The nitrates and the nitrites are found naturally in the body and in some foods. In excess, however, these substances can be harmful to health, since they increase the risk of developing digestive cancer. However, manufacturers tend to use them as preservatives in certain products, in particular processed meat. In this slideshow, we list the meats enriched with these substances, and that it is therefore better to bypass in the supermarket.
Nitrites and nitrates promote digestive cancers
Used as additives under the names E249, E250, E251 and E252 in the food industry, nitrites and nitrates allow food to be preserved for longer, preventing bacterial proliferation. But they are classified as probable carcinogens for humans by the World Health Organization; they are mainly suspected of increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.
These preservatives are mainly used in processed meats, and in particular cold meats. In addition to protecting these foods against bacteria, they give them a salty flavor and improve their appearance. It is they who give, for example, its pink color to ham.
But the scientific literature is categorical: each year, nearly 4,400 new cases from stomach and colon cancers are directly linked to the ingestion of processed meat. Their saturated fat content could play a role in this risk, but additives are not foreign to it either …
Avoid nitrates and nitrites in the form of food additives
Low dose, nitrates and nitrites are however good for health. They even help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. But for that, they must be consumed under their natural form, and not added artificially (and in too large a quantity) to the food. In nature, they are found mainly in vegetables and, to a lesser extent, in drinking water – for which their level is regulated.
To avoid consuming too many nitrates / nitrites, be sure to read the labels of the meat you buy in the supermarket. Bypass references that contain potassium nitrate or sodium nitrate in their list of ingredients, or those that bear the mention “Brined” or “smoked”because they may also contain these additives. In general, avoid all processed meats (or eat them in great moderation).