Sunday, September 24, 2023

Nitrates in Foods: Are They Healthy or Harmful?

Nitrates in fruits and vegetables are healthy but those added to cured meats can cause cancer.

Nitrates are compounds of nitrogen and oxygen.

Nitrates in Plants

Nitrates in Cured Meats

  • Sodium nitrate has been used for centuries to preserve meat.
  • The bacteria in meat convert sodium nitrate into sodium nitrite which stops other poisonous bacteria like botulinum from growing in meat and prevents its fat from going rancid.
  • Nowadays, sodium nitrite is added to cured and processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs, and salami.
  • When such meat is heated above 130°C (266°F), sodium nitrite reacts with meat proteins and converts to compounds called nitrosamines.
  • Nitrosamines cause cancer in laboratory animals and increase the risk of colon cancer, and possibly oesophageal and stomach cancer, in humans.
  • Eating 50 grams of processed meats a day increases colorectal cancer risk by 18%.
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) has labelled processed meats as Group 1 Carcinogens, meaning there is sufficient evidence that they cause cancer.
  • ‘Nitrate-free’ processed meats are not safer—they use celery powder that contains natural nitrates, instead of sodium nitrite. They are allowed by USDA to be labelled ‘nitrate-free’ or ‘nitrite-free’ but they have organic nitrates, which makes them equally risky.
  • Adding vitamin C to cured meats prevents nitrosamine formation.
  • Microwave your salami and sausages instead of frying, as cooking processed meats at low temperatures is one way to reduce nitrosamine formation.
  • Processed meats have multiple cancer-causing substances and reducing just nitrosamines may not be enough.

Most of the information in this article is taken from my upcoming book to be published by Macmillan Publishers in Nov 2023. The book discusses a thousand such preventive health tidbits. It covers twenty superfoods, their nutrients, health benefits, recommended amounts and excess levels. It also explains how to select and store and who should avoid them. Some of the superfoods are tomatoes, coconut, capsicum (Shimla mirch), drumsticks, amla (Indian gooseberry), jamun (Java plum), turmeric, cinnamon, flax seeds, asafoetida (hing), and sabja (sweet basil seeds).


  • Natural nitrates in vegetables are healthful and heart-protective but added nitrates in cured meats can potentially cause cancer.
  • Restrict your processed meat consumption to an absolute minimum and increase that of nitrate-rich fruits and vegetables.

To Read More

First Published on: 11th June 2023
Image Credit: Pixabay on Pexels



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