On Nutrition: Questions about nitrites and nitrates
By Barbara Quinn
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Last week's column on nitrates and nitrites generated some questions from readers.
Kristina writes: "I am confused. The article says inorganic sources of nitrates are found naturally in food and the nitrates that we use as preservatives are organic? Did I read that correctly?"
No, and it's an important distinction. "Inorganic" forms of nitrate and nitrite are found naturally in foods such as beets, celery, and spinach. Inorganic nitrates and nitrites are also used for food preservation. These inorganic compounds have a lower risk for toxicity and have been shown to help lower blood pressure and enhance athletic performance.
"Organic" nitrates and nitrites are more complex molecules and are the main ingredients in potent heart drugs such as nitroglycerine and amyl nitrite. An overdose of these powerful substances could be fatal.
Theresa writes, "Interesting article.... My question for you is does buying meats cured with celery salt offer any advantage (safety) over sodium nitrates and nitrites? Yes, I realize processed meats should be limited, but I'm asking for my children they love hot dogs and it's not a food I serve often, but I'm wondering if I'm reducing some of the risks associated with consuming cured meats by choosing varieties cured with celery salt? The brands curing with celery salts tend to be leaner and lower in sodium than the ones that do not."
Good question. Sodium nitrate is a very effective food preservative. It kills bacteria as it "cures" meats such as hot dogs. According to regulations by the US Food and Drug Administration, sodium nitrate can be safely used to preserve foods if the amount does not exceed specific guidelines.
Hotdogs and other foods made with "no added nitrates" must be protected from bacteria in other ways. Celery is naturally high in nitrate. So meat products preserved with celery salts contain…guess what? Sodium nitrate.
And remember that nitrate in food either naturally occurring or in nitrate salts is converted in the body to nitrite and then to beneficial nitric oxide.
This is NOT to say that hot dogs are health foods. We are called to limit our intake of processed meats for a variety of other health reasons. And you are wise to choose products with lower amounts of sodium and fat.
Suffice it to say that this subject is a good example of what food safety expert Carl Winter from the University of California at Davis says: "The dose makes the poison."
Lest we all get confused, a recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that found a beneficial effect on athletic performance from eating beets (which are high in nitrates) states, "It is not known why dietary nitrate has been associated with healthful effects in some instances and harmful effects in others…Because whole vegetables have been shown to have health benefits, whereas nitrates from other sources may have detrimental health effects, it would be prudent for individuals seeking performance benefits to obtain nitrates from whole vegetables, such as beetroot."
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Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
© 2011, The Monterey County Herald Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services