At our weight loss camps, we get a lot of questions about additives in our food. Additives are used to maintain freshness, add flavor, and enhance color. One of the additives very commonly found in processed meats are nitrates.
What is it?
Sodium nitrate is a chemical compound composed of sodium, nitrogen and oxygen. When added to meats it helps preserve the color of the meat, which is important since the meat may not sell right away.
What is it found in?
We typically see this additive in processed meats, such as pepperoni, spam, hot dogs, luncheon meats (like ham and turkey), sausages, and pastrami. It is also in many canned meats. Sodium Nitrates do exist naturally in soil so vegetables and fruits can have trace amounts but not much compared to processed meats.
What are the possible effects?
When consumed, nitrates react in our body to for nitrosamines, which may have a carcinogenic effect (meaning cancer-causing). There are still studies being done on how much it takes to be detrimental to our health.
What are the recommendations?
The general recommendation is to limit processed meats as much as possible. If you still choose to eat processed meats it is recommended not to overcook them especially when grilling because the compounds released in charring may also have a carcinogenic effect. Also pregnant women, elderly, young children and those with a compromised immune system should avoid processed meats.
Cooking fresh meat such as chicken breast, lean beef, or fish is a great way to consume healthy protein sources without having to worry about harmful preservatives or additives.
Not sure where to start? We have created a cookbook to help individuals having the same issue. Meal Simple, the Camp Shane Cookbook offers a variety of recipes for anyone who is wanted to cook and eat healthier food.