***This post was inspired by a section of Chris Kresser’s Revolution Health Radio show on Mar 28, 2012, which you can get details of here.
Processed meats are bad for your health, right? With no real debate, right? Those pesky nitrates and nitrites are just waiting to give you cancer or heart disease or something very evil and destructive, right?
Once again, as I like to say… not so fast.
Here’s a thought: What if the nitrites in hot dogs (or bacon, lunch meat, etc.) aren’t going to kill you and could even confer a benefit…
Well, let’s take a closer look.
Which of the following has the highest level of nitrites?
467 hot dogs
1 serving of arugula
2 servings of butter lettuce
4 servings of celery or beets
The answer is…
Your own saliva. By far. 75-90% of our total daily nitrite exposure is from our own saliva.
In terms of food, vegetables are by far the biggest dietary sources of nitrites, usually contributing 90% of our daily exposure. Of the food products listed above, they all contain roughly the same amounts of nitrites. The serving of arugula is highest, followed by the lettuce and celery/beets and then the hot dogs. The 467 hot dogs. Still scared of hot dogs because of nitrites?
Keep in mind…
All nitrites are the same, whether they are in hot dogs, bacon, celery powder, arugula or your saliva.
Nitrates turn into nitrites when they get into your body.
Nitrites have a tremendously valuable function in the body. Nitrites are the precursor to nitric oxide which plays a beneficial role in immune and cardiovascular function as a vasodilator by stimulating the blood vessel walls to relax, increasing blood flow. Some researchers are looking into using nitric oxide to treat high blood pressure, heart attacks, sickle cell disease and some circulatory disorders. More nitrite consumption could mean more nitric oxide which could relax the blood vessels and promote blood flow? Just a thought however I doubt many doctors will start prescribing hot dogs for hypertension or Instead of Viagra…
Nitrate or nitrites don’t accumulate in the body in significant amounts.
Natural sources of nitrites (celery powder, sea salt) are still NO3. Same chemical, same structure. Nitrate/Nitrate free doesn’t mean anything significant. Producers/farmers who raise good meat often use natural sources of nitrates but that in and of itself doesn’t confer any benefit above “regular” sodium nitrite. The health of the meat source is important, not the nitrate source.
Cultures across the world have been curing meats for thousands of years using all sorts of nitrite substances.
To exceed the safe range of nitrite consumption (according to the World Health Organization Committee on Food Additives), you would need to eat about 2,222 hot dogs every day.
So you could eat over 2000 hot dogs a day and still not exceed the safe level of nitrites.
No, I don’t actually think that eating hot dogs hand over fist is good for one’s health. We just need to relax about the nitrite issue. If you are unsure on whether to eat a hot dog or some bacon don’t make your decision based on nitrates or nitrites, whether they are “nitrate free” or not means next to nothing.
The Bare 5 Bottom Line:
Worry about the quality of the meat- not the nitrate/nitrites.
Thanks for reading, have a great nitrite filled week!