Your sandwich is slowly killing you!

I don’t want to cause you any panic or alarm! But you should be aware of the things you put in your body and more so our children’s bodies. The problem originates with trust – we trust that what we buy in the stores is produced with our best interest in mind; we trust American regulatory systems to monitor those that are wavering; we deep down want to trust each other.  What happens when that trust is abused? My trust has been tested and I’m ready to tell you what I’ve found and why you need to know it.

Here is the hard truth – brace yourself!

What is Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrites?

The best way to explain these two compounds, is that they are a type of salt. Sodium Nitrate is used in fertilizers, explosives and food additives for preserving color and flavor. Sodium Nitrite is used in pharmaceuticals, dyes, pesticides, as a food additive to prevent botulism. Sounds fine doesn’t it? We don’t want to get sick from eating something that has bacteria in it, and if the taste and color looks nicer we all think it is fresher and hasn’t been sitting on the supermarket shelves for ages, right?

Why are they so bad for us?

After weeks of extensive research I found a lot of contradictory facts, however when you run those facts down and dig deeper this is what you find. I stumbled onto the American Cancer Society website. Wow! According to a study by the American Cancer Society’s researchers published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they found that high consumption of processed meats over 10 years was associated with a 50 percent increased risk in cancer of the lower colon and rectum.

The definition of high consumption in this study was defined as 1 oz. per day, 5-6 times per week for men, and 1 oz. per day, 2-3 days per week for women. (To give you a frame of reference, the typical ‘bun length’ hot dog is about 2 oz.; 2 slices of cooked bacon are about an ounce).1 Additionally, according to the America Cancer Society, nitrates and nitrites commonly found in cured and processed meats can be converted into compounds that have been shown to cause stomach cancer in lab animals.2

So then I started to think what other modern diseases can these nitrates and nitrites be contributing to? Well according to researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) it has been found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. They also compared the risk factors to eating unprocessed red meat and found that there was no associated risk of developing heart disease or diabetes for unprocessed meat. The researchers, led by Micha and HSPH colleagues Dariush Mozaffarian said that “When we looked at average nutrients in unprocessed red and processed meats eaten in the United States, we found that they contained similar average amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol. In contrast, processed meats contained, on average, 4 times more sodium and 50% more nitrate preservatives. This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats.” 3 So why is this happening? Why is a compound (nitrites & nitrates) that seems to be good, protecting us against harmful bacteria and helping plants grow, doing such damage to our bodies? The problem is that nitrates are converted in our bodies to nitrites and then into nitrosamines which are formed by a chemical reaction between nitrites and proteins. Nitrosamines basically become highly reactive at the cellular level, which then alters gene expression and causes DNA damage.

So this bring us to the other big modern diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s! The Rhode Island Hospital Researchers lead by Led by Suzanne de la Monte, MD, MPH, found strong parallels between age adjusted increases in death rate from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes and the progressive increases in human exposure to nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines through processed and preserved foods as well as fertilizers, because of the gene altering and DNA damage that the nitrosamines causes. De la Monte says, “We have become a ‘nitrosamine generation.’ In essence, we have moved to a diet that is rich in amines and nitrates, which lead to increased nitrosamine production. We receive increased exposure through the abundant use of nitrate-containing fertilizers for agriculture.” She continues, “Not only do we consume them in processed foods, but they get into our food supply by leeching from the soil and contaminating water supplies used for crop irrigation, food processing and drinking.” 4

Well that last part really got me thinking…what else are these nitrates and nitrites in? Has our ground and well water been contaminated by the nitrate fertilizers?

So what foods have nitrates and nitrites

So we have the obvious ones – processed meats; bacon, ham, deli meats, hot dogs, beef jerky, salami etc. But what about the vegetables? While I was reading all the information about nitrates a number of articles would also talk about the vegetables being high in nitrates.

Well the reason is that plants need a certain amount of nitrogen for the plant to create new cells and therefore grow. Seems perfect, ammonia nitrate and sodium nitrate are one of the most common commercial fertilizer compounds, it allows for plants to grow faster and bigger and therefore give better profits to the farmers and the food industry. But at what cost? It is now shown that there is a considerable amount of run off to lakes and rivers and leeching into our ground water from agriculture fertilizers. According to an article from the West Virginia University stated that in the United States there are more public water supplies that have been closed due to the violation of drinking water standards for nitrate than from any other contaminant. 5 So what does this mean to our vegetables? Well if you buy the commercially grown vegetables you are also consuming very high levels of nitrates not to mention other chemicals from the pesticides. The worst are the leafy green vegetables and some root crops, they contain the highest concentrations of nitrates. Among commonly eaten vegetables, beetroot, celery, lettuce, spinach, and radishes have the most nitrates.6 Organically grown vegetables still have nitrates but at lower levels due to the natural fertilizes having less nitrates. Additionally older plants have less nitrates; therefore buying organic locally grown vegetables not only; taste better, have lower nitrate levels, transportation from farm to consumer is faster, but older plants have had more time to filter or process those nitrates. Supermarket vegetables are usually picked very early (younger) so they have the maximum lifespan on our supermarket shelves.

Here is the good news – Vitamin C or Ascorbic acid has been found to be an effective blocking agent in the conversion process from nitrites to nitrosamines7; so leafy vegetables high in Vitamin C such as Kale can therefore counteract the effects of the nitrate within the Kale.  Taking ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) at the time of eating nitrate processed meats may also reduce the harmful effects.

Conclusion

The Human Body is a finely tuned machine, it runs on the fuel we consume. I know it’s easy to wolf down a quick pepperoni pizza or a deli sliced roast beef sandwich, however next time you’re confronted with those choices – think!  America is a great place, we love, we cherish but as we delve into the modern world of over-population, GMO’s and water shortages we must stay vigilant and be aware of what we are consuming. I have learned that if I eat a diet that is high in natural and organic foods that are high in Vitamin C with the least amount of processing, preferably from my local farmer’s market, then I have less chance of getting cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and diabetes. I want to stick around long enough to see a resort on the moon!

 

 

 

References

1 http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/expertvoices/post/2011/03/31/hot-dog!-headlines-can-be-deceiving.aspx
2 http://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomachcancer/detailedguide/stomach-cancer-risk-factors
3 Eating processed meats, but not unprocessed red meats, may raise risk of heart disease and diabetes
4 Lifespan (2009, July 6). Nitrates May Be Environmental Trigger For Alzheimer’s, Diabetes
5 Agriculture Practices and Nitrate Pollution of Water
6 Leafy Vegetable and Nitrates
7 Preventive action of vitamin C on nitrosamine formation.

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