I have tried to avoid nitrites and nitrates for a while now. Especially while pregnant. And since we’re serving ham for Christmas…something that often contains both…I figured now would be a good time to talk about them. They are found in most processed meats, like hot dogs, lunch meat, bacon, etc.
So, what are they and what can they do to you?
I’ll start with sodium nitrate.
Sodium nitrate is in a lot of processed meats. But did you know it’s also used in the “manufacture of glass antifoamer, fertilizer, dyes and potassium nitrate, also in pharmaceuticals, oxidant and metal hot-treating”? Should that same thing really be in our food?
So what does it actually do to you? “Sodium nitrate may damage your blood vessels, making your arteries more likely to harden and narrow, leading to heart disease. Nitrates may also affect the way your body uses sugar, making you more likely to develop diabetes.”
Also, “nitrates in food are a danger in that they can be converted to nitrites, which can react in your stomach to form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are potent cancer-causing chemicals.”
I find that these days sodium nitrate isn’t used quite as commonly as sodium nitrite. So, on to chemical number two.
Sodium nitrite is actually a poison. It is used to give processed meat a pinky color instead of looking gray (like regular cooked meat does). It has been shown to cause cancer, especially pancreatic and colorectal. “The USDA actually tried to ban sodium nitrite from the food supply back in the 1970’s, but it was overruled by the meat industry which knew that the chemical made meat look visually more appealing and therefore increased sales of processed meat products.”
Sodium nitrite is also “suspected of playing a role in the development of migraines and chronic obstructive lung disease.”
Pregnant women need to be especially careful about sodium nitrite “due to the greatly heightened risk of brain tumors in infants.” Sodium nitrite is especially dangerous to fetuses, infants and children.
These two nasty ingredients are in most processed meats today. But what else in that commonly served meat? Most list some kind of mechanically separated meat in the ingredients. Which means “a paste-like meat product produced by forcing beef, pork, turkey or chicken bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.” This can even include spinal cords. Gross!
Do you feed your child hot dogs regularly? “Leukemia skyrockets by 700% following the consumption of hot dogs. (Preston-Martin, S. et al. “N-nitroso compounds and childhood brain tumors: A case-control study.” Cancer Res. 1982; 42:5240-5.)” No thanks.
If you do some research you will find a lot of meat companies say it’s totally safe. Of course they do. They want to sell their product! But if you look at the real evidence, you’ll see sodium nitrate and nitrite is not good for you at all. Especially children. So the next time you want to feed your child a hot dog, make sure it’s nitrate/nitrite free.
I served a fresh ham roast for Christmas dinner last night. And it was not pink. And it did not taste like it had been preserved in chemicals for months. It was nice 🙂 I spent way too many years consuming large amounts of lunch meat. Thankfully I have not had any in several years. And I hope to prevent my children from eating it as much as possible as well. The more chemicals we can avoid the better.