Dangers of Processed Meats
When you go to the grocery store and you pass by the deli or butcher, what do you see? Perfectly cut pieces of meat that are vibrant red as if they were just prepared moments before you walked up. The thing is, hours or days later, you can pass by that same display case and those same pieces of meat will look exactly the same. How’s that possible? A compound called nitrates.
What are Nitrates?
Nitrates are a form of preservatives that inhibit the growth of bacteria that could contribute to food poisoning. When it comes to meats, nitrates provide that characteristic red or pink color. Common examples of processed meats that contain nitrates are hot dogs, deli meats, sausage, and bacon. Some dairy products also contain nitrates.
Dangers of Nitrates
A compound that helps to prevent or limit bacterial growth on meat; how is this a bad thing? Studies are revealing how nitrates act in the human body once ingested, and the results are not good.
General Metabolic Concerns
Nitrates and other preservatives alike are designed to prevent food from spoiling. While they are wonderful at achieving this task, there are other points to consider regarding how these substances impact chemical processes inside your body.
Because nitrates are designed to make food more resilient to decomposition, the presence of these substances in food products makes it more difficult for our bodies to metabolize, or chemically break down, preservative enriched foods. Essentially, nitrates work by influencing redox reactions in their nearby environment. As a result, the effect of their presence creates an environment that is unsuitable for bacteria growth; however, once in our bodies the processes to neutralize the impact of nitrates leads to added stress on biochemical pathways, ultimately requiring more energy and work.
Several key studies have shown the connection between diets high in nitrates and the increased risk of cancer.
Continuing with the point above, one study found that diets containing high levels of nitrates also had a higher risk for colorectal cancer. But cancer isn’t the only thing you have to worry about. Nitrates may contribute to the development of another issue in the rectum: tumors.
Many people eating a diet high in nitrates have been found to be at a greater risk for developing colorectal adenomas. What’s more, studies show that these tumors are recurrent based on whether or not the diet has been changed.
Another study warns about consuming nitrates if type II diabetes runs in your family. Researchers concluded that diets high in processed meats – consuming it five or more times per week – also increased the risk for developing type II diabetes.
Lack of Quality Control
When the FDA approved six bacteria-killing viruses as a way to keep food safe from contamination, some manufacturers rejoiced at the idea of using old product and not needing to tell the consumer.
As a result, you could be eating old processed meat that has been treated with a spray capable of killing bacteria and preventing you from food poisoning. While it doesn’t make you sick, that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Add while studies have shown the bacteria levels may initially drop, the research does not support that the potentially harmful bacteria are removed fully.
What About “Nitrate-Free” Meats?
In short: There’s no such thing. Some brands claim that their products are “nitrate-free” when in reality, they are using a natural source of nitrates instead of the synthetic variety. The issue is that your body can’t tell the difference between synthetic and natural. To your body, nitrates are nitrates.
What Can You Do Instead?
The best thing you can do to avoid nitrates while maintaining a high level of protein in your diet is to change up your sources of protein. Studies show that chicken is a “cleaner” source of protein and those diets focusing on chicken and eggs have a lower risk of cancer and nitrate-related medical issues.
Plant-based diets or protein sources have also been shown to dramatically lower the risk of cancer development while increasing longevity. Try incorporating the following into your diet:
Plant based protein sources
Animal based protein sources
- Grass-fed beef
As always, focus on a clean source that is labeled as organically grown, free range, antibiotics-free, or no growth hormone.
Are You Trying to Go Nitrate-Free?
Need help with your diet to find nitrate-free options that can support your health? Have questions about how to change your eating habits and get on the path to a wellness-focused diet? Give us a call at 773-878-7330 to schedule a consultation with one of our nutrition experts.