Nitrates and nitrites are naturally occurring chemicals in the human body and in some foods. They are also used to enhance the shelf life of some processed goods. They have the ability to convert to nitric oxide, widen your blood vessels, and reduce your blood pressure. Furthermore, they may improve physical performance. However, excessive consumption of these compounds has been linked to cancer of the esophagus and other organs within the digestive system.
The main source of exposure for the average person is through eating meat products that have been contaminated with either nitrate or nitrite. Other sources include illuminated tobacco products such as cigarettes and cigars, which produce nitrosamines when they burn; environmental contamination from industrial processes; and dietary supplements. High doses of sodium nitrite have been shown to be toxic to humans.
Since nitrites can be dangerous when consumed in large quantities, it's important to avoid them if you are trying to lower your blood pressure without medication. Eating well-cooked meat is also very safe, so long as you don't overconsume the compounds. Avoid red meats such as beef and pork, since they contain higher levels of nitrates and nitrites than white meats like chicken and fish.
People who eat a lot of processed meat products and those who work in the printing industry are at increased risk for developing cancerous tumors in the lining of the stomach.
Nitrates (or nitrites) are naturally occurring compounds present in soil, air, and water. Nitrates are frequently used as a food additive to inhibit bacterial development and to improve the flavor and color of meals. In medicine, they are used as vasodilators and bronchodilators.
Nitrates are also used in firearms ammunition to increase the rate of fire and decrease the recoil of the weapon. This allows the shooter to fire the weapon more accurately and continuously without getting tired. Bismuth subnitrate is also used in first-aid kits to treat gunshot wounds.
In agriculture, nitrogen fertilizer contains both nitrates and ammonium ions. Ammonia is toxic if inhaled, so it must be removed from nitrate solutions before it can be released into the atmosphere. This is done by bacteria in natural environments or in manure storage facilities. The result is pure nitric acid which is then available for industrial use.
Nitrates are also used in rocket fuel as an oxidizer. When burned, it produces nitrogen gas, which is an inert ingredient in propellants that increases their energy.
Finally, waste materials from the manufacturing process are used as a source of nitrogen for fertilizers. The main component of sewage sludge is carbon, but nitrogen is also present.
Vegetable intake accounts for around 80% of dietary nitrates; nitrite sources include vegetables, fruit, and processed meats. Nitrites are created endogenously by commensal bacteria in the mouth and gastrointestinal tract through the oxidation of nitric oxide and the reduction of nitrate. The primary health benefit associated with increased consumption of vegetables and fruits is reduced risk of developing cancer. Eating more vegetables and fruits also helps reduce your risk of other diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease.
Some cured meats, such as salami and ham, contain high levels of sodium which can increase blood pressure reading. However, these products also contain large amounts of antioxidants from spices that help protect against cardiovascular disease.
Red meat is a source of nitrogenous compounds, but it also contains significant amounts of iron and zinc. It is estimated that an average person needs between 10-15 mg of zinc daily and between 5-8 mg of iron daily. Although meat contains some nutrients that are important for health, excessive amounts of certain types of meat can actually be harmful if not consumed in moderation.
Nitrites are used as food additives to preserve meat products. Some research suggests that eating more vegetables and fruits as part of a healthy diet may help prevent cancer. Excessive amounts of certain types of meat can actually be harmful if not consumed in moderation. An average person needs between 10-15 mg of zinc daily and between 5-8 mg of iron daily.