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Nitrite and nitrate additives found in canned food, hot dogs, sandwich meat, bacon, and other cured meats have been blamed for causing a barrage of ailments, including childhood cancer, headaches, and ADHD. But in and of themselves, nitrites and nitrates aren’t the culprit.

In fact, nitrates, which break down into nitrites, are naturally occurring ions that are found in everything from groundwater and vegetables to soil. But that certainly doesn’t mean you should go out and stock your fridge with hot dogs and ham. The trouble happens when nitrite additives react with other molecules, particularly during the cooking process, and a carcinogenic compound, N-nitroso, forms.

According to the Cancer Prevention Coalition, three different studies have linked the consumption of hot dogs to childhood cancer. WebMD experts link nitrites as migraine triggers, and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends restricting food additives such as nitrites from the diets of children with ADHD.

For many parents, that’s reason enough to check the ingredient list on your grocery items for high levels of this potentially harmful preservative. Does it mean you should stop eating spinach and celery, too, since these and other vegetables are known to have high nitrite content? Definitely not. Vegetables work in amazing ways. According to HealthyChild.org, they contain natural inhibitors like Vitamin C that keep the compound N-nitroso from forming. In this manner, veggies are a weapon in the fight to reduce cancer risk.
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Parents should, however, buy nitrite-free hot dogs, which are readily available and taste the same as always, but have a brown rather than red color. Some meats are labeled “uncured,” meaning they contain nitrites and nitrates from sources like celery powder and sea salt as opposed to synthetic sodium nitrite, which may contain higher amounts of residual metals, lead, and arsenic. Whenever possible, the safest bet is to purchase unprocessed or certified organic meats or limit your household’s intake of processed meats.

What about drinking water? Nitrite levels are monitored at the municipal level, so it shouldn’t be in high concentrations in our tap, but community water sources and private wells located near fertilized cropland should be regularly tested. Also, keep in mind that cured fish, in addition to meats, may contain nitrite additives as well.

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Posted on March, 15 2012 in Food, Health and Fitness
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