by Kimberly Allen, RN
Recently the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) posted the results of a “detailed review of more than 7,000 clinical studies covering links between diet and cancer.” This has lead many people to the conclusion that it’s the sodium nitrite used as a preservative in processed meats like bacon, sausage, and salami as well as the numerous other processed meats that can be found on the shelf in your local grocery store.
The problem is that less than 5% of our nitrite intake comes from eating cured and processed meats. We actually get at least 80% of our nitrite intake from the fruit and vegetables we eat. That’s right, fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring nitrites. Some vegetables are higher than others in nitrite content depending on the vegetable. Researchers said that close to 100% of the nitrates we consume is then transformed into nitrites by certain “normal” bacteria in our mouth and intestinal tract. The food containing the nitrite is transformed into nitric oxide as well as other metabolic products in the stomach.
These products have shown many beneficial actions including lowering your blood pressure and relaxing blood vessels as well as supporting the function of your heart and blood vessels. They have also been shown to be helpful in preventing injury from a heart attack and promoting wound healing as well as destroying any harmful bacteria in your digestive tract. However, the evidence to support the claim that nitrates and nitrites are carcinogens is not very convincing. A report issued by the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program in May of 2001 states there “was no evidence of carcinogenic activity applicable to humans in the rat models studied”. Sodium nitrate and nitrite were also removed from the California Environmental Protection Agency’s report on “Chemicals known to the state to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity” in June 2010.
Whether or not it’s the nitrates, nitrites or other ingredients, many people are looking for healthier alternatives. The problem is not all foods labeled “nitrite free” are actually nitrite free. Many of the meat products that are “certified organic” and/or “natural” use plant based flavorings and preservatives like celery powder or extract. Like many vegetables, celery is high in naturally occurring nitrates. So far, researchers have not been able to determine if naturally occurring nitrates and nitrites are better for you than synthetic ones. However, many people are more comfortable using natural as opposed to synthetic. It’s also important to note that by opting for the “natural preservative” that is used to cure organic meat products you are also getting a healthier meat. Organic meats don’t have any hormones, antibiotics, or other drugs and no GMO feed.
So this then begs the question – what is really causing the increase in certain cancers in all those studies. There is no distinction on what type of meat the particiapants consumed. If it was conventionally-raised meat then there are numerous other possibilities as to what caused the cancer. Perhaps it’s time for more studies done comparing organic meats with conventional meats before deciding just what ingredient is causing the cancer. If nitrites and nitrates are the problem then why are more vegans and vegitarians not developing these types of cancer?
For those that love organic meats and are very health conscious it can be difficult to find organic meats. Some people have taken to raising their own cows, chickens and pigs instead of taking their chances at the store and they’re some of the healthiest people I know. But, say you live in an apartment complex and can’t raise your own meat where do you go? There are some great organic product stores on line like Wegman’s that have a new organic turkey bacon and chicken sausage as well as numerous other organic products. If you live in a city area you may have more options as far as health food stors and farmers markets. In rural areas, check with your local farmer they will be your best bet for fresh organic products.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.