Even if nitrites were harmful, cured meats are not a significant source, as the USDA only allows 120 parts per million in hot dogs and bacon.
Also, during the curing process, most of the nitrite forms nitric oxide, which binds to iron and gives hot dogs and bacon their characteristic pink color.
(9, 10, 11) Nitrates may also help boost the immune system and protect against pathogenic bacteria (12, 13, 14)So what do we take from this?
There’s no reason to fear nitrates and nitrites in food. No reason to strictly avoid cured meats, particularly those from high quality sources (though it may make sense to limit consumption of them for other reasons).
It may shock you to learn that one serving of arugula, two servings of butter lettuce, and four servings of celery or beets all have more nitrite than 467 hot dogs.
(2) And your own saliva has more nitrites than all of them!
Beyond just being loaded with “artery-clogging saturated fat” and sodium, bacon has been long considered unhealthy due to the use of nitrates and nitrites in the curing process.
Many conventional doctors, and well-meaning friends and relatives, will say you’re basically asking for a heart attack or cancer by eating the food many Paleo enthusiasts lovingly refer to as “meat candy”.
(8) Nitric oxide, formed by nitrite, has been shown to have vasodilator properties and may modulate platelet function in the human body, improving blood pressure and reducing heart attack risk.
But…One of the most common questions when talking about the wisdom of traditional diets is….. The truth is, life expectancy is NOT a recorded number of the age people died, but rather an average of all deaths, with a very high number of infant deaths.
High infant mortality rates before 1900 skewed the numbers.
(5, 6) You can listen to my podcast “Does Red Meat Increase Your Risk of Death? In general, the bulk of the science suggests that nitrates and nitrites are not problematic and may even be beneficial to health.
Critical reviews of the original evidence suggesting that nitrates/nitrites are carcinogenic reveals that in the absence of co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor, there is no evidence for carcinogenesis.
The belief that nitrates and nitrates cause serious health problems has been entrenched in popular consciousness and media.