Nitrite is a kind of salt that is used in the curing of meats. It is also a chemical that our body produces naturally in the process of digestion. Questions have arisen on the harmfulness of nitrites. Considering that cured meats form a large part of the average food consumption, there has been cause to worry about the levels of nitrites in foods as well as its affect on the human body.
Nitrites are used in cured meats such as bacon and hot dogs to prevent microbial degeneration. Bologna, salami, corned beef, ham and sausages that have been fermented also contain nitrites. Meats such as salmon and chicken that have been smoked also contain this chemical. Bacon drippings, when used for cooking, release a lot of nitrites. Luncheon meats that form a large part of brown bag lunches too have significant levels of nitrites. These nitrites are added to the meat to prevent it from going bad, developing a rancid smell and preserving the original red flesh color of the meat.
In terms of vegetables, green leafy ones and root vegetables contain high levels of nitrate that are converted to nitrites on ingestion. Vegetables such as beetroot, radish, lettuce and spinach have high levels of nitrate which can convert into nitrites. Lettuce and spinach have especially high levels of nitrate. You will also find nitrates and consequently nitrites in carrots as well. The levels of nitrates depend upon the age of the vegetable and how much of a nitrate based fertilizer was used on it.
While nitrates in themselves are not harmful at all, they have a tendency to degenerate into nitrites which in turn become nitrosomes. This conversion often happens when cured meat is heated at high temperatures such as during frying.
People who ate meats containing nitrites regularly were more than 70 percent likely to get cancer, as discovered by scientists in New York at the Columbia University Medical Center.
One way to prevent nitrates from converting to nitrites is to drink orange juice and take in a lot of Vitamin C when having cured meat. This will prevent nitrites from forming.