Nitrates in Hot Dogs
“Without added Nitrates” Does this make a hot dog healthy?
Summer is almost over so for you barbeque enthusiasts there is supposedly a healthy hot dog labelled without “added nitrites.”
Are they any healthier?
Oscar Mayer is touting its new hot dog recipe that uses nitrite derived from celery juice instead of artificial sodium nitrite, which is used to preserve the pinkish colours of processed meats, and prevents botulism. Kraft Heinz which owns Oscar Mayer says sodium nitrite is among the artificial ingredients it has removed from the product to reflect changing consumer preferences. Nearly all the large food manufacturers are trying to change their products to make them seem more “natural” but in most cases it is a feeble attempt,
The fact is that nitrites are nitrites, whether they are synthetic or natural and they are one of the most harmful ingredients in most processed meats.
Kana Wu, a research scientist at Harvard’s school of public health agrees with the above statement and was part of a group that helped draft the World Health Organization report in 2015 that said processed meats such as hot dogs and bacon were linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. She does concede that WHO is not exactly certain of what products in processed meats account for this but the conclusion is statistically correct.
One concern about processed meats is that nitrites can combine with compounds found in meats at high temperatures to fuel the formation of nitrosamines which are known carcinogens in animals. It’s a chemical reaction that can happen regardless of the source of the nitrites, including celery juice.
But in the United States and Canada, the departments of agriculture cap the amount of nitrites that can be added to meats to prevent excessive use, said Andrew Milkowski, a retired Oscar Mayer scientists who consults for the meat industry. Meat makers also add ingredients to processed meats such as bacon that help block the formation of nitrosamines. Sometimes I think there are more chemicals in processed meat than meat itself.
Although the terms nitrates and nitrites are used interchangeably, the meat industry says it’s mainly sodium nitrite that companies currently use to cure meats such as hot dogs and bacon.
For Oscar Mayer hot dogs, the packages now list ingredients such as celery juice that has been treated with bacterial culture. That turns naturally occurring nitrates in celery juice into nitrites that act exactly as the synthetic product sodium nitrite.
While the nitrites derived from celery juice are no better, the switch may nevertheless address negative consumer perceptions. After all, if the celery juice has been fermented it makes it sounds more healthier even though it turns your hot dog into a carcinogenic product.
The Centre of Science in the Public Interest agrees nitrites from natural sources aren’t that different from artificial nitrites in processed meats. But the group has cited the WHO report in calling for a cancer warning label on processed meats, regardless of how they are made. It also says nitrite preserved foods tend to be high in salt and should be limited or avoided altogether. The Canadian Cancer Society also suggests limiting processed and red meat, citing a variety of reasons.
The meat industry has contested the WHO’s finding, saying it is based on studies that show a possible link but don’t prove a cause, and that single foods should not be blamed for cancer. Of course you need not worry if you eat in moderation. The occasional hot dog at a ball game or a smoked meat sandwich a few times a year will not kill you. The danger occurs when you make these products part of your everyday diet.
And while natural preservative may not make hot dogs any healthier, they fit with the growing preference for naturally looking ingredients like celery juice that people easily recognize.
An interesting wrinkle worth noting is the Canadian Food and Drug regulations require processed meats without added nitrates or nitrites to be labelled as “uncured” and to state that they have no nitrates or nitrites added—except those naturally occurring in the alternative ingredient. That’s the technical language you will now find on an Oscar Mayer hot dog package, though the products previously only has added nitrites.
Of course the meat industry has contested the required language of meat being “uncured” because the products are actually cured with nitrites from other ingredients.
In the last three years cancer has overtaken heart disease as the number one cause of death in both Canada and the United States. We are all aware of what a horrible disease cancer is and how the treatment can be horrific. Why not just stay away from the processed meat section altogether. I guarantee you that if you do, you will lead a longer healthier life.