Cooking the Health Out of Your Food?

    by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

“You are what you eat” has been a catch phrase since I was a child… but new research from Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City suggests it’s not only what you eat but how hot you cook it that matters. Subjecting certain foods to prolonged high heat — not only for frying, but also for grilling, roasting, broiling or baking — creates toxic, inflammatory particles. These, in turn, cause the oxidation and inflammation in the body that are associated with such diseases as diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease and others.

Called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), these toxic particles adhere to the arteries, kidneys, brain and joints, where they heighten inflammation. Our typical Western diet, heavy on meat and processed foods and light on plant-based foods, is believed by many scientists to contain at least three times more AGEs than is considered safe.

Good News from this Study

It’s always exciting when research reveals a way to avoid a common health problem — and this new study does just that. According to the researchers, you can achieve dramatic and quick benefit — within just days — by reducing your intake of AGE-containing foods. Doing this decreases the body’s level of inflammation and helps restore its defenses against disease.

The study divided 350-plus participants into three groups — healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 45… an older healthy group, all past age 60… and nine patients with chronic kidney disease (the kidneys are believed to be especially sensitive to AGEs). Participants were randomly assigned to eat either a regular Western diet in which foods were grilled, fried or baked (in other words, loaded with AGEs) or what the researchers called “the AGE-less diet,” which included the same foods, only poached, boiled or steamed so that they contained only about half as many AGEs. The two diets were similar in calories and nutrients. After four months, all participants on the AGE-less diet showed a 60% decline in blood levels of AGEs as well as in several other inflammation markers. According to the study’s lead author, Helen Vlassara, MD, professor and director of the division of experimental diabetes and aging at Mount Sinai, this indicates that your actual chronological age may not be as significant a factor in aging and health as the AGEs in your food. A finding that’s even more impressive: The patients with kidney disease had a similarly substantial reduction after just one month on the AGE-less diet.

The Heat Is On…

I asked Dr. Vlassara to explain to me how the AGEs get into foods. They develop as a chemical reaction when heat is combined with protein and different sugars, she said — and she noted that meat-rich diets are especially bad, since meats contain high levels of easily oxidizable fat and protein.

There is a third point that is crucial to understand — which is that removing all visible fat when you cook meats doesn’t solve the problem. All cells in meats contain not only fat and proteins, but also sugars — some more reactive than others. Therefore, exposure to high heat will still cause AGEs to form in meat at much higher levels than in starch even if you cut away the visible fat. In fact, Dr. Vlassara told me that when you see meat brown while cooking, what you’re witnessing is the rapid reaction among proteins, fats and those reactive sugars to the heat. And, since they are also animal products, when they are cooked, full-fat milk and cheese also develop high levels of AGEs.

Even worse, manufacturers often add AGE-containing flavor-enhancers or coloring (such as caramel) to processed and packaged foods. You may be surprised to learn that a major offender in this category is dark-colored soda. Generally speaking, fast foods and processed/packaged foods also tend to be high in AGEs, which gives us yet another reason to avoid them.

Avoiding AGEs

The good news is, it’s not all that difficult to reduce the amount of AGEs in your diet, Dr. Vlassara said. It just requires making some modest changes in the way you prepare food. Her suggestions…


  • Marinate in an acid-based mixture (such as vinegar or lemon juice) before cooking, which helps reduce the amount of AGEs produced by heat. Note: Avoid marinades containing sugar, such as most barbecue and teriyaki sauces.
  • Aim to serve meats rare to medium rare if possible — for instance, cooking pork to just beyond pink. This is admittedly a balancing act — you want to cook as briefly as possible to minimize development of AGEs, but undercooking carries its own set of dangers.
  • To achieve a brown finish to meats, Dr. Vlassara suggests cooking on your stovetop with a cover to conserve moisture, and then placing the meat under the broiler for just a few minutes at the end.
  • Use as little fat as possible — as Dr. Vlassara points out, even healthy olive oil oxidizes at high heat.
  • Water inhibits the formation of AGEs, so poaching, stewing, steaming or even boiling proteins is best (including fish and eggs).

