Nitrates & Nitrites


By: Nikki Nies esphoto_cold_cuts_meat_nitrites-504x334

While nitrates are not harmful in normal amounts, when consumed in excess, like any other food or ingredient, it can have adverse effects.  excess nitrates can be especially harmful for children who tend to eat more nitrate rich foods, leading to a higher risk of leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and ovarian, colon, rectal, bladder, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer.

Nitrates are naturally found in vegetables, such as spinach and celery and also synthetically added into foods.  For example, sodium and potassium nitrate are added to cured meats, added to fats to prevent rancidity and to bacteria to prevent further growth.  Also, found naturally in tap water due to nitrogen based fertilizers.  Yet, when nitrates are used as a food additive and/or consumed, the nitrates can quickly turn into nitrites, which when exposed to high heat during cooking can lead to the conversion to nitrosamines.  Bear with me!

Nitrosamines are chemical compounds that are carcinogenic properties.   However, this doesn’t mean you have to give up your leafy greens.  Not all nitrates are the same.  There’s a stark, but good difference between the nitrates from produce and the nitrates from preserved foods.  The nitrates in produce inhibit the conversion to nitrosamines, unlike the nitrates and nitrites in the artificially, synthetically made foods.

Suggested tips to nitrate success:

  • Limit intake of processed foods and cured meats (i.e. hot dogs, sausage and/or cold cuts).
  • Read nutrition fact label of prepackaged foods, watch out for ingredient lists that include nitrates, nitrites and/or nitrosamines compounds
  • Skip the “uncured” and “nitrate free” brands: these products usually contain a high content of nitrates from celery juice
  • When possible, opt for 100% organic products as they’re guaranteed to not have been exposed to nitrogen filled fertilizers
  • If you live in an agricultural region, may want to opt for a home water distiller, which will limit the amount of nitrates in your tap water
  • By eating well balanced meals, you’ll naturally include antioxidant rich foods, which combat the effects of nitrates!

This post is meant to help, not scare you.  Again, naturally grown produce may have nitrates, but do not have the same harmful effect as the nitrates that are synthetically added into prepackaged foods.  Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to read through the ingredient next time you’re grocery shopping! Happy shopping!

Photo Credit: Healthy Child

Sources:http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/seasoningflavoring/a/nitrates.htm

http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Food-technology/Biotechnology/Novel-foods/The-truth-about-nitrates.aspx#.VCCz5WTF_M0

Click to access Nitrates_summary.pdf

http://www.medicinenet.com/nitrates-oral/article.htm

http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/f-w00/nitrosamine.html

http://healthychild.org/easy-steps/avoid-nitrates-and-nitrites-in-food/

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