Healthy Kitchens Healthy Lives

Nitrites and Nitrates

Nitrates and Nitrites 101

Nitrates are a normal part of one’s diet, but excessive levels have been linked to thyroid, leukemia, ovarian, colon, rectal, bladder, stomach, esophageal and pancreatic cancer.

They’re naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables like spinach and celery, and also found as the synthetic food preservatives sodium nitrate and potassium nitrite, which are added to cured meat to preserve its color, stop certain bacteria from growing and to prevent fats from going rancid. Nitrogen-based fertilizers as well as livestock waste seep into our water supply and add these dangerous ingredients to our drinking and bathing water. Another reason to consume organic foods. They’re not grown with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which can boost a crop’s nitrate content.

If nitrites are exposed to high heat (think cooking) they can convert to the carcinogenic nitrosamines. When nitrates are used as a food additive or consumed, they can convert into nitrites. Vicious circle.

There’s a difference between eating nitrates added to foods as preservatives and consuming them via produce. Mother Nature sees to that. Nitrates that occur naturally are found alongside compounds like vitamin C that inhibit their conversion into nitrosamines in the body. When we eat nitrates and nitrites in foods artificially treated with them, we may not be getting these complementary nutrients and their preventative effects.

This topic is one of the most confusing for consumers and for good reason. There is so much conflicting information. My mind is open and if I find out something new, I’ll let you know.


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