Eat More Raw Food, Less Fried Food, No Burned Food

Linda Benedict  |  5/3/2016 9:00:44 PM

LSU AgCenter food scientist Jack Losso wants to help people eat better so they can be healthier.

Losso, who directs the Chronic Degenerative Disease Prevention Laboratory in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences, has so much to say about the topic that he’s written a 425-page book “The Maillard Reaction Reconsidered: Cooking and Eating for Health.” It’s available in hardback and as an e-book for a Kindle. A soft cover version will be coming out in the summer of 2016.

The Maillard reaction refers to the discovery by French chemist and physician Louis-Camille Maillard (1878-1936) that the reactions of sugars and proteins in the body play a role in diseases such as diabetes and hypertension.

In his book Losso explains how food preparation affects this reaction and how eating too many foods prepared at high temperatures that cause excessive browning, charring or burning may be harmful.

He takes aim at some popular foods – including bacon, peanut butter, pizza and lasagna – and recommends that people severely limit the consumption of these foods in the way they are often prepared.

Losso explains in the book how cooking produces both desirable and undesirable chemicals.

“As the cooking temperature increases, the Maillard reaction generates a mixture of flavorful, often toxic, and sometimes carcinogenic compounds,” he said.

Frying bacon creates the best conditions for the Maillard reaction, he said. The sugars and proteins in bacon when heated produce advanced glycation end products, known as AGEs, which play a role in the development of diseases, particularly diabetes. The proteins and fat when heated produce advanced lipid oxidation end products, known as ALEs, which also trigger adverse health effects.

Bacon is also high in salt and not recommended for people watching their blood pressure.

Losso has meticulously pulled together research studies and goes into great detail about how the accumulation of too many AGEs and ALEs and other chemicals in food can be harmful.

Peanut butter is full of AGEs and ALEs, he said, yet children are fed it sometimes daily.

“They would be better off eating raw peanuts,” he said.

Losso said people with nut allergies can sometimes better tolerate raw nuts rather than nuts that are heated or cooked in other foods.

More than half his book is dedicated to recommendations on how to eat healthier and cook food to avoid the harmful effects of the Maillard reaction.

For example, pizza is safer to eat by heating it at less than the traditional temperature of 375 degrees or higher, he said.

He recommends using canola, sunflower or safflower oil to prepare pizza because these oils have a higher smoke point than the baking temperature. The smoke point of oil is the temperature at which the oil begins to break down and form acrolein, which is given off as a toxic gas.

“Eating pizza with beer or sweetened, carbonated beverages exacerbates the unhealthy effects,” he said, adding that the beverage of choice is water.

Macaroni and cheese is healthier cooked on the stove top rather than baked, during which the temperatures are higher.

“Try to avoid high temperatures, short times, or HTST,” he said. That’s an acronym he suggests people remember.

Losso encourages people to eat more vegetables and fruits – at least five servings per day, which is the official recommendation from the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services.

Even though he points out many problems with popular foods in his book, his message is not so much to fear food as it is to know your food.

“Everything in moderation is always good advice,” he said.

His book is available through Amazon.

Linda Foster Benedict is the associate director for LSU AgCenter Communications and editor of Louisiana Agriculture.

(This article appears in the winter 2016 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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Jack Losso, a professor in the School of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the LSU AgCenter, has just published a book, “The Maillard Reaction Reconsidered: Cooking and Eating for Health,” in which he provides the science information on why people should avoid foods cooked at high temperatures for short periods of time. Photo by Olivia McClure

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