Potential Harmful Effects Of Cooked Foods

When we eat cooked foods we are not thinking about the digestive process that goes on in the body when the food hits our stomach. If the food is prepared well, we are for sure enjoying the flavors that have been combined.

Expert culinarians have knowledge of food science, nutrition and diet and are responsible for preparing meals that are as pleasing to the eye as well as to the palate.

The Culinary Arts, in the Western world, as a craft and later as a field of study, began to evolve at the end of the Renaissance period.

Prior to this, chefs worked in castles, cooking for monarchs, as well as their families, guests, and other workers of the castle.

As Monarchical rule became phased out as a modality, the chefs took their craft to inns and hotels. From here, the craft evolved into a field of study.

Those whose diet consist primarily of raw foods claim that cooking food produces harmful chemical toxins. Some of these concerns are accepted and have been proven by science. Some of the claims though are speculative.

Let's examine some of the potential harmful effects of cooked foods that are science based and others that are speculative.

Cooked Foods and the Potential Harmful Effects

Karen Schroeder, RN, BSN, MBA
Karen Schroeder, RN, BSN, MBA - Director, Health Center Ohio Northern University

Karen Schroeder RD (registered dietitian) explains that neither the American Cancer Society (ACS) nor the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends a raw food diet to reduce the risk of cancer from the harmful chemical reactions of cooked foods.

Instead, they still stress that the best known way to reduce cancer risk is following a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, both raw and cooked.

Several studies published since 1990 have shown that cooking muscle meat, including beef, pork, fish, or poultry, can create heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are thought to increase cancer risk in humans.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI)found that human subjects who ate beef rare to medium-rare had less than one third the risk of stomach cancer than those who ate beef medium-well to well-done. How so?

While eating muscle meat raw may be the only way to avoid HCAs fully, the National Cancer Institute states that cooking meat below 212 °F (100 °C) creates "negligible amounts" of HCAs.

cooked foods Frying, broiling, roasting and grilling of meat, poultry and seafood produce the largest amounts of HCAs when they are cooked at a high temperature.

Researchers have found that marinating meat prior to grilling, even for just a few minutes, can reduce HCA formation by 90% or more.

It's believed that the marinade forms a protective barrier for the meat juices that prevents the HCA reaction from occurring.

It's unclear whether HCAs cause the same problems in every individual. Still, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has stated that the chemicals are "reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens."

The International Journal of Cancer says foods that have been preserved in salt and smoked form the chemical nitrosamines that have been shown to be carcinogenic, and linked to colon cancer and stomach-cancer.

AGEs Effects On The Human Body

Cooking with added sugar or cooked foods that contain sugar (see Maillard reaction) can create what is known as AGEs or Advanced glycation end products.

AGE's are created during the breakdown of molecules that consist of a protein and a sugar molecule. This reaction occurs both within the body and external to the body. These compounds are absorbed by the body during digestion with about 30% efficiency.

formation of Advanced glycation end products of cooked foods

The formation and accumulation of AGEs have been known to progress at an accelerated rate under diabetes, and there is accumulating evidence that AGEs play a role in the development of diabetes by inducing islet beta cell damage and insulin resistance.

A 2002 study published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, found that arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatism is caused by AGEs, as it increases the stiffness of the collagen network in human articular cartilage.

Other effects on the human body by AGEs include among many others:

  • Macular Degeneration
  • Heart Disease 
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Disease
  • Metabolic Disorders

Current Diabetes Reviews reported in 2008 that diet-derived AGEs contribute to the whole body AGE pool and the AGE-related pathology.

Acrylamide, a toxin found in roasted, baked, fried, and grilled starchy foods, but not in boiled or raw foods has been linked to endometrial, and ovarian cancer. But not including breast cancer.

Read more here: THE HEATOX PROJECT a report on acrylamide (Heat-generated food toxicants, identification, characterisation and risk minimisation).

Pros and Cons Of Using The Microwave To Reduce HCAs

The NCI states that microwaving meat before cooking may reduce HCAs by 90%. As using a microwave to cook meat before exposure to high temperatures can substantially reduce HCAs from forming. Thus reducing the time that meat must be in contact with high heat to finish cooking.

The More You Know
Microwaving food though has its draw backs. The Journal Agricultural Food and Chemistry published a study on the effects of cooking foods using the microwave method.

Microwaved cooked foods
The study showed that microwaing food has shown to cause the greatest decrease in all studied anti-oxidants in broccoli, specifically, glucosinolates, phenolic compunds, minerals, and vitamin-C, compared to other cooking methods.

Microwaving has also been shown to reduce vitamin B-12 levels in beef, pork and milk by 30-40%.

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