Nitrates in Cured Meats; Not Nutrition!

curedmeatWe’ve all heard about chemicals such as nitrates in cured meats, but have you ever really looked into the real dangers associated with regular ingestion of this preservative? And did you know that it’s used today more to maintain the traditional pink color we are used to seeing in meats like ham, hot dogs, and bacon?

Nitrates are used in many foods, especially cured meats such as bacon, hot dogs, bologna, salami, pepperoni, corned beef, pastrami, and other deli meats such as cured ham, and turkey. The nitrites preserve the pink color, and prevent the growth of bacteria that can cause botulism.

Even though adding nitrates to cured meats is no longer necessary with better production and food storage methods, which have decreased the potential for food-borne illness, they are still used in cooked meats to maintain the familiar pink color and cured flavor.

While nitrate itself is essentially harmless, they break down over time, forming nitrites. Even nitrites themselves are sometimes added directly to meat to speed up the curing process. When nitrates are consumed, they convert in the body to nitrites, which form nitrosamines, a known powerful carcinogen.

Eating cured meats containing nitrates may also double your risk for lung disease. Researchers in a Columbia University Medical Center study found that those eating cured meats containing nitrate more than 14 times a month nearly doubled their risk of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), including bronchitis and emphysema. than those who did not. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the US.

Study author, David C. Park states that “The nitrate reacts with the lung tissues, cracking elastin and stiffening collagen, causing the lungs to age”.

Children are particularly at risk with dangerous nitrite levels. These compounds have been found to be associated with cancers of the stomach, brain, bladder, and leukemia. One study cites that children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month have almost 10x the likelihood of developing childhood leukemia.

To be on the safe side,e people should opt for nitrate free meats that do not include sodium nitrate or potassium nitrates. When consuming foods containing nitrates, drink orange juice or something which contains Vitamin C, as it limits the nitrates from converting to nitrite in your stomach.

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5 Responses to “Nitrates in Cured Meats; Not Nutrition!”

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  1. Laura Weeks says:

    Thanks for the information about nitrate/nitrite. My question is:
    Why does cured meet that are nitrate/nitrite free seem to cost so much more? Does n/n free require a more expensive process to cure?

    • Vicki says:

      Laura, Now that’s a great question! Perhaps a supply & demand issue? So if we continue looking for and buying nitrate free meats that encourages the industry to product and sell more of it. Yet somehow I bet they won’t see the logic in lowering any prices….

  2. Alex Zorach says:

    One thing that bothers me so much about nitrates in cured meat is that they are not necessary! While I’m not a big eater of red meat, I do enjoy high-quality hard salami now and then…but I often avoid it because virtually all of it contains nitrites.

    Recently, I discovered a company that sells a few kinds of hard salami with no nitrates or nitrites:

    Unfortunately, many of that company’s products still contain nitrites. But they have a small line of salamis cured with wine…great idea, the wine acts as a preservative I assume? And wine contains antioxidants.

    At any rate, I wish more companies would do this sort of thing. I’ve seen a lot of research suggesting that spices preserve meat very effectively.

    Could it be that nitrates and nitrites in meat are only needed because we eat bland meat? If you think of a hot dog, it’s highly processed meat with very little in the way of seasonings…that’s a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, easily-digestable food, ready for spoiling. On the other hand, richly seasoned meats contain chemicals which inhibit the spoiling. If you look at the traditional cured meats, they’re almost all very flavorful and have lots of spices…because these are natural preservatives that ADD nutritional and health value in addition to keeping the meat from spoiling.

    Just a random thought…thanks for this post!

    • Vicki says:

      Thanks for the comment and link Alex! I have myself been not much of a meat eater but occasionally do like a little read meat, have enjoyed turkey for lunch, and bacon for breakfast, but that I avoided much due to the nitrates. Recently I’ve been pleased to find some nitrate free bacon and lunchmeats at my local grocers, so I think that we’ll be seeing more and more in choices without nitrates!

  3. WALWORTH says:

    Your blog is so informative. Keep up the good work!!!!

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