According to the Canadian Cancer Society, these nitrates act as preservatives to prevent food from spoiling, and they also add colour to the meat.
Nitrites and nitrates are not cancer-causing by themselves, but in certain conditions in the body they can be changed into by-products called N-nitroso compounds, such as nitrosamines and nitrosamides. N-nitroso compounds are associated with an increased risk of cancer.
Vitamin C may be added to some preserved meats. Vitamin C keeps nitrites from changing into nitrosamines, which may help reduce the risk of cancer associated with these chemicals.
However, new cases of nitrate-caused cancers still appear at an alarming rate each year.
How To Avoid Nitrate-Filled Foods
- Minimize your consumption of processed foods and cured meat products such as hot dogs, sausage and cold cuts.
- Check labels carefully and avoid products that list sodium or potassium nitrates and nitrites. In addition to lunchmeat, some canned beans and vegetables with bacon, and even packaged seafood, may contain these added chemicals.
- Eat organic food. Synthetic nitrates and nitrites are not allowed as preservatives in organic packaged foods and meats.
- Find out if your water is tainted with nitrates or nitrites. Public drinking water utilities test for these compounds and must disclose their results. If you drink well water, your local health department can help you find out if this is a problem in your area. You can also have your water tested by a laboratory. If the chemicals are present, consider treating your water with a home water distiller, a reverse osmosis filter or an ion exchange filter to remove any fertilizer nitrates in the groundwater.
- Eat a diet high in antioxidants. Vitamin C and certain other vitamins can reduce the conversion of nitrates and nitrites to nitrosamines.