The Truth About Nitrite in Lunch Meat

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Credit: Deli meat photo via Shutterstock

The Truth About Nitrite in Lunch Meat

The preservative sodium nitrite fights harmful bacteria inِ ham, salami andِ other processed andِ cured meats andِ alsoِ lends themِ theirِ pink coloration.
However, underِ certainِ conditions inِ the human body, nitrite canِ damage cells andِ alsoِ morph intoِ molecules thatِ causeِ cancer.
In a typical person’s diet, 80 percent ofِ nitrite comesِ from vegetables suchِ asِ spinach, radishes andِ lettuce, andِ another 13 percent comesِ from swallowed saliva.

Nitrite in the body

In massive doses, nitrite – andِ nitrate, whichِ changesِ to nitrite inِ the body – canِ lead toِ a condition called methemoglobinemia.
Nitrate contamination ofِ drinking water, whichِ canِ occur whenِ nitrate fertilizer makesِ itsِ way intoِ a well, isِ a frequent cause.
Nitrite preservatives haveِ beenِ found toِ beِ safe, saidِ Nathan Bryan, a professor ofِ integrated biology andِ pharmacology atِ the University ofِ Texas Medical School atِ Houston, whoِ saysِ heِ receives noِ funding fromِ the meat industry.

So is lunch meat bad for you?

If allِ nitrites wereِ toِ form nitric oxide inِ the body, Bryan said, there’sِ noِ concern whatsoever.
Multiple epidemiological] studies haveِ foundِ a relationship betweenِ processed meat intake andِ increased risk ofِ colorectal cancer, saidِ Amanda Cross, anِ investigator inِ the division ofِ cancer epidemiology andِ genetics atِ the National Institute ofِ Health.
Bacon isِ one food thatِ Bryan agrees isِ a potential health risk.