Cooking temperatures 'can affect risk of heart disease'

11 November 2016

The temperatures people use when cooking food could have an influence on their risk of developing heart disease in later life, according to a new report.

Research led by the University of Edinburgh and published in the medical journal Nutrition has offered potential insights into why rates of cardiovascular disease tend to vary around the world, suggesting that the temperatures used in traditional forms of cooking could have a part to play in this.

For this study, an international team reviewed previous studies that have investigated the effects of neoformed contaminants (NFCs) - toxic products that can form inside foods cooked at temperatures above 150 degrees centigrade due to ensuing changes in the food's chemical structure - on human and animal tissue.

Specifically looking at the relationship between these products and heart disease risk, it was demonstrated that cooking methods such as frying and roasting that are common in southern Asian countries tend to create high levels of trans-fatty acids, especially if the oil is reused.

Trans-fatty acids are known to be harmful to the body and are indeed banned from food products sold in many parts of the world, but could be being created as a consequence of high-temperature cooking methods, in addition to other toxic NFCs called advanced glycation end-products. Frying foods at a high heat was shown to be particularly dangerous in this regard, as this process causes oil to readily break down to form trans-fatty acids.

These findings help to explain why previous studies have shown that heart disease rates tend to be higher in communities where traditional cooking methods involving high temperatures are often used. For example, it is known that men born in Pakistan have a 62 per cent higher chance of dying from a heart attack compared to those born in England and Wales.

Previously, it was suggested that this increased risk could be linked to higher rates of diabetes in these communities, but the new study suggests that differences in culinary culture could also have a part to play.

By contrast, the research noted that Chinese cooking commonly involves lower-temperature preparation methods such as braising, steaming and boiling, which do not give rise to the same level of toxic products. As such, heart disease rates in Chinese communities tends to be lower, offering further evidence that cooking at a lower heat could help to cut chances of cardiovascular ill health.

Professor Raj Bhopal, of the University of Edinburgh's Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences, said: "We still don't know why some ethnic groups are more susceptible to heart disease, and this could be part of the answer to this mystery. It is exciting because, if our findings are proven to be correct, we could make a real impact on rates of heart disease within a generation.

"We've found some evidence to back up this view, but more research will be needed to confirm the findings before we can make any recommendations for changing national guidelines on a healthy diet."

Posted by Jeanette Royston

 


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