quickly you do actually grow older.
AGEs cause inflammation, may worsen diabetic complications, damage brain function, and reduce cardiac action. Never heard of AGEs? Most people haven’t even though hundreds of medical studies demonstrate that these chemicals in our food have a big role in our health and illness.
Basically, we have many proteins in our body that have important functions as enzymes and transporters. Think of hemoglobin, a carrier of oxygen to all our tissues. The protein in hemoglobin can get “sugar-coated” like a glazed donut and will not act like a normal hemoglobin molecule. This process is easily measured in a blood test called hemoglobin A1C and is done in most doctors’ offices to monitor for the control of blood sugar in diabetic patients.
How does the hemoglobin get that way, changed from its natural state? One way is an elevated blood sugar from eating too many refined and processed foods and too much sugar. Cut out the junk and replace it with whole foods and your blood sugar will fall and your hemoglobin A1C will too.
The other way these proteins get “sugar coated” and stop working is the method of cooking food. When you cook at high temperatures in dry settings, you can increase the amount of AGEs in the food by over tenfold compared with moist cooking methods at lower temperatures like boiling or poaching. It turns out that meat, eggs, and cheese are naturally high in AGEs and only go higher if you cook them dry and hot. Let’s say one piece of chicken gets thrown dry on the BBQ and another piece gets thrown into a stew. Measure the amount of AGEs and the grilled chicken may have 15 times the amount of AGEs! More fuel to fire diabetes, cancer, arthritis, heart disease, and dementia. Pretty profound consequences of how you eat.
Another example is a piece of bread. Eaten unheated it is low in AGEs but toast it till it has burnt edges all over or grill it and it becomes a trap for AGEs at high levels. Grilled dry meat and processed foods that are fried, such as store bought french fries, are the worst in adding AGEs to our diet. Fruits and vegetables are naturally very low in AGEs, another benefit that may help control your blood sugar and inflammation.
You should learn to think and avoid AGEs as much as possible. What can you do? Think about changing some old habits like converting grilling to steaming or poaching or adding these foods to stews or soups. Keeping food items moist while cooking them, as will happen in these alternatives to grilling, may drop the amount of AGEs produced by five- to tenfold. If you are going to grill, use marinades. Moist items are less likely to char and burn and produce large amounts of AGE. Marinades that are rich in vinegar and lemon juice as a dressing are particularly potent in reducing AGEs. If you want to stay healthy, active, and free of chronic disease, be a conscious cooker and experiment with new cooking strategies. As we say, you can slow your aging by slowing your AGEing.
One last tip for the holistic kitchen. If you are not completely plant-based, hopefully you’re on your journey there, always look for a way to add brightly colored plant foods to your meals. A study recently performed showed that eating a hamburger on a bun caused immediate damage to the function of arteries (endothelial dysfunction) that lasted for hours. And this was a hamburger purchased in a hospital cafeteria. When the same hamburger was accompanied by a green vegetable, the damage to the arteries was greatly reduced.
There are so many ways to start a health revolution in your home and most of them begin in your kitchen. In fact, I have 78 simple health prescriptions in my book and most of them relate to food. Your fork can determine your health fate and your vitality. A smart kitchen is the basis of a healthy family. To life!