Dairy and Other Foods

  • Avoid bringing dairy products to high temperatures — for instance, when using milk in sauces or when melting cheese under a broiler. Dr. Vlassara said the less time these foods cook, the better. She added that lower temperatures are preferable, as is increased distance from the heat source.
  • Brief microwaving produces a lower level of AGEs than broiling, grilling or stovetop cooking, so this is a great way to cook liquids.
  • Plant-based proteins also create dangerous levels of AGEs when subject to very high heat for long periods — so be aware that there are dangers to even seemingly healthy foods like broiled tofu or roasted nuts.

What about restaurant food?

 Fortunately, the increasingly popular Mediterranean Diet uses lots of foods with low AGEs (including fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains), so it once again ranks among the healthiest ways that you can eat. This not only provides a good framework for eating at home, it also suggests a wide variety of delicious, healthful, low-AGE dishes that you can order in restaurants. But Dr. Vlassara noted that cooking even these foods at high heat with low hydration is problematic, so there’s no way around it — cooking at high temperatures is not so hot for your health.


                Helen Vlassara, MD, is professor of geriatrics, medicine and molecular medicine, director, division of experimental diabetes and aging, department of geriatric and palliative medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York City.

Relax and Have a Melon

    by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

As though anyone needs an excuse to indulge in a cool, juicy slice of melon on a hot summer day, these popular fruits — including watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew and casaba melons — are a rich source of potassium and a host of other nutrients as well. Refreshing and delicious, they also are a healthy, natural way to help lower your blood pressure, notes Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, LD, an assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, and a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (

Shake Off Blood Pressure Worries

If you have salt-sensitive high blood pressure, you probably know already that you should watch your sodium intake. Too much salt — both from the salt shaker and from processed foods — causes fluid retention and blood vessel contraction that contribute to hypertension. What you may not know is that potassium also plays an important role in this equation. A study published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine noted that people with a low sodium-to-potassium ratio — that is, those who made a point of both consuming less salt and eating more potassium-rich fresh produce than is typical for the American diet — were less likely to experience high blood pressure. Because it is a vasodilator and helps get rid of sodium and water, potassium helps curb fluid retention and blood vessel contraction.

According to the American Heart Association, the recommended daily intake of potassium for adults is 4,700 milligrams. Many people don’t normally consume this much potassium, but melons provide a tasty solution. Two cups of cubed melon contain more than 1,000 mg of potassium, or nearly one-fourth of your daily requirement.

Other rich dietary sources of this mineral include apricots, artichokes, avocados, bananas, beans, kiwis, oranges, peas, potatoes, prunes, raisins, tomatoes, spinach, Swiss chard and other green leafy vegetables.

Melon at Every Meal?

Melons are much more versatile than most people realize, and you can easily incorporate them into a wide variety of dishes. Instead of reserving them for breakfast or a snack, take advantage of the season’s bounty and put melons on your family’s summer menu of soups, salads and salsas…

       Melon soup: Puree chunks of ripe honeydew and cantaloupe with orange juice and chill.

       Luscious melon salad: Combine small chunks of your favorite melon with raspberries, strawberries or orange sections and drizzle with honey and lime or lemon juice.

       Fish or chicken with melon: Serve the grilled or broiled meats on a bed of diced ripe melon. Or make a melon salsa to accompany the main dish — combine finely diced honeydew and cantaloupe, diced tomatoes, minced red onion, orange juice, lime juice, cilantro and salt.

       Grilled melon: Cube honeydew, and toss in lemon juice, brown sugar and ginger. Thread onto skewers and grill for three to four minutes or until slightly soft and beginning to brown.

Note: Potassium affects the balance of fluids in the body, so too much can be a problem for older people and those with heart or kidney disease. If you take a diuretic drug or have issues with fluid retention, talk to your doctor before adding significant amounts of melon to your diet.


Lona Sandon, MEd, RD, LD, assistant professor, department of clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, Texas. Sandon is a National Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

The Antiperspirant-Cancer Connection

   by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 For many people, the thought of getting dressed without applying an antiperspirant seems downright unhygienic, not to mention antisocial. But a new review of research suggesting a link between antiperspirants and two deadly forms of cancer — breast cancer and prostate cancer — presents a theory that may change some minds.

