By Leanne Ely, C.N.C.
You have probably heard that eating a lot of lunch meat and hot dogs isn’t very healthy. Cured meats are full of fat, sodium, and preservatives. Yet few people realize just how dangerous these foods can actually be. Many cured meats contain dangerous substances called nitrates that may cause cancer. These substances are particularly harmful to infants and pregnant women.
Nitrates are chemical preservatives used in foods like bacon to inhibit bacteria growth and preserve color. Although nitrates themselves are not harmful, they are converted by the body into the carcinogen nitrite. Excessive nitrate consumption has been linked with stomach, liver, and esophageal cancer. There is also a higher incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in people who eat a lot of cured meats containing
Nitrates can be found in many types of cured meats. One thing to look for are cured meats that are pink. They get their color from nitrates. You can also watch for canned soup that contains meat and smoked fish. Nitrates are more dangerous when they are converted to nitrite before being eaten. This can happen when you cook using bacon drippings or salt pork.
Leafy green vegetables such as spinach and root vegetables such as carrots naturally contain nitrates. Scientists believe these vegetables also contain other compounds that prevent these nitrates from becoming dangerous in the body. However, parents are advised to avoid feeding these vegetables to babies under six months of age because nitrates pose a particular problem to infants. Excessive nitrates can lead to a blood disorder that causes oxygen deprivation in babies, although this is extremely rare. Once they reach the six-month mark, their digestive systems are usually mature enough to handle nitrates.
Foods containing nitrates are particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Some studies have pointed to a link between excessive nitrate consumption during pregnancy and an increased risk of babies developing brain tumors. Moreover, many nitrate-containing foods such as deli meats also pose a risk of listeria for pregnant women. It’s not worth the risk right? Just say no to nitrates.
You don’t have to give up foods like ham and salami entirely if you want to avoid nitrates. As more research points to the dangers of nitrates, manufacturers are offering nitrate-free versions of many of these foods so check labels carefully.
If you can’t avoid nitrates, consuming vitamin C at the same time can help inhibit the conversion to toxic nitrites. For example, having a glass of orange juice with bacon can help lessen the damage.