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Old 12-14-2010, 11:19 PM   #1
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Default Nitrates/Nitrites in meat, Friend or Foe?

Just wanted to see where people weighed in on nitrites in meat. I started doing research into dry cured meats and sausages a little while ago. All of the sources and recipes tend to include Morton's Quick Cure or one of the Prauge powders, both of which contain sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate.

Since then, I've seen people saying they stay away from nitrates and prefer not to use them in meat. Why? I decided to do a little research. Here is a short summary of the things I have gleaned. I'll post links to the full articles at the bottom of my summary.

If they are so bad, why even use them? Turns out that salt works very well for preventing "baddies" in smaller cuts of meat. When it comes to larger cuts, or sausages, the inside doesn't dry as fast, making it a great place for botulism to grow. Turns out, nitrites stop botulism and other human pathogens from growing in meat.

Saltpeter (aka sodium nitrate) has been used for a very long time in curing meats. Nitrate alone doesn't really do much in meat. Nitrite is what actually does the work. Bacteria in the meat convert sodium nitrate to sodium nitrite. Sodium Nitrite then gets broken down into Nitric Oxide in, and reacts with the myoglobin in the meat to produce the nice reddish color we associate with cured meats. As science advanced, they were actually able to produce Sodium Nitrite. Thus, the step of adding Saltpeter/sodium nitrate to meat was ended. Its actually a little harder to control since it relies on bacteria. Adding nitrite directly skips this step, and lets us use a LOT less to cure the meat properly. In fact, most of the sodium nitrite is broken down into Nitric Oxide, leaving only about 10ppm of Sodium Nitrite in most cured meats.

I know there are a lot of arguments into the health implications of consuming nitrites. If anyone wants to cite any health journal, please feel free. I guess my stance is that what little nitrites I'm getting from cured meats probably won't hurt me, and is probably a lot less than I'm getting from other sources. People have been curing meats with nitrates for a very long time, and we only seem to have a problem with it as of the 1970's.

What do you think? Nitrites are responsible for a lot of the flavors in most of the sausages we eat. They also make fermented dried sausages safe from deadly bacteria and molds. At the same time they can cause cancer and are considered "bad" for you.

Disclosure of my diet - I try to stick to Michael Pollan's "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants". Meat I eat is grass fed. I buy everything as locally as I can, and unprocessed as I can. I don't go crazy for Organic labels, but tend to buy them since they contain less ingredients and tend to be less processed.


Sources:
The science of curing fermented sausages
article on why we should avoid nitrites in meat
article on why it might not really matter

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Old 12-14-2010, 11:28 PM   #2
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I am going to dig up one article I had (after I put the 2 year old to bed and can concentrate!).

I have avoided them the same way you have... because I tend to buy whole ingredients and make things, not purchase processed.

When I cited "angst" in the other thread, I find it like the corn syrup angst... must be bad, because the 11 oclock news said so! So professionally, I will cater to this, as it sells. Which of course perpetuates it if it is a myth.

But I will follow this to see where it goes.

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Old 12-14-2010, 11:30 PM   #3
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Curing meat prior to cold smoking (extended periods under 200 degrees, like a Little Chief or a Bradley) is pretty much a necessity. Or drying. You are creating a perfect environment for botulism, so the cure is for a reason. I figure botulism is pretty bad for your health too.

I don't know if it's an old wive's tale, but the scuttlebutt was the Army used to put saltpeter in recruits food to quell their libido and reduce the incidence of "morning stiffness"

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Old 12-14-2010, 11:31 PM   #4
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Oh yeah!

This is the one! Let the debate start raging.... It is the byproducts that are cancerous. And beer is on his list. Let's dissect this one:

Nitrosamines and Cancer

Richard A. Scanlan, Ph.D.
Dean of Research Emeritus
and Professor of Food Science

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Old 12-15-2010, 12:35 AM   #5
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This is a pretty good short article on the subject.

The general argument will be, "even though it may not be really bad for you as previously thought, I'd rather not put those chemicals in my body"

The other side, mine BTW, will be "I enjoy BBQ'd and smoked, cured meats. I don't care if it's bad for me."

