Overeating and obesity are known for causing serious health
problems. They increase your risk of developing insulin
resistance, diabetes and heart disease (1).
However, studies have found that advanced glycation end
products (AGEs) may also have a powerful effect on your
metabolic health — regardless of weight.
AGEs are harmful compounds. They accumulate naturally as you
age and are created when certain foods are cooked at high
This article explains all you need to know about AGEs,
including what they are and how you can reduce your levels.
What Are AGEs?
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) are harmful compounds
that are formed when protein or fat combine with sugar in the
bloodstream. This process is called glycation (2).
AGEs can also form in foods. Foods that have been exposed to
high temperatures, as in grilling, frying or toasting, tend to
be very high in these compounds.
In fact, diet is the biggest contributor of AGEs.
Yet when you consume too many AGEs, or too many form
spontaneously, your body cannot keep up with eliminating them
and they will accumulate.
While low levels are generally nothing to worry about, high
levels have been shown to cause oxidative stress and
inflammation in the body (5).
High levels have been linked with the development of many
different diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney
failure, Alzheimer’s and even premature aging (6).
Furthermore, people who have high
blood sugar levels, such as diabetics, are at a higher risk
of producing too many AGEs, which can then build up in the
Because of this, many health professionals are calling for AGE
levels to become a marker of overall health.
Bottom Line: AGEs are compounds formed in
the body when fat and protein combine with sugar. When they
accumulate in high levels, they increase the risk of
developing many different diseases.
Modern Diets Are Linked to High Levels of AGEs
Modern diets are linked to AGEs building up in the body.
This is mostly due to popular methods of cooking that expose
food to dry heat.
These include barbecuing, grilling, roasting, baking, frying,
sautéing, broiling, searing and toasting (7).
These cooking methods may make food taste, smell and look good,
but they raise AGEs to dangerous levels (8).
In fact, dry heat causes AGE formation to increase by 10 to 100
times the levels in uncooked foods (7).
Certain foods, such as animal foods high in fat and protein,
are more susceptible to AGE formation during cooking (7).
Foods highest in AGEs include meat
(especially red meat), certain cheeses, fried eggs, butter,
cream cheese, margarine, mayonnaise, oils and nuts. Fried foods
highly processed products also contain high levels.
So even if your diet appears reasonably healthy, you may
consume an unhealthy amount of harmful AGEs just because of the
way your food is cooked.
Bottom Line: AGEs can be made inside the
body or consumed with the foods you eat. Certain cooking
methods can cause their levels in food to skyrocket.
When AGEs Accumulate, They Can Seriously Damage Health
The body has natural ways of getting rid of harmful AGE
However, if you consume too many AGEs in your diet, they’ll
build up faster than your body can eliminate them. This can
affect every part of the body, causing serious health
In fact, high levels are associated with the majority of
chronic diseases seen today.
One study examined a group of 559 older women and found those
with the highest levels of AGEs in the blood were almost twice
as likely to die from heart disease than those women with the
lowest levels (11).
Another study found that among a group of obese individuals,
those with metabolic syndrome had higher blood levels of AGEs
than those who were obese but had no other health issues
Women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal condition
where the levels of estrogen and progesterone are out of
balance, have been shown to have higher levels of AGEs in their
bodies than women without the condition (14).
High levels of inflammation over a long period of time can
cause damage to every organ in the body (19).
Bottom Line: AGEs can build up in the body,
causing oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. This
increases the risk of many different diseases.
Low-AGE Diets May Improve Health and Reduce the Risk of Disease
Findings from both animal and human studies suggest that
limiting dietary AGEs helps protect against many diseases and
premature aging (20).
Several animal studies have shown that eating a low-AGE diet
results in lower levels of AGEs in blood and tissues by up to
53%, plus a lower risk of heart and kidney disease, as well as
insulin sensitivity (21, 22, 23, 24, 25).
Similar results were found in humans. Restricting dietary AGEs
in patients with diabetes or kidney disease, as well as in
healthy people, reduced markers of oxidative stress and
inflammation (26, 27, 28).
A one-year study gave 138 obese people a low-AGE diet.
Participants benefited from increased insulin sensitivity, a
modest decrease in body weight, lower AGE levels and lower
levels of oxidative stress and inflammation (29).