 “Both of these cancers are hormone-dependent,” explains Kris G. McGrath, MD, associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and author of the review, which was published in Medical Hypotheses. He believes that the hormone problem may be located in the underarms and that antiperspirant use may be driving it.

 Two Similar Cancers

 According to statistics from the US National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results Program, the number of cases of breast cancer and prostate cancer in the US has been eerily similar throughout the 20th century, and for 2009 the figures are nearly identical — about 192,000 new cases of each. Dr. McGrath doesn’t think this is just a coincidence.

 Breast and prostate cancers share many characteristics. Both have hormone-dependent growth, in both cases primarily by sexual steroids. Women have a preponderance of circulating estrogen and very little testosterone, while it is the opposite for men — but estrogen and testosterone receptors are present in both breast and prostate tissue. Both cancers are treated with hormonal manipulation, and breast cancer is additionally treated with aromatase inhibitors to block the conversion of male hormones (androgens) to female hormones (estrogens).

 A possible cause

 Hormone-replacement therapy using synthetic forms of estrogen plus progesterone has been associated with breast cancer — but according to Dr. McGrath, rates of both breast cancer and prostate cancer started rising many years ago, well before the introduction of oral contraceptives and hormone-replacement. “So,” Dr. McGrath asked, “where are the hormones coming from? My hypothesis is that the problem started in the underarm after the introduction of aluminum salt-based antiperspirants in 1902.”

 In particular, Dr. McGrath is referring to the sweat glands located under the arm, which naturally release sweat, hormones and pheromones onto the surface of the skin. “When antiperspirants block these glands, the hormones they contain can’t leave the body,” he said. Instead, these hormones have the potential to be reabsorbed by the body — posing a potential excessive exposure to breast and prostate tissue. Even worse, antiperspirant use during puberty could be exposing breast and prostate tissue to unwanted hormones at a time of critical growth and development.

 Look at the label on your antiperspirant and you’ll probably see that it contains some form of an aluminum salt. These chemicals are used because they plug sweat ducts. The apocrine glands are considered an organ — by blocking them, “you are essentially blocking an organ and its function,” said Dr. McGrath. He added that antiperspirants are considered drugs by the FDA.

 A Better Alternative

 So what can we do about underarm sweating and odor without blocking the glands? Deodorants (as opposed to antiperspirants), which mask odors without blocking the sweat glands, can be a good option, but avoid products that contain petroleum-based propylene glycol, which is thought to be carcinogenic. (Propylene glycol derived from a vegetable source is fine.) Two deodorant brands he likes are the widely sold Tom’s of Maine ( and Terra Naturals ( (Note: Dr. McGrath is a spokesperson for Terra Naturals.)

 Andrew L. Rubman, ND, our contributing medical editor, offered another suggestion for safely reducing the bacteria that cause underarm odor — good old baking soda. To use, mix about one teaspoonful of baking soda into enough warm water to make a thin, milky paste, which you then rub into your armpit. Or, he suggested, you can easily make your own totally natural, safe deodorant at home with just three ingredients: coconut oil, tea tree oil and lavender oil. First, warm up about one tablespoon of food-grade coconut oil… add a few drops of both tea tree oil and lavender oil. Stir and refrigerate until it solidifies, about an hour. Then you can apply a bit (use sparingly so it won’t get onto your clothing) of the mixture to your armpits just as you would with a commercial deodorant. “It feels good and you’ll smell great,” says Dr. Rubman. “And you won’t have to worry about blocking your apocrine glands.”  


 Kris G. McGrath, MD, associate professor of medicine, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

 Andrew L. Rubman, ND, medical director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut.

White Clothes and Cancer

  by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 Deciding what to wear on a sunny day just got more complicated. Besides how good you’ll look or feel, new research suggests the color of your clothing affects your vulnerability to UV radiation.

 Ascension Riva, PhD, of Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Terrassa, led a team studying how a variety of factors — including fabric weave, color intensity and the hue itself — interact with UV light. Their findings may surprise you!

