Food For Thought: Nitrates

Hello Friends,

I cringe when I hear of schools serving hotdogs for lunch. And those packaged “lunches” you see in the grocery store containing processed cheese, crackers and luncheon meats? Well, don’t even get me started on those.

Most of us know that eating a lot of cured meats and hotdogs is not healthy because of how high these foods tend to be in fat, sodium and preservatives. But not many people realize how dangerous these foods really can be.

Many cured meats on supermarket shelves contain nitrates. Nitrates are chemical preservatives used in foods like bacon and lunch meats to preserve color and inhibit the growth of bacteria.

What exactly are nitrates?

Nitrates aren’t harmful all on their own, but in the human body, nitrates are converted to the carcinogen nitrite. High amounts of nitrate consumption is linked to liver, stomach and esophageal cancers. People who eat a lot of nitrates also seem to be at higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Pregnant women and babies should avoid all chemical nitrates.)

There are many types of cured meats containing nitrates—particularly pink cured meats. (The color comes from nitrates.)

There are vegetables like spinach and carrots that contain nitrates, but it’s believed that these veggies have other compounds that can prevent their naturally occurring nitrates from becoming dangerous. (It is advised to avoid giving these vegetables to babies under six months old because they can be sensitive to nitrates.)

Many manufacturers are listening to consumers, offering nitrate-free versions of ham, bacon and cured meats so be sure to check your labels. There may be a nitrate-free version of your favorite meats in your local grocery store.

If you can’t find nitrate-free meats in your neck of the woods, limit the amount of these foods that you do eat. At the same time, try to take extra vitamin C while you’re eating nitrate-containing foods to inhibit the conversion of nitrates to toxic nitrites. Eat a small orange with your bacon to balance things a bit.

Leanne Ely, Your Dinner Diva

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