Are we really gonna have to have 92 pages of this?
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Old 12-15-2010, 12:52 AM   #6
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I use Morton's Quick Cure in some sausages, and in making jerky that I expect to store. The risk of cancer anymore is getting to be a joke, everything in excess seems to cause cancer, what was the amount of saccharine you needed to ingest to reach those lab rats levels? like 200 cans of diet soda per day? as a mechanic, I use brake clean every day, guess what? CA has determined that it causes cancer, used motor oil? yup same thing, cancer risk from contact with skin, how about brake and clutch dust? cancer risk there too, I would need to do my job in a bio-hazard suit to keep me safe. I just do my job, drink my beer served from a keg with plastic epoxy mixers that may not be food safe, eat my nitrite-laden meats and wait for some jackass doctor to come up with a study stating that: OMG! nitrites in moderate doses reduce the risk of heart disease, or prevent cancer, or could bring about world peace!
Coffee contains thousands of chemical compounds, and like 200 of them are known carcinogens, yet coffee has been shown to help prevent certain types of cancer, odd huh?

While I'm ranting, what the hell was wrong with lead paint? When I grew up there was lead paint everywhere, lead fishing weights that folks would bite to release from the line, and also to clamp it on, lead based solder, lead in the gasoline, etc. You never really heard of kids shooting up schools, or folks going postal at work. Remove all traces of lead and WHAM! nutjobs everywhere! maybe the lead kills off the homicidal impulses in the brain? just a thought...

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Old 12-15-2010, 12:59 AM   #7
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I am very much like Ed- "eat food, not too much, mostly plants". I eat grass fed beef, hunt my own venison, and buy one lamb a year from a neighbor. (The incessant Baaaaahhhhhhing from their field drives me crazy, so I sort of get my revenge! )

Anyway, I am NOT on a low fat diet. I eat fat, some meat, no refined carbs, few complex carbs, some fruit, and tons of vegetables.

I will eat fresh sausage that I make on my own, with my venison and/or lamb. I've been reluctant to eat cured products, because of the fear of nitrites. My mother died of breast cancer which she was stricken with at the age of 38. A family history of premenopausal breast cancer, coupled with nitrites cannot be good for me, even if it doesn't actually kill me outright.
For reference: http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/m...essedmeat.html
http://www.naturalnews.com/028824_pr...t_disease.html
Edit- not that it matters, but I weigh 135 and eat less than 1500 calories a day, more or less. I try to make every calorie "worth it", including beer. By the time you include some beer, and healthy food into my diet, I don't have much room for optionals or foods that don't optimize the nutritients. I am NOT giving up my homebrew, so I am probably down to 1100 calories in food per day. Which I try to find in lean protein and vegetables. Not a whole lot of "play" in my diet. I don't eat junk, sugar, refined carbs, or wheat products EVER.

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Old 12-15-2010, 01:35 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MenkeMoose View Post
This is a pretty good short article on the subject.
I love this quote about vegetables:
Quote:
It has been reported that people normally consume more nitrates from their vegetable intake than from the cured meat products they eat. Spinach, beets, radishes, celery, and cabbages are among the vegetables that generally contain very high concentrations of nitrates (J. Food Sci., 52:1632). The nitrate content of vegetables is affected by maturity, soil conditions, fertilizer, variety, etc. It has been estimated that 10 percent of the human exposure to nitrite in the digestive tract comes from cured meats and 90 percent comes from vegetables and other sources.
Quote:
Originally Posted by MenkeMoose View Post
Are we really gonna have to have 92 pages of this?
no. you can go read whatever else interests you. I find this interesting.
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Old 12-15-2010, 01:48 AM   #9
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It's one of those things like anything else. Some people will worry about nitrates in food, cancer causing compounds in gasoline, etc... but have no problem smoking.

In the end it's up to you. How much risk are you willing to take to enjoy things in life? You could get into a car accident tomorrow and die, would you rather go to heaven with the taste of BBQ in your mouth or not?

What I am saying is figure out what other risky things are going on in your life on a daily basis and then determine if adding some smoked food to your diet is really that big of a deal. For some it might be, for some (like me) probably not.

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Old 12-15-2010, 02:13 AM   #10
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Yoop, I feel for you on the cancer issues, my grandmother died as a result of it in her 60's, and my wife's aunt had a post-breast cancer relapse and has a few months left at best. Overall, my wifes side of the family is riddled with breast cancer deaths, Lisa works for a cancer center, and has realized that genetics play a HUGE roll in cancer cases, and that being proactive is the best course of action, she gets screened every year since age 30. I feel that diet is super important, and I grow most of my own produce as well, but there is a point where it just gets ridiculous, all of these studies, and the fact that almost everything is known to cause cancer in the state of California makes me think that the state of CA is the root cause of cancer, not the items themselves.

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