 The scientists dyed several types of fabric red, yellow and blue (standardizing the dyes for chemical structure and intensity), measuring the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of each before and after dying. They used a statistical tool to evaluate the influence of three factors — the UPF of the original, undyed fabric… the color of the dye… and the color intensity — on the final UPF. Here’s what they learned…

  •         Red and blue fabrics provided significantly more protection than the same fabric dyed yellow at the same concentration.
  •         Intensity mattered as well. Highly concentrated colors were more protective — a brilliant, intense yellow absorbed more UV radiation than a pale blue, for instance.
  •         Density was also a factor — predictably, tight weaves are more protective than looser ones.

 Is White Still Right?

 I asked Dr. Riva where white would fall on the scale, because I’ve always heard that’s the best choice for hot, sunny weather. She told me that optical brightening agents are used to create the commercial white we’re accustomed to wearing. She said this type of white does have both blocking and absorbing properties that are equal to that of pale blue. White reflects more light, she pointed out, so it may feel cooler, but that’s not to be confused with UV protection.

 According to Dr. Riva, the differences in protection are significant enough to affect your risk for skin cancer. She suggested that people with reason to be especially worried about the effects of UV radiation, including those with skin cancer, photo-sensitivity and certain dermatological illnesses, might do well to choose tightly woven, deeply colored blue or red clothing when they’ll be outdoors in the sun. For the rest of us, it’s another factor to consider in choosing what to wear — but it need not be the only one.


Ascension Riva, PhD, professor, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Terrassa, Spain.

“Golden Oldies” Trigger Memories for Dementia Patients

 by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 I bet you’ve had this experience — you’re driving somewhere and a song from 20 or 30 years ago comes on the radio… and you remember every word. Not only that, it brings to mind a host of great memories too.

 Music therapists at Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx are now using old-time tunes in this way to help people with dementia sharpen their memories. I called Concetta M. Tomaino, DA, director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF) to learn more — including how families of dementia patients might be able to use this technique on their own.

 Musical Memories

 Dr. Tomaino told me that music can serve as a gateway into the brain that actually stimulates its function. In one study at the University of California at Irvine, researchers found that listening to Mozart helped Alzheimer’s patients improve their scores on memory tests. And, in an as-yet-unpublished study conducted by Dr. Tomaino and her colleagues, 45 patients with mid- to late-stage dementia who participated in a music-based reminiscence program three times a week for 10 months boosted their scores on cognitive function tests by 50%. Dr. Tomaino told me that after several sessions, one patient even recognized his wife for the first time in many months.

 Music can reach people who are unreachable by other means, says Dr. Tomaino. Often an Alzheimer’s patient who cannot recall a close family member’s name is able to summon the words of a favorite old song and recapture seemingly lost memories. Sometimes therapists stop singing and patients fill in the words… and some are even able to learn new songs. At Beth Abraham, music therapists most commonly use music from patients’ teen years and early 20s, Dr. Tomaino told me, finding that listening to these familiar tunes can help them to…

        Improve memory and cognitive skills.

        Increase attention, motivation, focus and awareness of self and others.

        Reduce agitation.

        Perform daily activities such as eating, toileting and bathing.

 Use an iPod and Try It Yourself

 Aging patients don’t need formal music therapy to reap benefits from listening to music from the past. At (see “Well-Tuned”), you can find suggested Top Ten lists for people with memory impairment ( Favorites from the 1940s, for example, include “Unforgettable,” “Some Enchanted Evening” and “Que Sera, Sera.”

 You can play old-time music as often as your loved one seems to enjoy it — but whatever type of music you choose and however you play it, try to listen together. Even fleetingly, you can recapture a sense of closeness by singing together, holding hands, dancing or just quietly listening to the music and enjoying the memories it unlocks.


Concetta M. Tomaino, DA, MT-BC, LCAT, executive director/cofounder, Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, senior vice president for music therapy, Beth Abraham Family of Health Services, Bronx, New York. She is past president of the American Association for Music Therapy.

3 Second Energy Boost

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Yawning is something we mostly stifle — after all, it’s embarrassing to yawn in the face of another as if to announce that you didn’t get enough sleep or, worse, that you’re bored. That’s a shame — because researchers have discovered that the humble yawn is a major contributor to mental alertness… keeps our brains properly cooled (literally)… and helps us to shift from one activity to another, even to adjust from one time zone to another. They recommend using yawning consciously as a tool to make life better. For example, yawn soon after awakening to rev up your brain for the day or at night to help calm yourself and promote sleep.


