Are nitrates and nitrites unhealthy?

By: Health Local Staff Aug 01, 2012
nitrates and nitrites

Contained in nitrites and nitrates is a chemical which is a carcinogen that is linked to a few major illnesses.

It has been a debate that has raged for decades, and apparently, despite mounting evidence to prove its toxicity, it is still served on many a breakfast plate in Canada each morning. But is it healthy? Sure it’s delicious, who can resist it? Together with eggs, it is your stomach’s picture of a marriage made in heaven. But, as we all too often learn, things that taste good aren’t always healthy for us. So what exactly makes bacon so unhealthy?

What makes bacon such an unhealthy choice is what are known as nitrites and nitrates.

Nitrates and Nitrates Explained
Derived from nitric acid, both are a type of salt, and are commonly used to preserve many foods, and in particular meat. Indeed it is necessary to cure meat somehow as it kills the bacteria that, although microscopic, can kill us. You may recall long ago in Biblical times (and of course before that) what happened to people who ate meat that wasn’t cured. People became terribly ill and many died. What makes it so desirable to use as a preservative is its ability to maintain both the colour and flavour of the foods they are preserving. While the US and Canada continue to debate its use, many of the organic foods standards outside of the US and Canada have banned its use. Why?

Links to Diseases
Contained in nitrites and nitrates is a chemical compound known as nitrosamines, which is a carcinogen that is linked to a few major illnesses. One of them is cancer, most notably the liver, pancreatic, Leukemia and stomach. Although studies are ongoing, there is strong data to suggest that sodium nitrate can increase a person’s risk to type II diabetes because consumption may inhibit the pancreas’s ability to produce insulin.

Infants should not eat bacon or any other products that contain nitrites and nitrates as they can cause Methemoglobinemia. This happens when the hemoglobin molecules in one’s blood are inhibited from carrying oxygen efficiently to your body’s tissues. All organs need oxygen to thrive.

Part of the reason that the debate over the presence of nitrates and nitrites in bacon continues to rage is because there appears to be no viable substitution for either as a preservative. Removing sodium nitrate altogether poses another huge problem: Botchalism en masse. This is obviously no solution, given that Botchalism is almost always life-threatening.

What to Do if You Really Love Bacon
If you really love bacon and can’t bear the thought of totally giving it up, there are a few things you can do.

  • Do not overcook your bacon as it brings out the carcinogenic nitrosamines.
  • Limit your intake of bacon. Make it a special treat.
  • Add more antioxidants to your diet, and to the meal that contains bacon. Remembering that the job of antioxidants is to decrease your exposure to cancer, an increase can help fight the toxicity of sodium nitrates.

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