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Cooking Time May Benefit Diabetics

Shorter periods on the stove for victuals can reduce the presence of a compound that aggravates the immune system, a study finds.

November 13, 2002|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Cooking food at minimum safe temperatures for short periods of time may lower the risk of heart disease for diabetics.

In a study appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say a toxic compound is formed when sugar, proteins and fat are processed at cooking temperatures for long periods of time. This compound may increase blood vessel damage in diabetics, the study suggests.

Dr. Helen Vlassara, a diabetes researcher at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and first author of the study, said the compound, called advanced glycation end products, or AGEs, can prompt an angry reaction from the immune system, eventually damaging blood vessels.

"AGEs attack virtually every part of the body," said Vlassara. "It is as if we have a low-grade infection. They tend to aggravate the immune cells."

She said a lifelong diet high in AGEs leaves the immune system in a constant state of low-grade inflammation, damaging the small and mid-sized arteries. This, in turn, can prompt heart disease and other problems common to diabetics, she said. Diabetics are particularly sensitive to the effects of vessels damaged by the compound, she said.

But dietary AGEs can be controlled by cooking foods differently, she added.

Dr. Eugene Barrett, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and the president-elect of the American Diabetes Assn., said the study is potentially important in the control of diabetes, but more research is needed.

He said research into the compound is still at an early stage and it may be too soon to conclude that limiting AGEs will reduce heart disease among diabetics.

Vlassara's study used 24 diabetic patients divided into two groups. One group maintained a normal diet recommended for diabetics that included chicken, fish and meat. The other group had the same foods, but cooked differently.

At the end of six weeks, said Vlassara, the AGEs in the test group registered declines ranging from 33% to 40%. She said the study was too short to detect any fundamental changes in the patients' health.

However, she said studies using diabetic animals have shown that reducing AGEs can cut the incidence of heart disease or delay its onset. Such studies need to be conducted in humans to prove the value of AGE control, she said.

The key to lowering AGEs, said Vlassara, is to cook for a short time in the presence of high humidity. This means either boiling or steaming meats for the minimum time required.

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