What are Nitrates?
Nitrates are naturally occurring chemical compounds that are often used as food preservatives. They have various useful properties, such as preventing growth of harmful bacteria, prolonging shelf life of food and maintaining the pink colour of meat.
There is a lot of confusion about nitrates and the risks of consuming them. As with most things in life, there are pros and cons of nitrates. Here’s an overview of what nitrates are, their benefits and the risks of ingesting them.
What exactly are nitrates?
Nitrates are compounds consisting of one nitrogen and three oxygen atoms. They can be found in water, plants, soil and even in our bodies too. Fruits and vegetables are the main dietary sources of nitrates, and there aren’t any proven negative effects of consuming nitrates in fruit and veg.
In fact, nitrates don’t seem to be problematic at all until they’re converted into nitrites, which are made up of one nitrogen and two oxygen atoms instead of three. Nitrates are converted into nitrites by bacteria on your tongue. Nitrites can then go on to form either nitric oxide or nitrosamines.
What are the benefits?
Nitrates and nitrites are useful food preservatives that have been used for a long time because they prohibit the growth of harmful bacteria that can make us ill.
As well as this, nitrates and nitrites preserve meat and prevent it from turning an unsightly brown colour. They give it a succulent and appetising appearance and add a salty flavour too. Moreover, when nitrites are converted to nitric oxide in the body, this can actually help lower blood pressure.
What are the risks?
The risks appear to come from nitrites rather than nitrates. Nitrites can turn into potentially cancer-causing nitrosamines in our digestive systems after we’ve consumed them. Nitrosamines can also be formed when processed meat like bacon is cooked at high temperatures.
The good news is that you can reduce your exposure to nitrosamines without having to give up bacon completely. The key is not to eat too many processed foods. You can also cook your food on a lower heat for a longer period, as this will produce fewer nitrosamines. Our delicious nitrate-free bacon is cured using a traditional recipe, meaning you can still enjoy this meaty treat.
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