It Was a Dark and Stormy Nitrate – Nitrates in Food

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.

– Doug Larson

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of discussions about nitrates in food. There seems to be a lot of talk linking nitrates to migraines. There are also a lot of questions as to whether it is safe to eat foods containing nitrates while pregnant.

While, I don’t know what the answers to these questions are, but I wanted to find out more. What are nitrates?

Nitrates in food are commonly used to preserve and maintain colour. They can be found naturally in some foods, especially in leafy green vegetables. High nitrate foods include cured meats such as hot dogs, cured ham, and bacon :-(. Other high nitrate foods are beets, spinach, and collard greens.

A nitrate has the chemical formula NO3. When eaten, your body will convert the nitrates into nitrites (chemical formula NO2).  In adults, the conversion is done in the saliva.  In infants, the conversion is done in the intestines.  Nitrates can also be converted to nitrites by the cooking process.  They form under conditions of extreme heat such as frying.  Nitrites have been linked to cancer and other health issues.  Nitrites converted prior to ingestion are generally more dangerous.

Babies are the most affected by nitrites.  They can convert nitrates to nitrites at double the rate of adults.  The nitrites can bond with the iron in a babies blood.  This in turn causes the blood to carry less oxygen.

This all sounds pretty bad.  Should we stop eating foods containing nitrates?  In my opinion, it is probably a good idea to reduce the amount of preserved meats we eat.  When you do eat a meal containing foods high in nitrates, try to include a source of vitamin C.  Vitamin C is know to inhibit the conversion of nitrates to nitrites.

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Posted in Cooking, Fresh Food, Nutrition

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