You might not know it, but there is one chemical that is added to almost every single processed meat sold in America today – nitrites and other synthetic chemicals that are designed to cure meat are added so that they do not spoil quickly. But did you know that the FDA has approved these chemicals, even though they have known for decades that they cause cancer?
After years of denial, the University of Wisconsin has uncovered the fact that the Federal Food and Drug Administration has known, since at least the early 1970’s, that nitrites cause cancer.
Curing meat is a process that has been around forever. Ancient cultures “cured” meat with different compounds to help preserve it for extended periods of time, especially for storing it during winter months. Without refrigerators, our ancestors had to find ways to preserve food so that they could store it during bad weather, winter, or periods of drought or famine.
So curing meat isn’t the problem. People have been doing this without cancer causing chemicals for eons. The problem is when salt is transformed through chemical means, as is what we do with nitrites, that it becomes dangerous and harmful to the body. It is these nitrites that have been the subject of debate over the past 20 or more years concerning their safety.
The most popular chemical for curing meats today is called sodium nitrite. This compound contains nitroso compounds which can transform themselves into cancer causing nitrosamines when put in the right conditions. Even when sodium nitrite was first approved for use in the 1970’s, it was already known that the nitrosamines that piggy back along for the ride come with serious health risks including leukemia and other types of cancer.
In the 1970’s, the debate about whether or not to approve sodium nitrite was centered around the known carcinogens that this compound contained. They already knew that this was a fact, it was not questioned. The question was how much the meat industry lobby would have to pay in order to get the FDA to approve this inexpensive method of curing meat. Those who opposed nitrites stated that there were safer compounds to cure meat but the FDA gave in because these synthetic nitrites are inexpensive, leave the meat a rich red or pink color, and retain the flavor of the meat. People cannot taste this, other than a salty flavor, and they seem like a perfect solution. Until someone develops cancer or leukemia.
However, the FDA doesn’t really care about your health all they cared about were the big dollar signs they saw offered by the meat lobby.
Don’t confuse sodium nitrites with nitrites that naturally occur in nature. Natural nitrites help the body regulate blood pressure, support our immune response and many other functions. However, these synthetic nitrites have the opposite effect on the body. They damage the normal function of the red blood cells, can cause brain damage, especially in those who are younger.
Nitrites change the normal function of our hemoglobin, which carry oxygen in the blood to the rest of the body, depriving the body of oxygenated blood. Low levels of oxygen in the blood can lead to brain damage and even death due to a lack of oxygen.
Natural, dietary nitrates offer many health benefits including their ability to stimulate the production of nitric oxide in the body, which improves our immune function, helps in the repair of wounds, regulates our blood pressure levels, as well as improves neurological function.