Facts About Sodium NitrateNitrates and nitrites are chemical compounds commonly used in making cured meat products like bacon and hot dogs. A lot of ink has been spilled discussing the idea that nitrates and nitrites are bad for you, and food manufacturers have introduced all kinds of supposedly "nitrate-free" products to meet the resulting consumer demand.
But what you may not know is that not only are the fears over nitrates completely overblown, but these "nitrate-free" products can actually contain many times more nitrates than conventional products.
Not only that, but a truly nitrate-free hot dog would be much more likely to you sick than a conventional one.
Nitrates and NitritesOne of the things that happens when sodium nitrate is used as a curing agent is that the sodium nitrate is converted to sodium nitrite. It's sodium nitrite that actually possesses the antimicrobial properties that make it a good preservative. Interestingly, the sodium nitrate that we consume through fruits, vegetables and grains is also converted to sodium nitrite by our digestive process. In other words, when we eat fruits, vegetables or grains, our bodies produce sodium nitrite.
As we have seen here in YOUR HEALTH TODAY, tobacco and smoking dangers have been way overblown over the years as an excuse to raise tax money, nothing more. It is a proven fact that those who smoke a cigar a day, or pipe smokers actually live longer than the average non-smoker. Diseases attributed to cigarettes have more to do with the paper rappers, the glues and the "fillers" than the tobacco itself. Smoking 4 packs a cigarettes a day will probably kill you. Smoking 3 cigarettes a day will probably ad 5 years to your life! And this comes from a non-smoker!
The “No Nitrites Added” Hoax
During a recent phone call with the excellent Elise of simplyrecipes, Elise wished aloud that I would address the nitrite issue directly. “Trader Joe’s carries it! Go look. Is there one near you?”
Indeed there is, and indeed they sell at least two products pitching themselves as a “healthier” bacon because they don’t add sodium nitrite. This is as odious as those sugar laden granola bars trumpeting “No Fat!” on their label—food marketers preying on a confused consumer who has been taught to fear food because of harmful additives (such as the recent, apparently genuine, Red Dye 40 warnings).
Full disclosure if you don’t already know: I am a vocal bacon advocate, and one of my books, Charcuterie, relies on sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate for many of its recipes to cure foods such as bacon, ham and salami, so take all this with, um … no, I’m too pissed off to pun.
Please, if someone can tell me what is wrong with nitrates (in green vegetables) and nitrites (in curing salts and in our bodies, a powerful antimicrobial agent in our saliva, for instance), I invite them to do so here. In the 70’s there were studies finding that at high temps, they could form nitrosamines, cancer causing compounds. I don’t disagree, but burnt things containing nitrite are bitter and unpleasant so we’re not likely to crave them in harmful quatities.
Aspirin is not bad for you, right? Helps with a morning head and achy joints. It’s even taken for its heart benefits. But eat enough of it and it’s toxic.