Nitrates are compounds of nitrogen and oxygen.
Nitrates in Plants
- They are naturally present in beets, spinach, celery, cucumber, carrots, bananas, apples and oranges, and pomegranates.
- When we eat such plant foods, the bacteria in our mouth convert them to another set of compounds called nitrites that are stored in our blood and cells and converted to nitric oxide when needed.
- Nitric oxide helps relax blood vessels, increase blood circulation, reduce blood pressure, and improve athletic performance.
- Consuming nitrates from fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of heart disease and improves heart health.
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
- W.H.O.: Cancer: Carcinogenicity of the consumption of red meat and processed meat
- GoodRx Health: Are Nitrate-Free Meats Better for You?
- EatingWell: What Are Nitrates and Are They Bad For Your Health?
- Prevention: Nitrites & Nitrates: Are They Harmful Or Actually Healthful?
- Environmental Working Group: How to Avoid Added Nitrates and Nitrites in Your Food
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Nitrate in foods: harmful or healthy?
- Cancer Council: Red meat, processed meat and cancer
- On this Website: How processed foods cause autoimmune diseases
First Published on: 11th June 2023
Image Credit: Pixabay on Pexels