Those in the control group, on the other hand, followed the
regular-AGE diet. They consumed more than 12,000 AGE kilo units
per day. AGE kilo units per liter (kU/l) are the units used to
measure AGE levels.
By the end of the study, they had higher AGE levels and markers
of insulin resistance, oxidative stress and inflammation
Although a reduction in dietary AGEs has been shown to have
clear health benefits, there are no guidelines for safe and
optimal intake just yet (7).
Bottom Line: Limiting or avoiding dietary
AGEs has been shown to reduce levels of inflammation and
oxidative stress, meaning a lower risk of developing other
So How Much Is Too Much?
The average AGE consumption in New York is thought to be around
15,000 AGE kilo units per day, with many people consuming much
higher levels (7).
Therefore, a high-AGE diet is often referred to as anything
significantly above 15,000 kilo units daily and anything well
below this is considered low.
To get a rough idea of whether you’re consuming too many AGEs,
have a look at your diet. Do you regularly eat grilled or
roasted meats, solid fats, full-fat dairy and highly processed
foods? If so, you’re probably consuming fairly high levels of
On the other hand, if you eat a diet rich in plant foods such
as fruit, vegetables, legumes
and whole grains, and consume low-fat dairy and less meat, AGE
levels will likely be lower.
If you regularly prepare meals with moist heat, such as soups
and stews, you’ll also be consuming lower levels of AGEs.
To put this in perspective, here are some examples of the
amount of AGEs in common foods (7):
- 1 fried egg: 1,240 kU/l
- 1 scrambled egg: 75 kU/l
2 ounces (57 grams) of toasted bagel: 100
- 2 ounces of fresh bagel: 60 kU/l
- 1 tablespoon of cream: 325 kU/l
- ¼ cup (59 ml) of whole milk: 3 kU/l
- 3 ounces of grilled chicken: 5,200 kU/l
- 3 ounces of poached chicken: 1,000 kU/l
- 3 ounces of french fries: 690 kU/l
- 3 ounces of baked potato: 70 kU/l
3 ounces (85 grams) of broiled steak: 6,600
- 3 ounces of braised beef: 2,200 kU/l
Bottom Line: If you regularly cook foods at
high temperatures or consume large amounts of processed
foods, your AGE levels are probably too high.
Tips to Reduce Your AGE Levels
The good news is there are lots of things you can do to reduce
levels of AGEs in the body. Here are some suggestions:
Choose Different Cooking Methods
The most effective way to reduce your intake of AGEs is to
choose healthier cooking methods.
Rather than using dry, high heat for cooking, try stewing,
poaching, boiling and steaming.
Cooking with moist heat, at lower temperatures and for shorter
periods of time, all help keep AGE production low (7).
In addition, cooking meat with acidic ingredients, such as
vinegar, tomato juice or lemon juice can reduce AGE production
by up to 50% (7).
Cooking over ceramic surfaces rather than directly on metal can
also reduce AGE production. Slow cookers are thought to be one
of the healthiest ways to cook food.
Limit Foods High in AGEs
Fried foods and highly processed foods contain higher levels of
Certain foods, such as animal foods, also tend to be higher in
AGEs. These include meat (especially red meat), certain
cheeses, fried eggs, butter, cream cheese, margarine,
mayonnaise, oils and nuts (7).
Try to eliminate or limit these foods and instead choose whole,
fresh and natural foods, which are naturally lower in AGEs.
For example, foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
have lower levels, even after cooking (7).
Eat a Diet Full of Antioxidant-Rich Foods
In laboratory studies, natural antioxidants, such as vitamin C
and quercetin, have been shown to hinder AGE formation
Therefore, a diet full of colorful fruits, vegetables, herbs
and spices may help protect against the damaging effects of
AGEs on the body.
Aside from diet, an inactive lifestyle can cause AGE levels to
One study among 17 middle-aged women found that those who
increased the number of steps they took per day experienced a
reduction in AGE levels (33).
Bottom Line: Choosing healthier cooking
methods, limiting foods high in AGEs, eating more
antioxidant-rich foods and exercising regularly can all help
reduce AGE levels in the body.
Take Home Message
Modern diets are contributing to higher levels of harmful AGEs
in the body.
This is concerning, since high AGE levels are linked to the
majority of chronic diseases you see today. The good news is
that you can make choices to lower your levels.
whole and fresh foods, healthier cooking methods and an
active lifestyle to protect your health.