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Nitrites in Foods: Negative effects on Health

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Sodium nitrate and Sodium nitrite are chemicals that have been used in food especially to preserve meat for centuries. These chemicals are also used in other foods as preservatives, antimicrobial agents as well as flavouring agents.

Nitrates are not harmful, but can easily be converted to nitrites. This conversion occurs at high temperatures e.g. frying cured meat at high temperatures.

It is well known that nitrites combine with amines to form nitrosoamines which are known to be dangerous cancer-causing compounds.

Food in which nitrites are most commonly found
Hot dogs
Luncheon meats
Corned beef
Smoked fish
Most of processed meat.

There is a heated debate on whether nitrites (or any other food additive) is safe or unsafe. However, there are strong reasons to avoid nitrites in food.

Reasons why you should consider avoiding nitrites in your foods

  1. Brain tumour in Children:Children born by mothers who consume high quantities of cured meat (cured with nitrites) during pregnancy have 2-3 time risk of developing brain tumour than those born by mothers who do not consume cured meat.
  2. Cancer: Nitrites have been shown to contribute to a number of cancers. These include: Stomach cancer, Pancreatic cancer and Colorectal Cancer
  3. DNA mutations: Consumption of cured hot dogs have been shown  to have compounds that cause DNA-mutation. If DNA mutations occur, they can cause cancer.

Ways to minimise foods with nitrites

  • Avoid all processed meat such as hot dogs, sausages, luncheon meats,  bacon, canned beef etc. If you have to consume processed meat, look for nitrite-free processed meats which can be found in the frozen and refrigerated meat section in supermarkets. These mostly do not require nitrites for preservation.
  • Check the label for nitrite-free products.
  • Look for meat cured with sugar or other curing agents.
  • Drink orange juice (during breakfast when taking bacon) or vitamin C while taking foods with nitrites. This prevents nitrites converting to nitrosoamines.

Does it mean you should never eat processed meat?
If you can, avoid processed meat like plague. In addition, to high levels of nitrites or nitrosoamines, processed meat pose big health problem of being high in Sodium (from Sodium chloride) and high in fat.

Other sources of nitrates and nitrites
Leafy vegetables and root vegetables contain naturally occurring nitrates which are considered to be safe. These vegetables include: Lettuce: spinach, cabbage,beets, radishes and carrots

One major source of harmful nitrites is water due fertilisers and other pollutants carelessly drained into rivers.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Norah June 2, 2010, 8:54 am

    thanks alot

  • Liz March 9, 2011, 1:15 pm

    Hi Joshua
    I recently got to know about your write-ups and have since subscribed to receive articles you write.
    Thanks very much for the useful information. Many of us live in ignorance and consume foodstuffs that are harmful to health. Sad that many people have studied food science and know the effects of our poor eating habits that destroy good health and have never felt the need to share except through books which are out of reach of most people.

    Once again, thanks for sharing this vital information for free and God Bless you!


    • Joshua Arimi March 13, 2011, 10:58 pm

      Hi Liz,
      Thanks for your compliments and subscribing. I write atleast one article every week. I also write for Daily Nation. Since you have subscribed, whenever I post an article it will be delivered automatically to your email address.

      Have a health reading.

  • Darren April 18, 2011, 8:05 pm


    Thanks for this post. I would like to know on what source you based this post on. Cited sources not “well known” information. After sodium nitrite was elected for studies by the FDA for its wide spread use in the food industry. I looked up and found the resulting case studies. The latest 2 year study concluded no evidence of carcinogenic activity. Can you point me to peer reviewed accredited studies that show different results?

  • Charles Garrett August 30, 2012, 5:12 pm

    If the FDA approves nitrates as safe then I can bet my life that they are not safe. The criminals that get elected to head the FDA and get posted into positions in the FDA are all corporation insiders just looking to twist federal rules and regulations to dump their poisons on the general public consumers.

  • Jacob May 8, 2014, 8:57 am

    thanks for everything 🙂