It’s sometimes difficult to remember what’s in pre-packaged and prepared meals. Many processed meats, for example, include preservatives called nitrites and nitrates.
The worry is that when you eat red meat and processed meats, as well as certain plant-based foods, you’ll be receiving a fair amount of both. “Nitrites cause N-nitroso compounds to be formed in the body, which can be cancer-causing agents,” according to Blair Persyn. Also, nitrates can be changed into nitrites in the stomach, making both chemicals a problem.”
Many researchers have found that N-nitroso compounds that are in the intestine damage DNA, which might lead to cancer.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Oxford University Press investigated the chances of acquiring cancer among 101,056 individuals and found that those who have consumed nitrates or nitrites had a higher risk of developing the disease.
It was discovered that regularly ingesting nitrate-rich foods raises the risk of developing breast cancer by approximately 25%. Furthermore, eating a lot of food that includes nitrites substantially raises the chance of prostate cancer.
While this research is observational, it does include a large number of individuals and looks at a group of women who are somewhat more health-conscious. This means that the impact of these chemicals in the general population, who tend to consume less antioxidant-rich foods on a regular basis, may be more harmful. For observational studies, correlation does not imply causation, but nitrites and nitrates have been shown to be carcinogenic in some animal studies, suggesting that further study is needed.
People can avoid nitrites and nitrates in their diet by omitting or eating less processed meats such as lunch meat, bacon, salami, hot dogs, sausage, and bologna, according to Persyn.
Researchers aren’t opposed to eating processed meats—in fact, it’s recommended for optimal health. “Instead of ultra-processed meats,” says Synusn, “people may choose fresh cuts of poultry and meat from the grocery store deli counter. We may also lower our risk by adding more antioxidant-rich foods to our diet—such as a variety of meals that are plant-based —as they can help prevent NOCs from forming.”