The Dangers of Nitrites: The Foods They are Found In and Why You Want to Avoid Them
Sodium nitrite (or sodium nitrate) is widely used as a preservative,
antimicrobial agent, color fixative and flavoring in cured
meats and other products.
Children born to moms who ate a lot of nitrite-containing
cured meats while they were pregnant may have an increased
risk of brain tumors.
If you eat hot
dogs, bacon, ham, luncheon
meats, corned beef, smoked fish or any other type of processed
meat, you are almost assuredly consuming nitrites.
Though this preservative has been studied for more than 50
years, there is still ongoing debate as to whether or not
it's harmful. Some experts say that the health claims against
the preservative have "not been substantiated" while
others recommend avoiding them in your diet entirely.
Why You May Want to Avoid Nitrites
Numerous studies have found that nitrites contribute to a
variety of negative health effects, which we've compiled here.
Cancer: When you eat nitrites, they can be converted
into nitrosamines, which are potent
cancer-causing chemicals, in your body. Specific cancers
seem to be most affected, including:
Colorectal Cancer: People who ate the most processed
meat were 50 percent more likely to develop lower
colon cancer, according to a study in the Journal
of the American Medical Association.
Stomach Cancer: An investigation into 15 studies
on processed meat found that the risk of stomach cancer
increased from 15 percent to 38 percent if the processed
meats ratio consumed by an individual rose by 30 grams.
Pancreatic Cancer: People who ate the most processed
meats had a 68 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer
compared with those who ate the least, a study in
the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found.
If you love lunchmeat, pepperoni, bacon, sausage and
other cured meats, look for nitrite-free varieties in
your grocery store. If they're not there, request them!
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD):
People who ate more than 14 servings of cured meats per
month scored lower on tests of lung function and had an
increased risk of COPD compared with people who did not
eat cured meats. For each additional serving of cured
meat per month, the study found a 2 percent increased
risk for COPD.
DNA Mutations: Hot dogs that contain nitrites
have been found to contain DNA-mutating compounds. If
enough DNA mutations occur in the gut, it could increase
your risk of colon cancer.
Brain Tumors in Children: Children born to women
who ate a lot of cured meats during pregnancy had a two
to three times greater risk of developing a brain tumor
than those born to mothers who did not eat cured meats.
Children whose mothers at low levels of cured meats during
pregnancy had a moderate increase in brain tumor risk,
the study, published in Public Health Nutrition, found.
Does This Mean I Should Never Eat Bologna, Hot Dogs, Pepperoni
Yes ... and no. If you are concerned about nitrites and
want to avoid them in your diet, you must cut out most all
commercial hot dogs, luncheon meats, sausages, bacon, and
processed meats (even that in canned soup).
However, supermarkets are increasingly offering nitrate/nitrite-free
varieties of everyone's favorites. While some have pointed
out that nitrite-free meats are often still "cured"
using salt, sugar or another natural curing agent, which may
be misleading to consumers, they do not, at least, contain
To make even healthier meat choices, look for nitrite-free
products that are also grass-fed and free of artificial flavors,
artificial colors and byproducts.
It's also worth noting that processed meats are not the only
sources of nitrites. Green leafy vegetables and root vegetables
contain naturally occurring nitrites, though it's thought
that compounds in the vegetables inhibit the formation of
the harmful nitrosamines in your body.
Nitrites also exist in drinking water due to fertilizers,
manure, animal feedlots and other environmental pollution
Dangerous Food Additives: The Dirty Dozen Food Additives You
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Things You Never Thought You Needed to Know About ... Lunchmeat
of the American Medical Association 2005 Jan 12;293(2):172-82
of the National Cancer Institute 2006 Aug 2;98(15):1078-87
of the National Cancer Institute 2005 Oct 5;97(19):1458-65
Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine April 2007,
Vol 175. pp. 798-804
Health Nutrition 2001 Apr;4(2):183-9