Tuesday, December 28, 2010

What's up with nitrates and nitrites?

I have to admit that I have been pretty lazy about nitrates and nitrites.  I know they are in some of the foods that I eat and I know the general vibe is that they are bad. 

What are they?
  • Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are two closely related chemicals used for centuries to preserve meat.
What foods are they primarily in?
  • Often found in cured meats including hot dogs, sausages, bologna, ham, bacon and deli meat. It is also found in pepperoni, corned beef, salami and canned meats.  My favorite deli meats use nitrites -- Boar's Head Brand is kind enough to have their nitrite rebuttal posted online if you want to check out their stance (and the American Meat Institute). 
Are they bad? How bad?
  • When nitrite combines with compounds called secondary amines, it forms nitrosamines, potential cancer-causing chemicals. The chemical reaction occurs most readily at the high temperatures of frying. Nitrite has long been suspected as being a cause of stomach cancer. 
  • Here is a good article, http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/f-w00/nitrosamine.html
Are there worthy alternatives?
In a way, I am mostly thankful for pioneering health advocates.  Without them blazing the trail household brands like Hormel may not have seen the opportunity in offering a 'natural' product line.  A battle line will likely be forever drawn between the old-school-nitrate/nitrite-safety-advocates and the vegan-or-100%-nitrate/nitrite-free-posse. 

But, for now, our purchasing dollars can be spent silently driving demand and this influence will steer the market into offering healthy alternatives.  Eat well and shop smart.

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