The other day my colleague brought me in a lovely brochure entitled: What you should know about Nitrate, Nitrite and a Healthy Balanced Diet. This brochure extols the importance of nitrates for a “healthy metabolism” and point out that there are more nitrates in many vegetables than in processed meats. Naturally they fail to make a distinction between nitrates and nitrites. Now, I get confused about this and I learned about it in school so I’m sure that it probably confuses many of you as well. I did a little research and even though nitrates are naturally occurring in our diets we have increased their levels with our use of fertilizers. Neither nitrates nor nitrites are particularly good for us to consume. However, nitrites are considerably worse for us, and nitrates convert to nitrites when we consume them. Now, the brochure points out that vegetables contain more nitrates than processed meats but conveniently fails to comment on the fact that processed meats contain more nitrites than vegetables do.
The new “natural” processed meats contain celery extract. Guess what that’s full of? Yep, nitrates and nitrites. So, if you think you’re being healthier by consuming the “natural” deli meats, think again. Just because something is “natural” does not mean that it is healthy.
Why are nitrates and nitrites such a big deal? Because they can form cancer-causing compounds in our bodies and increase our risk of developing colon and rectal cancer.
Why do meat processors use nitrites? Both as a food preservative and to add a pink colour to our meat. That’s right, apparently we would rather get cancer than to eat pale meat.
Now, this lovely brochure, produced by Maple Leaf Foods, would have you believe that processed meats can be consumed as part of a healthy diet. It just doesn’t say how often you can consume these foods as part of your healthy diet. According to the latest evidence from PEN (Practice-Based Evidence Nutrition) “If you choose to eat processed meat at all, save it for special occasions like ham at Christmas or the occasional hot dog at a hockey game.” To me, that means a few times a year, not daily, weekly, or even monthly; maybe quarterly or biannually.
If you’d like to read more about nitrates and nitrites, visit: http://www.ead.anl.gov/pub/doc/nitrate-ite.pdf