If the nitrates in vegetables such as greens are health-promoting because they can be turned into nitrites and then nitric oxide inside our bodies, what about the nitrites added to cured meats such as bacon, ham, and hot dogs?
Images thanks to Glane23 and Renee Comet for the National Cancer Institute via Wikimedia commons.
Nitrites: Harmful, harmless, or helpful?
Nitrites are preservatives added to cured meats—like bacon, ham and hot dogs—to prevent botulism and make them pink by combining with iron in the blood in the meat.
Everybody knows nitrites are bad for you, right?
But wait a second, didn’t I just show all this research suggesting that in fact the reason dark green leafy vegetables may be so healthy is that the nitrates in them turn into nitrites in our mouths? And the nitrites go on to produce nitric oxide which is what's so great for our arteries. So which is it? Are nitrites good for you or bad for you?
If nitrites are good for you, then hey—pass the bacon. If nitrites, however, are bad for you, then shouldn't we stay the heck away from spinach?
On one hand, we have the food group widely considered to be worst possible thing you can eat, processed meat, and on the other hand you have dark green leafy vegetables, considered the best. Yet they are respectively being trashed and touted for the exact same reason—nitrites. It’s got to be one or the other, right?
Now things are starting to get interesting… —stay tuned.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by MaryAnn Allison.
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In response to a CDC study linking Spam consumption with diabetes, the president of the American Meat Institute recently defended processed meat, stating that "93 percent of human nitrite intake comes from vegetables and human saliva – not from cured meats. If nitrite were the issue, then one would think the vegetables would be the cause of the diabetes, yet no one is suggesting that association." This is the first of the 8 videos on figuring out this apparent conundrum that will close out my 3-week series on the cardioprotective (see Hearts Shouldn’t Skip A Beat) and athletic performance-enhancing benefits (see Doping With Beet Juice) of nitrate-rich vegetables. For a review of the relationship between nitrates and nitrites, see Priming the Proton Pump. So far there have only been a few precautionary notes (see Asparagus Pee). What about this nitrite issue? As I say at the end of the video, stay tuned! In the meantime, I have a few videos on processed meat and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects that you can check out.
For some context, please check out my associated blog post, Using Greens to Improve Athletic Performance.