Kitchen Myths

Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken

Avoid cured meats because of nitrates/nitrites

Nitrates and nitrites have been used for centuries as part of the meat curing process (bacon, corned beef, sausages, etc.). They inhibit bacterial growth (particularly the deadly botulism bacterium), improve taste, and give the meat a nice color. But there’s been this “anti-nitrate” movement for a couple of decades now, claiming that nitrates cause cancer and all sorts of nasty stuff. They even pressured Whole Foods into not selling any nitrate-containing meats. The evidence for this health danger? None. A huge number of studies have been done, and while a few suggest a possible problem the large majority have found no negative effects of nitrates on health. But of course the “anti-nitrate” folks always focus on the few studies that support their preconceived ideas and ignore those that don’t.

And think about this: many vegetables contain nitrates, as does much drinking water. Fact is, the Centers for Disease Control has estimated that 90% of the nitrates we consume come from these sources and not from cured meat. Eat a few meals with  arugula, butter lettuce, celery, or beets and you’ll get more nitrates than from several hundred hot dogs. But I don’t see Whole Foods removing those vegetables from their shelves.

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