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Nitrites And Nitrates

Many of the deli-style meats enjoyed on sandwiches daily have two sneaky secrets you might not know about. Theyre called nitrites and nitrates. Scroll down the list of ingredients on that package of black forest or honey ham and look for sodium nitrite and/or sodium nitrate. Go ahead. Check your refrigerator. I'll still be here when you get back.

Well, did you discover sodium nitrite listed at the end of ingredients on that package of deli ham? If so, let's talk about that. Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are artificial preservatives, the key word here being artificial. Its the artificial preservatives that are thought to be potentially problematic. Some nitrites and nitrates occur naturally in things like celery or spinach so when celery salt is used as a preservative it is possible to eliminate the use of artificial preservatives.

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So what's the deal with artificial nitrites and nitrates anyway? I first learned about them when, on his way home from work, my husband spotted a billboard with the following words:

HOT DOGS CAUSE COLON CANCER

Well, I've never been a huge fan of hot dogs. Theyre just not my thing. But that doesn't mean I'm not up for enjoying a good Vienna beef dog straight from the ballpark from time to time. So I had to know what this hot dog-cancer scandal was all about. Especially, since I am a cancer survivor. Not planning on returning to those days anytime soon or ever.

Well, my hot dog research revealed that the potentially cancer causing culprits hiding in hot dogs are artificial nitrites and nitrates. Research demonstrates a possible link between extensive ingestion of artificial preservatives and an increased risk of certain cancers, including: Colon, ovarian, pancreatic and thyroid cancers, as well as leukemia and non-Hodkin lymphoma (Cancer Causes & Control). Bye-bye hot dogs. Then I discovered that those sneaky cancer-causing preservatives are hiding in all sorts of foods. Heres a quick list of just a few:

  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon
  • Sausages
  • Pepperoni
  • Deli meats

I don't do hot dogs, bacon, sausage or pepperoni much. But that last one deli meats, well that just about broke my happy sandwich eating heart. Would I have to give up my favorite toasted sandwich turkey and provolone with a bit of lettuce, tomato and onion? And what about you? Does this mean stopping by that quaint little caf for a fresh sandwich on your lunch break is now out of the question?

Well, in truth, there is still quite a bit of debate over just how risky artificial nitrites and nitrates are to your health. Some research indicates they are only problematic when the meats are cooked at high temperatures for a prolonged period, which can convert nitrates to nitrites and then to nitrosamines (which are potentially carcinogenic). This conversion process can also occur naturally in the body. But antioxidants to the rescue; they can prevent nitrosamines from forming. And that's why naturally occurring nitrites and nitrates (such as in spinach and celery) are potentially safer, because the plants they come from already contain antioxidants whereas artificially derived nitrites and nitrates do not come from an antioxidant source (Dubois).

So what's a sandwich eater to do? One solution is to eliminate process meats from your diet altogether. And, let's face it, they're not the healthiest option out there anyway. But if skipping some of those tasty treats isn't an option or even of interest, the good news is that some brands do offer foods free of artificial nitrites and nitrates. Try Applegate for starters. Even Oscar Mayer and Ballpark now offer a few items with no added nitrates or nitrites, which are readily found in many grocery stores these days.

And to end things on a middle-of-the-road note, don't stress about eating foods with artificial preservatives from time to time. In our fast-paced lives today, it's really difficult to always avoid the ever growing list of no-nos we shouldn't be eating. And the more we worry about controlling every inch of our food, the more we might feel like not eating at all. Well we can't have that now, can we? After all, we do have to eat. Lets just get ourselves educated and informed about the foods we eat so that we can minimize the harmful stuff whenever possible.

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Posted in Other Health and Medical Post Date 03/08/2015


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