Cooking vegetables results in a significant loss of their nutrient content, a loss that reduces their benefits to human health. The flip-side effect of cooking practices is equally pronounced. An actual threat to human health emerges when meat, dairy, potatoes, and other foods are subjected to high-temperature cooking because heat produces numerous carcinogens.

Let’s take a look at the acrylamides, for starters. They are a class of carcinogens that emerge from the cooking of starchy foods. This chemical was accidentally discovered by Swedish scientists only recently, in 2002, when they closely examined the chemical contents of French fries, potato chips, and other starchy foods after exposure to high heat during frying or baking. This chemical wasn’t detected in uncooked foods or foods that had been boiled. The European Chemical Agency placed acrylamide on its list of potentially hazardous substances in 2010, based on an accumulation of studies showing that it could cause a variety of cancers in laboratory studies,  including cancer of the thyroid, oral cavity, mammary glands, uterus, and nervous system. It has also been linked to promoting an elevated risk for atherosclerosis and reproductive disorders.

Other harmful chemical compounds formed during cooking include:

  • PhlP, derived from cooked meat, induces cancer of the colon, prostate and mammary gland in lab studies. It is one of the more common of the HCAs.
  • HCAs, heterocyclic amines, formed by high temperatures in protein-rich foods that are fried, grilled, or barbecued, and considered a high-risk factor for human cancer, especially colon and breast cancers.
  • PAH, polycylic aromatic hydrocarbons, several dozen types of them altogether, found in grilled meat and meat products, and linked to breast cancer in lab experiments.
  • AGEs, advanced glycation end products, created when sugars accompanied by proteins or fats are heated, and linked to premature aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney and liver disease, and the onset of Alzheimer’s.
  • Trans fatty acids formed during the cooking of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which is a direct cause of coronary heart disease.

There are also human health risks involved in microwave cooking, particularly when microwaves release the chemical DEHA from plastic containers so it can migrate into food, and when the toxic chemical PFOA, present as a nonstick coating in microwave popcorn bags, migrates during heat exposure.

Choosing a diet rich in sprouts and raw plant-based will help you avoid the toxic chemical compounds formed during the cooking process. If you choose to incorporate cooked foods consider steaming your produce and certainly avoid frying.


Article by Brian Clement, PhD, LN


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