Think, Read, Cook

Because no single way of eating works for everybody.

13 Rats and a Spitload of Hotdogs


These are bad for you, right? I mean, that’s what everyone says. Bad not just because of the quality of meat you’re likely to encounter when you eat them, but because they contain those unhealthy additives, nitrates and nitrites. And those chemicals cause cancer in humans… don’t they?

Apparently, the answer is actually “No”.

Let me share with you what I’ve found in my latest search for food-confusion resolution.

Nitrates and nitrites, which inhibit the growth of botulism toxin, have been used in preserving meats since the Middle Ages. And like our ancestors, we eat nitrates and nitrites every day, because 70% to 97% of human nitrate and nitrite consumption in food comes from… vegetables. Doesn’t matter whether they’re organically- or conventionally-grown, either. Plants produce nitrates and nitrites just by being plants, and when we eat them, that’s what we get. To take in the equivalent of the nitrates and nitrites in a single serving of arugula or four servings of celery, you’d have to eat 467 hotdogs. So even if you’re a vegan, you’re eating nitrates and nitrites galore.

And it amazed me when I heard this: our own saliva is loaded with nitrates and nitrites. Our bodies produce 70% to 90% of the nitrates and nitrites we’re exposed to. Dude, my mind is, like, blown.

What about all the publicity that says nitrates and nitrites will give you cancer? Well, it seems that’s based on a study from the 1970s, in which researchers observed – or thought they observed – nitrates and nitrites causing lymphatic cancer in 13 lab rats. What is not generally known is that the FDA and USDA began publicizing this information before the study was reviewed. Subsequent peer and outside reviews showed that the study was wrong… but by then the publicity machine was in motion. The bottom line, apparently, is that no study since – and there have been more than 50 of them, worldwide – has linked nitrates and nitrites to cancer in humans.

Even more freaky, but typical of my food-confusion subjects, are new reports that nitrates and nitrites are likely good for us. The latest science indicates that they prevent heart attacks and boost the immune system. Nitrites are even being looked at as possible treatments for circulatory disorders, heart disease and sickle-cell anemia.

The processed meats made with “all-natural” products still contain nitrates and nitrites – that’s what the ingredient “cultured celery” is all about. The nitrates and nitrites in these meats are simply derived from natural sources; sometimes these products contain more nitrates and nitrites than non-“natural” processed meats.

The links where I’ve found this information – and these links have other links, to studies and so on – are “The Nitrate and Nitrite Myth: Another Reason not to Fear Bacon” by Chris Kresser L.Ac., “Does Banning Hotdogs and Bacon Make Sense?” by Sandy Zwarc (Junkfood Science blog), and “Nitrite in Meat” by Richard J. Epley, Paul B. Addis, and Joseph J. Warthesen, University of Minnesota.

I’m not saying I’m going to live on processed meats from now on, mind you. And I’m wondering whether this will be the last scientific word about whether nitrates and nitrites in meats are fit for human consumption. But since eating our veggies involves taking in a spitload of them, it’s nice to know that the occasional hot dog (made with properly-raised animals and no fillers and so on) won’t kill me.


I hope.


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This entry was posted on February 25, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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