Healthy Habits: Theresa Albert Weighs in on the Nitrate Debate - Sweet Potato Chronicles - Sweet Potato Chronicles

Healthy Habits: Theresa Albert Weighs in on the Nitrate Debate

By Theresa Albert, DHN, RNCP

The “earth is flat” food bat­tle of our time is being fought and it’s called “nitrates are bad for you”. On the one side is the 10 year old the­ory that nitrates in food mix with the bac­te­ria in your gut to cre­ate nitrosamines which can lead to can­cer ( ). The new sci­ence refutes that claim ( and posits that more than 90% of the nitrates con­sumed come from oth­er­wise healthy plants. (Leafy greens are a par­tic­u­larly rich source) If the old the­ory is true, the new sci­ence says, it means that the very things meant to pro­tect us from can­cer are capa­ble of caus­ing it. But that can’t be right. Head scratcher.

Pro­fes­sor Andrew Jones pre­sented his find­ings at a food sci­ence con­fer­ence about a year ago.  This exer­cise phys­i­ol­o­gist explained how nitrate from beet­root juice widens blood ves­sels, reduces blood pres­sure and allows more blood flow.( ) It was ver­i­fied, by the way, by iso­lat­ing the nitrate in the juice and retest­ing. The nitrate free juice did not have the same effect.  They are now study­ing the effects of this iso­lated nitrate as a…get this…performance enhanc­ing drug.  Well, that’s a game changer.  What about the link to cancer?

The prob­lem with sci­ence is that it doesn’t jive with human nature.  The sci­en­tific method poses a the­ory and tests it. The con­clu­sions must be retested by other sci­en­tists to either prove or dis­prove the find­ings but once a the­ory is entrenched in the human lex­i­con it is almost impos­si­ble to remove.  The layper­son just throws up his hands and says “First you said this, now you say that?! For­get it; I don’t want to lis­ten any­more”. But we have to keep lis­ten­ing and keep let­ting the new infor­ma­tion in if we are going to move ahead. (Just like any other effec­tive relationship)

The stud­ies on nitrates and their link to can­cer are in that process right now.  The story is mov­ing in slow-motion but the ques­tions being raised make enough sense for us to hit pause and lis­ten. If nitrates exist in soil and plants then why don’t we all have stom­ach and col­orec­tal can­cer?  The epi­demi­o­log­i­cal stud­ies based on self reported diet his­tory indi­cat­ing that high lev­els of processed meat con­sump­tion and colon can­cer can­not prove cause and effect. (The self report­ing alone is a ter­ri­bly flawed way to assess data. It’s that human con­founder again) Epi­demi­o­log­i­cal stud­ies can only raise enough ques­tions that need to be fur­ther investigated.

What heats the whole debate up is the use of said nitrites and nitrates are in deli meats. (And no one wants to lis­ten to the pro­duc­ers of "Big Food"; we are cer­tainly not going to get our health news from THEM) but they should get a voice in the con­ver­sa­tion too.  Know that nitrites, as a preser­v­a­tive, are man­dated for use in deli meats. (In other words, if you make and sell deli meats in Canada, the gov­ern­ment says you must use them in your prod­uct to pre­vent other, more press­ing prob­lems like deadly bac­te­ria. They can choose from a syn­thetic source or from a nat­ural source like the veg­eta­bles stated above).

As a fol­lower of the story you want to find the best course of action. It’s more about what you DO in the mean­time that mat­ters.  Vit­a­min C in plants helps to pre­vent the con­ver­sion of nitrates to the risky and sus­pect nitrosamines. Smoked and cured meats have been con­sumed for mil­len­nia and they taste good, nitrites/nitrates and all. So, if you are going to con­tinue enjoy­ing these meats do so wisely. Choose the best one you can find ( ) that has man­aged the other fac­tors that such a food comes with. Specif­i­cally, find the lean­est, low­est sodium option made with the high­est qual­ity ingre­di­ents you can find. Enjoy it in mod­er­a­tion and eat it with lots of fresh fruit and veg­eta­bles (and keep read­ing to fig­ure out whether the earth is round or flat…again.)



  1. Jen Laceda says:

    Thanks for this post. It is infor­ma­tive. With all the arti­cles out there about nitrates / nitrites, you don't know who to believe anymore.

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