When Aerro's doctor recently told me he must avoid all nitrites, I knew that once again, I was going to be doing a lot of research. Research that I would share in basic terms with the general population. See, the lining of his stomach has a hard time breaking down nutrients so we have to keep things as pure and as chemical free as possible for him. It's not that hard, really. Just a lot of home cooked goodness and almost no processed foods.
But what made a nitrIte so bad? And how was it different from a nitrAte? He was allowed nitrAte foods, but not nitrIte ones. Well, after a meeting with a dietician, reading definitions in books, and some articles from reputable sites online this is what I discovered.
Occurs naturally in fresh foods such as spinach, celery, beets, lettuce, etc and not harmful to the body. Vitamin C and D contained in the food helps to absorb the nitrate so it's an ok thing to ingest in it's pure, fresh form. Nitrates relax veins and blood vessels, so a lot of times, people with heart problems are told by their doctors to eat nitrate rich foods.
Salt has been used to cure meat for ages. The discovery that the nitrate in salt combined with the bacteria in meat produced a compound called nitrite totally changed the curing process. Nitrites are now formed chemically and used to cure meats. The typical curing process is now a chemically made nitrite mixed with salt for flavor, sugar to offset the salt, and a whole host of natural and artificial flavors to produce the taste people are accustomed to. A simple problem is this. When nitrite is heated, it can for a nitrosamine which is a carcinogen. Carcinogens are associated with cancer and a whole host of other health problems.
This article from the Cancer Prevention Coalition totally blew my mind. Read it!!\
So what has nitrites? Lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon, cured fish meat, and others. And what to do about it? Simple. Buy nitrite free meats. Your local grocer has them. They're usually in the health food refrigerated section and are clearly labeled. Do they taste any different? Not usually. I haven't noticed a difference when it comes to being nitrite free. Nitrites give meat it's pinkish color, so the bacon, meat, dogs etc you buy will be *gasp* brown. Oh the horror! =) They're double the cost, but if you eat them half as often, no big deal, right?
And that's what I've learned about Nitrates vs Nitrites. All thanks to my son who, by his little health issues, is prodding me to further educate my own self. And pass on what I learn to you!