May 24, 2024

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Why are carcinogenic nitrites added to ham or bacon?

Why are carcinogenic nitrites added to ham or bacon?

Why are carcinogenic nitrites added to ham or bacon? 

Nitrite is a legal additive. As long as it is not taken in excessive amounts, it is relatively safe for humans.

The existence of nitrite is not unfamiliar to us. As a food additive, it is widely present in daily life, such as sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite.

Whether it is processed meat products such as ham, bacon, beef jerky, pickles, kimchi, and dried seafood, there will be nitrite.

Does the existence of such widespread nitrite really cause cancer?

1. Nitrite, really must be added

If it causes cancer, why can it be widely added and sold in processed foods?

As early as the 1890s to the early 19th century, southern Germany was plagued by “poisonous sausages”:

Strange incidents of poisoning and even death after eating smoked sausage are increasing, and the authorities have to issue a decree stating that “eating smoked sausage is harmful.”

The victims of these “poisonous sausages” have a series of common symptoms: blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, severe muscle weakness…

In 1820, German town doctor and romantic poet Justinus Kerner conducted extensive clinical observations on 76 cases of so-called “sausage poisoning”, and for the first time completely described clinical botulinum toxin poisoning, which solved the tip of the iceberg of this highly toxic substance.

It is the botulinum toxin in sausages and the botulinum toxin (botulinum toxin) that causes people to be poisoned and killed.

Botulinum toxin is one of the most toxic substances known and has strong neurotoxicity. The army often uses it in the production of biological and chemical weapons.

The toxicity of cyanide (such as potassium cyanide) that is killed by the touch in the film and television drama is not comparable to that of botulinum toxin.

Wounds, intestinal infections or ingestion of formed toxins can all cause botulinum toxin poisoning.

Clostridium botulinum, which produces botulinum toxin, is a kind of bacteria that grows in an oxygen-deficient environment. It has strong survivability in canned foods and sealed pickled foods.

When people ingest or absorb this toxin, the nervous system will be destroyed, and symptoms such as drooping eyelids, strabismus, difficulty swallowing, breathing difficulties, and muscle weakness will occur. In severe cases, respiratory paralysis may lead to death.

The reason why bacon, ham, canned meat, etc. must be added with nitrite is to inhibit the production of botulinum.

In an anaerobic environment, nitrite can control the germination of Clostridium botulinum and various food-borne pathogens such as Listeria monocytogenes, Clostridium perfringens, colorless bacteria, aerobic bacteria, Escherichia coli , Flavobacterium, Micrococcus, etc.

In general, all bacteria that are harmful to the human body can basically be dealt with nitrite.

Compared with food health, food safety is the first priority.


Nitrite, had to be added?

The laws and regulations of various countries in the world generally describe the functions of sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite as “color protection agents and preservatives”

At the same time, as a color protectant, nitrite can also react with the myoglobin in the meat, making the meat look fresher and more appetizing pink.

Why are carcinogenic nitrites added to ham or bacon? 

The bottom is the meat without nitrite, and the top is the meat

Many people like to pursue “zero-added” and “non-polluting” foods, but if some foods do not add any preservatives, the consequences will be more serious than those added.

Just like processed meat products, if there is no nitrite or the concentration of nitrite is reduced, the increase is the safety risk of foodborne pathogens.

Therefore, adding preservatives to processed meat products is a “two evils, whichever is less.”

So, is this kind of “necessary to add” nitrite really harmful or even carcinogenic?



2. Eat a reasonable diet, don’t talk about the discoloration of nitrite

Nitrites are indeed toxic.

Simply put, if excessive intake of nitrite, human cells will not be able to transport oxygen to help blood circulation, resulting in hypoxia, making people unable to normally use the oxygen transported by blood circulation. In severe cases, even coma or shock may occur. .

However, the dose can not be talked about toxicity.

Adults have a risk of poisoning with a single intake of 200 mg of nitrite, and a single intake of 1.3 grams may cause death.

The USDA has established regulatory limits for the addition of sodium nitrite at

  • 120 ppm (0.012%) in bacon,
  • 200 ppm (0.02%) for dry cured bacon,
  • up to156 ppm (0.0156%) for products such as frankfurters or cured sausages,
  • up to 200 ppm (0.02%) in brine cured or injected products such as ham or pastrami, and up to 625 ppm (0.0625%) of sodium nitrite in dry-cured meat products.

In other words, only eating a lot of bacon or ham at one meal would go can cause adverse reactions.   Therefore, in the case of a normal diet, there is no need to worry about “nitrite poisoning”.

As long as you don’t eat industrial nitrite as edible salt, trace amounts of nitrite in ham sausage and canned meat can be metabolized normally by the body.

As for the statement that “nitrite is carcinogenic”, it is actually not accurate.

Nitrite itself is not carcinogenic. The real carcinogen is classified as a category 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer(IARC)Nitrosamines.

It is not strange to us, and it is widely found in a variety of tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco, cigarettes and cigars.

Although there is not enough research to directly confirm the carcinogenic properties of Nitrosamines to humans.

However, animal experiments have confirmed that certain Nitrosamines have obvious carcinogenicity, and suggest that they may also have carcinogenic effects on humans.

At the same time, there are more and more controlled experiments and epidemiological studies to prove:

  • The intake of N-Nitrosamines and their precursors is positively related to the risk of cancers such as rectal cancer, gastric cancer, and esophageal cancer.
  • When we eat processed meat products that contain nitrite, the nitrite will combine with the protein decomposition products in the stomach to form carcinogenic Nitrosamines.
  • But don’t worry too much, food scientists have found a way to inhibit the synthesis of Nitrosamines, that is, intake of vitamin C.

In order to balance health and taste, some processed meat products have added a substance that replaces vitamin C: sodium D-isoascorbate, which has the same effect but no sour taste.

Of course, some processed meat products do not add ascorbic acid. During high-temperature cooking, ascorbic acid may also be destroyed.

So, after eating bacon and sausage next time, remember to eat more fruits and vegetables.


3 Processed meat products, it’s better to eat less

Since nitrite is a legal additive, as long as it is not taken in excessive amounts, it is relatively safe for the human body; vitamin C, D-sodium erythorbate, etc. can also effectively inhibit Nitrosamines…

So can processed meat products like bacons, hams or sausages, be eaten often?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Processed meat products are also a category 1 carcinogen listed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, that is, the substance has carcinogenic effects on humans.

In addition to the Nitrosamines mentioned above, there are also “notorious” aflatoxins, ethanol, and formaldehyde that belong to the same category of carcinogens.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, meat processing includes all the processes of processing fresh meat, including curing, fermentation, and smoking.

In addition to simple mechanical transformations (such as cutting and chopping), any meat that has been processed to improve its flavor and extend its shelf life is classified as “processed meat”. Ham, bacon, sausage, bacon… are all here. Column.

According to the research cited in the World Health Organization report, eating 50 grams of processed meat a day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.

A 2016 report by the American Cancer Institute and the World Cancer Research Foundation also found that eating processed meat increases the risk of stomach cancer.

Although the conclusion that “Processed Meat Products Are Carcinogenic” is still being questioned by the academic community, it is better to eat less or not to eat processed meat products.

When you can’t help but want to solve your hunger, you must buy processed meat products produced by regular manufacturers through regular channels.

After all, besides getting satisfaction and pleasure, healthy eating may be more important.

Why are carcinogenic nitrites added to ham or bacon?

(source:internet, reference only)

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