From nitrates, to chemical preservatives, pesticides, artificial flavors and colors, added hormones and antibiotics, bleach, to GMO, we are a culture that has been putting poisons and toxins into our bodies as part of our daily diet. We’ve somehow become confused into believing this is “food”. And then we wonder why so many people are getting sick.
Clean eating is the solution to this problem. As people are becoming increasingly aware of the sheer garbage that we’ve been being fed, they are taking their health and well being back into their own hands, paying more attention to what precisely it is that they are really putting into their bodies, and they are returning to cooking and eating real, whole food – precisely the way nature intended all along.
Nitrites and nitrates are chemical compounds derived from inorganic nitrogen that are used to preserve meats , extend their shelf life and inhibit bacterial growth. They can be found in deli meat and processed meats, canned meats, bacon, sausages, hot dogs and more.
They function as preservatives, helping to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. They also add a salty flavour and improve the appearance of the meat products by giving them a red or pink color. Nitrites are the reason cured meat is pink or red. Nitrites turn into Nitric Oxide, which reacts with the oxygen-binding proteins in the meat, changing its color. Without additives like nitrites, the meat would turn brown very quickly. (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.2740261117)
We know that consuming processed meats is strongly linked to an increased risk of cancer in the digestive tract, and many people believe that the nitrates/nitrites are the reason for that (3, 4).
Research has linked 34,000 cancer deaths to processed meats annually, and both red meat and processed meats have been shown to lead to more instances of coronary heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes than other meats, such as fish and poultry, and vegetables. The media has reported that consuming 50 grams of processed meats a day can increase a person’s risk for colorectal cancer by 5-6%. To put that into perspective, 50 grams equates to about one hot dog or 6 slices of bacon.
However, here’s where it gets a bit condusing. Nitrates are also found naturally in foods like vegetables, foods that are generally perceived as healthy and linked to a reduced risk of cancer (5, 6).
Vegetables are actually the biggest dietary source of nitrates… by far. The amount you get from processed meat is small compared to vegetables (7).
Our bodies also produce nitrates in large amounts and secrete them into saliva (8, 9).
Nitrates and nitrites actually circulate from the digestive system, into the blood, then into saliva and then back into the digestive system. This is known as the entero-salivary circulation (10).
They seem to function as antimicrobials in the digestive system, helping to kill pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella (11, 12). They can also turn into Nitric Oxide (NO), an important signalling molecule (13).
Recent research has found that nitrates from vegetables are protective against cardiovascular diseases.
So maybe it’s just the source of nitrate that is a problem? Turns out naturally occurring nitrates from vegetables are the same molecule as those in processed meats. In fact, many “nitrate- and nitrite-free” meats use celery juice which, you guessed it, contains nitrates.
The method of cooking and the composition of the meat might be more to blame than the addition of nitrates. Smoking meats, cooking with high heat, and heme iron, which is usually found in processed and/or red meats, are all suspected culprits linked to nutrition-related disease.
Marinades, spices and seasonings, and cooking low and slow can all reduce the amount of potential carcinogens in the meat you are consuming.
What is the conclusion from all this? With the numerous studies suggesting the health risks associated with both processed meats and nitrates/nitrites, it is probably a good idea to limit consumption.
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