These days, it seems that everyone is talking about the dangers of nitrates and nitrites in foods. Deli meats, hot dogs, and other cured meats have been vilified on a count of this ingredient; and for good reason. It’s very important to understand what goes in your food, how it got there, and how the food you eat will affect your health.

The good news is it’s entirely possible to enjoy your favorite meats, because with modern means of refrigeration, these ingredients are no longer necessary to keep your food fresh.

Nitrates, Nitrites, and Your Health

Many companies still use them as a way to extend the shelf life of their products, and to cut down on production costs. However, McLean Meats believes that the quality of food should never be compromised, which is why all of our meats are free of nitrates and nitrites!

Since nitrates and nitrites are popular buzzwords in our industry, we’ve put together some answers to some of the questions our customers frequently ask us:

What are Nitrates and Nitrites?

Nitrates and nitrites, quite simply, are salts. They can occur naturally, or they can be produced synthetically in a lab. Sodium nitrate is found in nature in Chile and Peru, as well as in certain vegetables such as celery. Sodium nitrite is not found in nature and is created in a lab as a byproduct of chemical reactions between food and sodium nitrate. Most of the green vegetables that we eat contain small doses of sodium nitrate; in fact many manufacturers use concentrated doses of nitrates in the form of celery juice or celery extracts to cure their meats. Since celery extracts are plant-based, manufacturers are not required to report the ingredient as a nitrate.

How did they make their way into our food?

Before refrigeration was common, nitrates were hailed as a miracle for preserving meats to be safely stored for consumption. In the early 1900’s, nitrates became the standard method for curing meats. Nitrates and nitrites are anti-microbial, and were extremely helpful for preventing food borne disease such as botulism. They can even help with preserving the color of meat. During days when most people were traveling via horse and buggy without refrigeration or a way to properly cook meat, nitrates were a godsend.

Why are they unhealthy?

When nitrates and nitrites are used in meat, they combined with naturally occurring amines to form carcinogenic compounds. High doses of nitrates and nitrites have been linked to increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, colorectal cancer, and other serious forms of disease. More common symptoms include headache, dizziness, nausea, and flushing. Sadly, there wasn’t much awareness for how the foods and wide array of new chemicals made available during industrial revolution would impact human health. Fortunately, we are moving into an era of increased consumer awareness, and more people are beginning to demand food that is free of harmful ingredients!

What are my alternatives?

If you’re concerned about nitrates and nitrites in your food, it doesn’t mean you have to give up the meats you love! McLean offers nitrate and nitrite free deli meat, sausages, and even bacon! We don’t hide nitrites in our food under the guide of celery extracts either. Check our labels, and you’ll see that we only use simple ingredients like sea salt to add flavor and keep our meats fresh.

Though consuming small doses of the nitrates naturally occurring in vegetables certainly won’t harm you, loading up on processed foods with concentrated doses may certainly lead to adverse effects on health.

So next time you’re shopping, play it safe by keeping your purchases nitrate and nitrite free, and don’t forget to look for the McLean Meats label!

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