Just Say No to Nitrites and Nitrates

We all remember how sketchy that cafeteria food was growing up, and the media is constantly spotlighting the deplorable school lunch conditions in our nation.  It’s no wonder so many parents choose to pack their kids’ lunches in hopes of improving their nutrition.  But what many moms and dads don’t know is that they’re sending a highly carcinogenic food to school with their kids every day, and it’s disguised in the form of an innocent looking turkey sandwich!

Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate, which are used as a preservative, antibacterial, antimicrobial and coloring agent in many processed meats, are converted to cancer-causing nitrosamines in the body.  If you and your kids eat hot dogs, bacon, ham, lunch meats, corned beef, smoked fish or any other type of processed meat on a regular basis, you are also regularly consuming harmful nitrites/nitrates.

Be leery of this aisle in the grocery store!

Why buy nitrite/nitrate-free meat?

  • According to the World Cancer Research Fund, processed meats are “too dangerous for human consumption”.  This declaration came after 7,000 studies were conducted focusing on the link between diet and cancer.
  • The Journal of the American Medical Association reported those who ate the most processed meat were more likely to develop colorectal and stomach cancer.  In fact, a 2005 study conducted by the University of Hawaii concluded that nitrites/nitrates in meat increase the risk of colorectal cancer by a whopping 67 percent.
  • A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people who ate the most processed meats had a 68 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer compared with those who ate the least.  The Institute also found that people with the highest intake of nitrates were 29 percent more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who seldom or never consumed them.
  • More than 14 servings of cured meat a month can increase the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease according to The Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. The study found the risk increased by two percent for each additional monthly serving.
  • A recent study showed babies born to women who ate large amounts of cured meat during pregnancy were at greater risk of developing brain tumors.   Likewise, kids who ate one or more hot dogs per week had an increased chance of developing brain tumors.
  • Hot dogs that contain nitrites/nitrates have been found to contain DNA-mutating compounds.  If enough DNA mutations occur in the gut, it could increase your risk of colon cancer.
  • Children who eat more than 12 hot dogs per month have 9 times the risk of developing childhood leukemia.
  • Studies suggest nitrites/nitrates increase damage to blood vessels and increase the risk of inflammatory processes associated with disease.

Wow!  And this is just a small sampling of the stats I found on the dangers of these preservatives.

How do I avoid nitrites and nitrates?

It’s really important to look for nitrite/nitrate-free meat varieties in your grocery store.  If they’re not there, request them!  In addition to lunch meats and hot dogs, read the labels on frozen meals and pizzas, canned soups and canned meat like SPAM.

You can find all-natural, nitrite/nitrate free brands not only at your regular grocery store, but also at stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  Hormel, Coleman Farms and Applegate Farms are a few examples (And they’re all gluten, MSG, antibiotic and hormone free.).  These healthier brands may cost more and involve spending a few extra minutes at the deli counter, but it’s totally worth it.

According to the nutritional info on their website, only a few of subway’s meats, like the chicken, turkey, steak and roast beef, are nitrite/nitrate free (review this list before your next visit).

Are there other sources of nitrites in our diet?

Green leafy vegetables and root vegetables contain naturally occurring nitrites, but fortunately compounds in the vegetables inhibit the formation of the harmful nitrosamines in our bodies (So keep eating your veggies!).  Nitrites are also present in drinking water due to fertilizers, manure, animal feedlots and other environmental pollution sources, so try to find the purest water source available to you.

So next time you go to buy sliced turkey or any other processed meat, remember, just say no to nitrites and nitrates!  Your family is worth the effort!

4 Comments

Filed under Healthy Tips, Rants and Cravings

4 responses to “Just Say No to Nitrites and Nitrates

  1. Hi Joanna – I’m so glad you posted about this b/c I’ve been wondering about this for a while. I always purchase Boar’s Head meat, but do I need to be purchasing the specific “All Natural” Boar’s Head varieties or are all of their meats considered healthy nitrite/nitrate-free? I’ve always thought any of them were fine, but didn’t really know, so would love your thoughts!

  2. Great topic! As the daugher of a deli owner, I grew up surrounded by meats – some fresh, and some with enough nitrates to preserve it for eternity. While aware of the problems with this additive, I had no idea about its far reaching and very damaging effects. Will share this piece with my boyfriend, who visits Subway way too often.:)

  3. Jessica H.

    I love what you’re saying here, and have had my own serious reservations on nitrites/nitrates for a while now because of the information I have come across… but could you cite some of your sources? Are there any medical papers that you could refer me to? Thank you!

  4. I understand artificial and natural nitrites both have same efect in the body.
    I buy Trader Joes uncured nitrate and nitrite free pastrami and read the small print at bottom and from all their similar products.
    Every one of those uses celery powder for use as natural nitrites/nitrates.
    Not sure, but I believe our bodies need a small amount of nitrites for body functions. I’ll research further.

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