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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

"N" is For Nitrates and You're Going to Be Surprised!

My husband is going to love this. After years of warning him against the nitrates in his bacon, cured meats and sausages, I have discovered there is hope for him and his sliced black-forest ham addiction.

Over 80% of the nitrates we eat come from fruit and vegetables. Celery is a good example of a nitrate laden substance. Everyone knows that celery is good for us.
Nitrates are used in foods to preserve colour, taste and to prevent botulism in fats that can turn rancid. Nitrates are not a bad thing, by themselves.  They are used in cured meats such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meat, corned beef and smoked fish.
 Although nitrates help plants to grow, there are some negative effects when ingested by humans. It is not the nitrates that cause damage; your body metabolizes and converts them into nitrites. In adults, the conversion takes place in the saliva. In infants, it takes place in the gastrointestinal tract.
If sodium nitrite mixes with any amino acids in our stomach, things like nitrosamines can be formed and that’s where the trouble starts.
Nitrosamines are very nasty versatile substances that can change DNA and lead to cancerous abnormalities in cells. They are proven carcinogens which can also be formed when cooking meats with nitrates at high temperatures.
The bad news is almost everything you eat has amino acid in it, including beer, wine, tea, cigarette smoke, fish, and cereals. So do some prescription drugs, including oral contraceptives, antidepressants, tranquilizers, analgesics, nasal decongestants, antihistamines, and diuretics.

Okay, so that’s it for you and the bacon? Not so fast. Studies show that eating certain foods with your nitrated foods can counter-act the formation of the nitrosamines. Vitamin C in any form as well as garlic, pineapple, carrots, green peppers, strawberries and tomatoes all do the same thing. So that’s the good thing about BLT’s and the bad thing about plain old bacon and eggs (unless you have sliced tomatoes or eat yours and everyone else’s orange-slice garnish).
Make sure to cook your bacon slower and at a low to medium high heat. Try cooking it in the microwave wrapped in paper towel to prevent splatters.

Having one feed of nitrate-laced meat chased by a beer will probably not give you cancer. It’s when you make a habit out of all that saturated fat and salt in things like bacon. 
In the meantime, I’ll be serving a bowl of fruit salad beside my husband’s next “extra-lean, sodium reduced” ham sandwich. Me? I’ll be eating my words of warning about cured meats.