We’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 â€œThe nitrate reacts with the lung tissues, cracking elastin and stiffening collagen, causing the lungs to ageâ€.
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.