Cooking can create a myriad of toxins in your foods while simultaneously stripping out nutrients. Processed foods are just as bad. Nutrients are removed, chemicals added, and often high heat applied, all in the name of making food safer. Truly, it is nice not having to worry about food spoiling quickly, but what cost will we pay for that long shelf life?
Both cooking and processing foods result in toxic compounds. These volatile compounds then contribute to cancer, premature aging, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and stroke. They deal damage to our internal landscape, taking out healthy cells, acting like glue in our arteries, and inhibiting proper cellular functions. Meanwhile, there is a simple solution to this growing health risk. Eat more raw food.
Nitrates and nitrites are used in processed food to prevent spoilage from mold and stop the dangerous formation of botulism. Unfortunately, these react with amino acids and heat to form nitrosamines, volatile carcinogenic compounds. Vegetables contain nitrates and amino acids too, but the vitamin C in plant foods helps counteract the formation of nitrosamines. Cooking destroys vitamin C, making the creation of these dangerous compounds possible even in foods considered healthier than their processed counterparts.
Amino acids in muscle meat react to high heat to create these cancer causing compounds. Temperature is the main factor for these toxins. The higher the heat, the more HCAs are formed. This means grilling, frying, deep frying, and broiling are the most dangerous. Raw fruits and vegetables contain powerful antioxidants that help repair the damage that these compounds can cause.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
These compounds occur naturally in forest fires and volcanos and are dangerous carcinogens. Unfortunately, mankind creates plenty more in the form of exhaust, cigarette smoke, cooking smoke, and pollution. Avoid cooking and grilling too much. Charred foods, even vegetables, will contain these cancer causing compounds.
As food cooks, there is a complex chain of reactions that take place that scientists are still unraveling. Part of what we know is that natural nutrients in the food react to the heat to form darker compounds that we associate with the browning of cooked foods. These compounds can be carcinogenic or unhealthy in other ways. Acrylamide is one such compound that turns out to be a neurotoxin. Acrylamide is formed when sugar and an amino acid react and combine. The more sugar and amino acids, the more likely this neurotoxin forms. The more heat or duration of heat, the more acrylamide and other browning compounds form. Fried, deep fried, and baked foods are especially susceptible and the foods we like to cook this way include the starchy things that are the perfect breeding grounds of these hazardous compounds.
Advanced Glycation End Products
AGEs can be formed internally through metabolism and aging, but they also form during cooking with high heat. These are often considered the next step in the chain after Maillard-browning products. They are associated with age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. AGEs bind themselves to proteins and fats in the blood stream, leading to the formation of bad cholesterol that sticks to one another and capillary walls. High temperatures are to be avoided to limit exposure.
Oxidized or Polymerized Lipids
Oils spoil and oxidize over time as they are exposed to air, light, and oxygen, but heat speeds up this process and creates free radicals. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that deal damage to just about anything they touch, including cellular membranes, enzymes, hormones, and other essential parts of the body. They contribute to aging and can even destroy DNA. When an oil begins to smoke, it releases a flurry of free radicals, it begins to break down, and it can also polymerize. The thick, viscous polymerized oil is full of free radicals, difficult to digest, and nothing like the fluid essential fatty acids the body craves.
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