What are nitrates…and why are they bad for you?
It seems like everyone’s avoiding nitrates nowadays. Your mom buys nitrate-free hot dogs for your family barbecues. Your friend packs nitrate-free turkey breast sandwiches in her kids’ lunches.
Maybe you’ve even started avoiding nitrates, because clearly there’s something dangerous about them. Why else would everyone be avoiding them?
But what are nitrates exactly? And why are they bad for you?
Nitrates are chemical compounds that are found naturally in foods like beets, celery, lettuce, radishes, spinach, dairy products, beef, poultry and fish. They’re also added to packaged meats like hot dogs, ham, bacon, deli meat and sausages to give them color and increase their shelf life. Your body even produces some of its own nitrates naturally.
Now, considering everyone’s concerned about buying nitrate-free meat nowadays, you might be surprised to learn that most of us get far more nitrates from vegetables than from packaged meats. In fact, 80 percent of dietary nitrates come from veggies. And these nitrates can do some wonderful things for your health.
At the right doses, these natural nitrates can lower blood pressure, reducing your risk for heart disease and stroke. They can give you more endurance when you exercise. They can even boost your muscle strength.
But wait a second…
Why are the natural nitrates found in vegetables safe (healthy, even!), while everyone is avoiding added nitrates in packaged meats like the plague?
Why nitrates in packaged meats are bad for you
Natural nitrates from vegetables are different than added nitrates from meats because of the way your body processes them.
When you get nitrates from bologna instead of beets, for example, your body will most likely convert those nitrates into dangerous compounds called nitrosamines.
Nitrosamines are known carcinogens, and that’s why your mom, your BFF and (hopefully) you have been avoiding meats with added nitrates.
Nitrosamines form when nitrates are exposed to super high heats, especially when they’re combined with amino acids. Meat products are a source of amino acids plus they’re cooked at much higher temps than vegetables, producing the perfect conditions for nitrosamine formation.
Biltong isn’t cooked at high heats like traditional jerky and other meats, so there’s less chance of nitrosamines forming. But we prefer to play it safe anyway. That’s why we don’t add nitrates to any Stryve biltong products.
Nitrates from vegetables, on the other hand, are often processed into nitric oxide, a molecule that’s tied to certain health benefits, including lower blood pressure.
Nixing added nitrates from your plate
It’s not always easy to find nitrate-free alternatives to your favorite meat products. But health-conscious brands will proudly display the words “nitrate-free” on their label. Stryve’s Biltong products are all nitrate-free. So, if you’re looking for a safe, high-protein snack without nasty nitrates, we’ve got you covered.
When you’re avoiding added nitrates, it’s also important to read labels carefully and look out for ingredients like sodium, potassium nitrates and nitrites—these are all code names for synthetic nitrates.
And here’s another tip: When you do eat added nitrates, balance them out with extra antioxidants. Research shows that antioxidants like vitamin C can reduce the chance that your body will convert nitrates into nitrosamines, keeping you safe from that added cancer risk.
- The Truth about Nitrates — Dietitians of Canada.
- Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits — American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
- Inorganic nitrate and beetroot juice supplementation reduces blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis — Journal of Nutrition.
- Acute blood pressure lowering, vasoprotective, and antiplatelet properties of dietary nitrate via bioconversion to nitrite — Hypertension.
- Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial — Nutrition Journal.
- Effects of dietary nitrate on oxygen cost during exercise — Acta Physiologica.
- Dietary inorganic nitrate improves mitochondrial efficiency in humans — Cell Metabolism.
- Nitrate Intake Promotes Shift in Muscle Fiber Type Composition during Sprint Interval Training in Hypoxia — Frontiers in Physiology.
- Dietary Nitrates, Nitrites, and Nitrosamines Intake and the Risk of Gastric Cancer: A Meta-Analysis — Nutrients.
- The use and control of nitrate and nitrite for the processing of meat products — Meat Science.
- Formation and occurrence of nitrosamines in food — Cancer Research.