 Most people believe that we yawn to bring oxygen from the air into the body, but that’s wrong, says psychotherapist Patt Lind-Kyle, MA, the author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain. She calls yawning an “exercise for the brain” based on the growing number of studies that have found that it facilitates mental efficiency. Yawning does its magic by literally forcing extra blood directly to the brain. When you yawn, your facial muscles broadly contract and then relax, and this action pushes oxygen-rich blood into the brain’s prefrontal cortex, the location of the “executive function” that covers planning, organization, decision-making, personality expression and many other crucial activities.

 The yawn also sends blood to stimulate an area called the precuneus, which is involved in consciousness along with memory and motor coordination. As far as serving to cool the brain, a 2007 study at State University of New York-Albany found that performing difficult mental tasks, such as processing lots of information, actually increases brain temperature. Though we’re all familiar with the way ongoing mental labor can trigger yawning, it’s not because it is tiring. Again, the yawn sends blood to the brain to curtail its rising temperature, which is how it helps to maintain mental efficiency. Interestingly, both yawning and body thermoregulation seem to be controlled by the same area of the brain, the hypothalamus.

 Putting Your Yawns to Work

 Okay, so now we know that yawning can increase our efficiency in a number of areas… how can we take better advantage of this? Just decide to yawn and then do it — and I mean do a real face-stretcher! I’ll tell you how in a moment, but first here are some situations in which Lind-Kyle suggests adding a yawn…

        To stimulate better thinking. When you are preparing for an exam, a presentation or an important conversation, you can enhance your performance by yawning several times first. During an exam, don’t be shy about yawning when you find yourself losing focus or starting to stumble in your thoughts — it will help.

        To reduce jet lag and reset energy levels. At 20 weeks gestation, fetuses start to develop a wake/sleep pattern and as part of the process, they yawn… a lot. Lind-Kyle says that we can consciously use yawning to help reset our wake/sleep patterns, including when suffering jet lag. To start, yawn five times or so as soon as you get off the airplane. When you’ve experienced how well this refreshes you, Lind-Kyle says you may soon begin to do it intuitively — you’ll find yourself yawning whenever you feel yourself starting to drag. She says that yawning can be used in this manner to help you acclimate to high altitudes and to reset your energy level as you switch from one activity to another, such as from sleep to wakefulness.

        To improve your mood… and, possibly even your relationships. Yawning is associated with increased levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter released from the hypothalamus that is associated with pleasure, motivation and sociability. Lind-Kyle says that when two people yawn together, it can help diminish tension in the relationship… and fortunately, yawning is highly contagious, so it’s easy for both of you to get in on the act. If nothing else, a shared yawning session should make for a few ice-breaking laughs.

        For relaxation. Curiously, although yawning serves to stimulate the brain, a deep yawn and wide stretch also relax the body. Lind-Kyle, who leads meditation classes, always starts with a healthy yawn, which she says gets people relaxed quickly. She said that bringing on a few deep yawns at bedtime may help you get to sleep.

 How to Bring on a Yawn

 We think of yawns as automatic, but it’s surprisingly easy to make yourself yawn…

        Focus thoughts on yawning. Yawns are not only contagious from person to person — even thinking about a yawn can help trigger one, says Lind-Kyle. Close your eyes and picture a yawn, or say the word “yawn” repeatedly to encourage one.

       Fake a yawn… or two… or three until a real one sets in. Lind-Kyle says she generally gets a real yawn after one or two fakes, but however long it takes, stick with it — it will happen.

        Consciously slow your breathing. The decreased oxygen may help trigger a yawn — flaring your nostrils as you breathe in may make this happen faster.

 And finally, the best yawn is one you fully experience, Lind-Kyle says. So go all the way — open your mouth wide, scrunch your face fully, and take a deep, full breath. Just be ready to explain yourself if you’re in company!


Patt Lind-Kyle, MA, psychotherapist based in Nevada City, California, and author of Heal Your Mind, Rewire Your Brain (Energy Psychology Press).