Nitrites are chemical compounds with the formula NO2-. They are often used as a preservative in foods, particularly deli meats, to inhibit bacterial growth. Nitrites can also be produced naturally in the human body, and play an important role in regulating blood pressure and lung function. However, it has been shown that excessive ingestion of nitrites can have adverse effects on health, notably by increasing the risk of cancer.
Nitrites and cold meats
Nitrites are often used as a preservative in charcuterie products, such as ham and bacon, to inhibit bacterial growth and extend shelf life. They also give these foods their characteristic color and savory taste. However, it has been shown that excessive ingestion of nitrites can increase the risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. It is therefore important to consume these foods in moderation, and to choose high-quality charcuterie products that contain lower levels of nitrites.
Nitrite and cancer
Excessive nitrite intake has been shown to increase the risk of cancer. Nitrites are often used as a preservative in foods, particularly deli products, but they can also be produced naturally in the human body. When ingested, nitrites can be converted into nitrosamines, carcinogenic chemical compounds known to cause cancer. Nitrites can also interact with other substances in the diet to form carcinogenic compounds. The risk of cancer increases with the amount of nitrites consumed. It is therefore important to limit nitrite consumption by choosing high-quality foods and avoiding excess processed foods.
What are the alternatives to nitrites ?
There are several alternatives to nitrites as a preservative in foods. One of the most common is the use of plant extracts such as rosemary, sage or thyme, which have antimicrobial properties and can help prevent the growth of bacteria. Potassium salts can also be used as a substitute for nitrites, although they do not give the same taste and color to food as nitrites. Other alternatives include the use of lactic bacteria cultures, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or lactic acid to prevent bacterial growth. It's important to choose foods that use safe, high-quality preservatives to minimize health risks.
How to recognize nitrites ?
It's not always easy to recognize nitrites in food. Food labels may mention the presence of nitrites, but these labels are not always clear and can be difficult to understand. One of the best ways to recognize nitrites is to check the ingredients of food products before you buy them. Nitrites are often added in the form of sodium or potassium salts, such as nitrite salt or curing salt. If these ingredients appear on the label, it's highly likely that the product contains nitrites. You can also ask the seller or manufacturer for information on the ingredients used in the product.
Why are nitrites so widespread in the food industry, despite growing concerns about their impact on health ?
Manufacturers use nitrites in food because of their preservative properties. Nitrites inhibit the growth of bacteria, thus prolonging the shelf life of foods, particularly charcuterie products. They also give these foods their characteristic color and savory taste. Although excessive ingestion of nitrites can increase the risk of cancer, these advantages in terms of shelf life and taste mean that manufacturers continue to use them in foods. However, there are alternatives to nitrites, such as the use of plant extracts or potassium salts, which can offer the same preservative benefits without the health risks.
Potassium salts are often used as preservatives in foods because of their ability to inhibit bacterial growth. They are particularly commonly used as a substitute for nitrites in charcuterie products, due to their antimicrobial properties and ability to extend the shelf life of foods. Potassium salts don't give foods the same taste and color as nitrites, but they can offer preservative benefits while minimizing the health risks associated with excessive nitrite ingestion.
Which foods are rich in nitrites ?
It is advisable to limit your consumption of foods containing nitrites, especially if you are sensitive to the harmful effects of these chemical compounds. The foods richest in nitrites are generally deli meats, such as ham, bacon and sausages, as well as pickles and marinated olives. It's important to choose high-quality foods that contain lower levels of nitrites, or to look for alternatives to nitrites as a preservative in these foods. You can also avoid excess processed foods and opt for fresh, natural foods, which generally contain less nitrite.
Colorectal cancer screening
Colorectal cancer screening is the set of tests and examinations used to detect cancers of the colon and rectum in their early stages, before they cause symptoms. Colorectal cancer screening tests include fecal occult blood tests, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, X-rays of the colon and rectum, and genetic tests. Colorectal cancer screening is recommended for people at high risk of developing colorectal cancer, such as people over 50 or those with a family history of colorectal cancer. Early screening can help detect colorectal cancers in the most treatable stages, and increase the chances of cure.