The meat industry has always nitrates were safe, but to consumers, nitrates were considered to a cause for concern. Numerous studies purported to show a link between nitrite consumption and cancer, and this belief persists among many foodies, even today. Yet nitrites are key functional components in cured meats, responsible for their characteristic pink colour, and for retarding the growth of harmful bacteria.
Many vegetables and grains contain high levels of nitrate that is converted to sodium nitrite by our digestive process. So, when we eat fruits, vegetables or grains, our bodies produce sodium nitrite. How could nitrites be so bad for you?
Today nitrates are considered a healthy part of a balanced diet, and research has shown there is nothing to fear from consuming them. So what happened? Science happened.
“Where you receive it (nitrite) actually makes no difference, because nitrite is nitrite. In other words, nitrite derived from celery or other vegetables is exactly the same as the nitrate from cured meats.” Jeff Sindelar, University of Wisconsin
What Happens To Nitrate & Nitrite In The Body?
How nitrites are converted to nitric oxide in the body.
Neither nitrate nor nitrite accumulates in the body. Nitrate converts to nitrite in contact with saliva. Here’s how the nitrate we eat breaks down:
- 25% is converted into salivary nitrite,
- 20% converted into nitrite,
- and the rest is excreted in the urine within 5 hours of ingestion.
Any nitrate that is absorbed has a very short half-life, disappearing from our blood in under five minutes. When nitrite in the stomach reacts with gastric contents, it forms nitric oxide which is now known to have a key role in heart health & other chemical reactions in the body.
The body actually makes nitrite as part of its normal, healthy nitrogen cycle. Research has shown that nitrite:
- Regulates blood pressure
- Prevents injury from heart attack
- Prevents brain damage following a stroke
- Prevents preeclampsia in pregnant women
- Promotes wound healing
- Promotes successful organ transplantation
- Treats sickle cell anemia
- Prevents stomach ulcers
For more information on nitrites and your health, check out these resources: