How dangerous are the nitrites in cured meats?
February 15, 2012 10:18 AM   Subscribe

Are the nitrites in cured meats dangerous when ascorbic or erythorbic acid is used to inhibit the formation of nitrosamines?

Cured meats are high in nitrites. Studies of animals have shown that nitrites ingested can form nitrosamines, and nitrosamines are likely carcinogenic to humans. The USDA requires that 550ppm of ascorbic acid (or erythorbic acid) be added during the manufacture of cured meats because it inhibits the formation of nitrosamines, and this, according to them, makes foods with nitrites safe to eat.

I like beef and pepperoni sticks a lot. I am also a fan of bacon. I have no ill words for a hot dog. I don't want to increase my risk of cancer inordinately. There are many, many different carcinogenic substances that people interact with on a daily basis without panic, how much of a threat does this one pose? Is the ascorbic acid enough of a safeguard that I can ingest cured meats semi-regularly and not have to worry about it?

I am only interested in the cancer issue with regard to nitrates, not any other potential health problems these foods might pose. Thanks.
posted by Feel the beat of the rhythm of the night to Science & Nature (3 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Sorry I don't have the reference with me, but there is a guide that is published every couple of years by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and a big American cancer research group, that is referred to as the "Nutrition Bible".

It synthesizes thousands of studies on food, nutrition, exercise and cancer and distills them down to a set of basic, easy-to-follow recommendations. These include all of the usual suspects: eat whole grains, eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, avoid juice and pop in favour of eating whole fruits, limit red meat, exercise every day, etc.

The one I remember the most - because I, like you, enjoy cured meats - is that their recommendation is to avoid all cured meats entirely.

I will try and remember to add a link when I get home tonight.
posted by lulu68 at 10:57 AM on February 15, 2012

Okay, it was the World Cancer Research Fund that published Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Here's a link to the full document, here's a summary of the recommendations, and here's their website.

Lots of reading on the dangers of processed meats!
posted by lulu68 at 4:50 PM on February 16, 2012

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