There are many food items available in the market that try to cater to your children, but if you read the labels you see way too many ingredients you wonder whether they are natural and should you feed it to your kids. Among such ingredients are compounds ending with “nitrate” and “nitrite.”
These two chemical compounds have confused many consumers, mainly due to the similarity in their names. Although nitrates and nitrites have different origins, excessive consumption could lead to various health problems.
Nitrates naturally occur in some fruits and vegetables like spinach and celery, as well as used to cure meat to prevent fat from becoming rancid and halt bacteria from growing. Nitrates are also used as synthetic food preservatives and even in drinking water due to the presence of nitrogen-based fertilizers and livestock waste. However, excessive levels can cause a variety of health issues, especially among children who consumer more nitrates than adults. Overconsumption of nitrates has been linked to leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, ovarian, bladder, colon, rectal, stomach, pancreatic, esophageal, and thyroid cancer.
Like nitrates, nitrites are also used to preserve food and cure meat. However, nitrites are a bit trickier. If nitrite-rich food items are exposed to high heat, like cooking, the nitrites convert into cancer-causing nitrosamines. And when nitrates are used as a food additive or consumed, they also turn into nitrosamines.
Scientists have recently discovered the connection between nitrates and nitrites and the diseases mentioned in this article. Exposure to both compounds has also been linked to pregnancy complications and infant health problems.
Although it would be too difficult to make your diet completely nitrate- and nitrite-free, here are some sound advice to keep your nitrate and nitrite levels at a minimum.
It is okay to eat natural-occuring nitrates – Crops that naturally have nitrates like celery and spinach also contain compounds such as vitamin C that prevent the nitrates from converting into nitrosamines when consumed. Food stuffs that are artificially treated with nitrates and nitrites may not have these complementary nutrients and their preventative effects.
Minimize consumption of processed foods and cured meat products – This includes hot dogs, sausages, cold cuts, ham, and (gasp!) bacon.
Check the labels carefully – Read the ingredients list of every food item, even if it claims to be meat-free. Nitrates and nitrites have also been found in products that contain processed meat, as well as other food items. If the product has vague (like listing “additives” or “preservatives”) or no ingredients list, do not bother purchasing them.
Do not be fooled by products that claim to be uncured or nitrate-free – These products usually contain nitrates from ingredients such as “celery juice” and can contain even more amounts compared to its traditional counterparts.
Eat organic foods – You can be sure that crops grown organically do not contain synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which can significally increase the plant’s nitrate content.
Treat your drinking water – If you live in a rural area, consider investing on a home water distiller, a reverse osmosis filter, or an ion exchange filter that would remove any trace of fertilizer nitrates that have accumulated in groundwater.
Consume a lot of antioxidants – Certain nutrients like vitamin C can reduce the conversion of nitrates into carcinogens. You can also take antioxidant-rich health supplements to be doubly sure.
Source: Healthy Child