Processed Meat, Nitrosamines and Cancer

Processed meats like sausages, salami, pepperoni, hotdogs, bacon, preformed ham and the manufactured meat in supermarket meals are a common part of many people’s diets. They are usually full of sodium chloride and flavor enhances to give them a strong taste and most people know they are not particularly good for them.

Recent health concerns have been raised though about a significantly higher risk of serious diseases like cancer associated with processed meat consumption.

The World Cancer Research Fund recommends avoiding processed meat completely, because it presents a ‘convincing risk’ of certain types of cancers. That’s probably unrealistic for most people, but this article will make the case for cutting back on these kind of meat products.

Cancer luncheon meats

It will also cover an important supplement to take at the same time if you do eat them to reduce the formation of dangerous compounds known as nitrosamines, linked to a higher risk of developing cancer.

Sodium Nitrite and Nitrosamines

Sodium nitrite is a substance extensively used in the manufacturing of processed meat products. It is added as a preservative and colorant. Food manufacturers particularly like it for the way it keeps meat, that would otherwise turn gray or brown, a more pleasing shade of pink or red.

There’s a big problem with sodium nitrite use in processed meat though. At high temperatures it has been shown to combine with functional groups that exist in proteins called amines and form toxic compounds known as nitrosamines. These nitrosamines are carcinogenic compounds believed to increase your risk of pancreatic, stomach and colon cancers and are something you definitely want to minimize in your body.

Vitamin C sodium nitrite

Sometimes defenders of sodium nitrite will point to the fact that naturally occurring nitrates in some vegetables can also be converted to nitrites in the human stomach. They then use this to make the case that sodium nitrite must be harmless in processed meat.

However, vegetables don’t contain the amines of meat products and aren’t usually heated to the same sort of temperatures. Because of this, they are much less likely to lead to the creation of carcinogenic nitrosamines. In fact, due to the antioxidant substances like beta-carotene and vitamin C in many vegetables, they are actually more likely to provide some protection against the sodium nitrite in processed meat.

Could Vitamin C Make Processed Meats Less Unhealthy?

While the best recommendation is to cut down on your processed meat consumption, studies have found that vitamin C may provide some protection from the formation of dangerous nitrosamines.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and researchers have found that when it is taken at the same time as a meal with processed meat, like pizza or bacon, it can limit nitrosamine formation in your stomach.

This is not considered completely effective, and is definitely not encouragement to eat processed meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, if you know you are going to have a meal with sodium nitrite in it, then a good vitamin C supplements may help to limit any potential damage.

The most effective type of vitamin C is not the ascorbic acid isolated from GMO corn that you’ll find in most multivitamins. For best absorption, vitamin C should be in its natural form.

Tropical camu camu extract is widely regarded as the most effective natural form of vitamin C. This is the best I found and I would recommend keeping a bottle of it handy to have with any meal containing processed meat. Several hours afterwards will be too late so it’s a good idea to keep some of these capsules at work, or even in a carry bag or purse for when you’re eating out.

Processed Meat Alternatives

The sodium nitrite problem only relates to processed meats from beef or pork so wild salmon, organic chicken, grass fed steak and other healthy meats are not affected by it. They are also much more nutritious for a variety of other reasons and if you choose to have meats in your diet these of the best kind to be eating.

The Hacking Your Kitchen for a Healthier Life email series has a detailed plan for replacing unhealthy processed meats with great tasting and healthy alternatives. It’s number eight in the program of ten detailed guides, all about simple changes you can make in your kitchen to greatly enhance your energy levels, weight loss potential and overall health and well-being.

In the meantime, this garlic, ginger and chili marinated chicken makes a delicious replacement for strongly flavored processed meats, without the damaging sodium chloride or potential nitrosamines from sodium nitrite. A quick look through the Healthy Recipes section on Health Ambition will also provide many other healthy meals that don’t contain processed meat.

Cutting Back on Processed Meats

While you may be able to lessen the creation of carcinogenic nitrosamines with a good natural vitamin C, it’s best to cut down on processed meats for your long-term health. If you could actually see how most of these products are made and the kind of ‘meat’ in them, you’d probably never eat them again anyway.

Add to this the high levels of damaging sodium chloride, sodium nitrite, nitrosamines and the cancer risk associated with eating processed meats and you’ve got some very good reasons to make the change to healthier alternatives.

Jim Dillan

Jim Dillan is health and wellness researcher, writing about natural nutrition, improving your physical and mental well-being and moving to a healthier lifestyle. His website Superfood Profiles has detailed articles on superfood health benefits, hair and skin treatments and healthy recipes.

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