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Imagine opening up your refrigerator door and finding a huge sign:
“Surgeon General’s Warning:
Quitting deli meat now greatly reduces serious risks to your health.”
You may think I am exaggerating about those beloved processed meats, but I’m not.
The World Health Organization ranks bacon, ham and sausages alongside asbestos, arsenic and cigarettes as a major cause of cancer.
I’m thinking now you don’t want to be like an Oscar Mayer wiener after all.
To know how to combat the cancer-causing risk of processed meats, it will help to understand more about what nitrates are, where they are found, and then I’ll provide tips to help you out, even if you decide to continue eating processed meats.
Let’s start with the basics.
Nitrates occur naturally in our body and in soil, air and water. They are also added to foods in the manufacturing process as a way to extend shelf-life of certain products by stopping the growth of bacteria.
Vegetables are very high in nitrates when compared with other food groups. It’s estimated that 75–80% of our total daily intake of nitrates comes from vegetables, compared with only about 5–10% from drinking water. (Encyclopedia of Food Sciences and Nutrition (Second Edition), 2003)
Top Nitrate Containing Plants:
(Afr J Trad Complement Altern Med, 2017)
Not at all!
When we eat nitrates, our saliva converts them to nitrites. Nitrites can be beneficial to us, supporting a healthy blood pressure for example. Nitrites can also harm us when nitrosamines are formed, usually when meats are exposed to high heat cooking methods like grilling or smoking. Vegetables, on the other hand, even cooked at a high temperature, are not a problem. Manufacturers also put nitrates and nitrites in processed meats to keep them from spoiling too quickly.
Nitrosamines, then, are the real culprit when it comes to cancer risk (primarily gastric and esophageal cancer but also bladder, breast, lung and other cancers).
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