Making sense of nitrate and nitrite labeling can be confusing, but there are rules that meat manufacturers must abide by when it comes to claims made on labels. This summary of nitrate/nitrite vocabulary will help you feel meat-smart when grocery shopping:
UNCURED meat: When you seen “uncured” on a label, it means that it does not contain nitrates or nitrites. Products labeled “uncured” are products normally expected to contain curing ingredients but are allowed not to as long as the consumer is notified with the “uncured” statement on packaging.
ORGANIC meat: Meat labeled “organic” contains no nitrates/nitrites because under USDA Organic Foods Production Act, nitrates/nitrites are prohibited.
NATURAL meat: When a meat product is labeled “natural”, it means that the food was made with minimal processing and with no artificial coloring, additives, or preservatives. “Natural” products have no nitrates/nitrites added.
Cooking to decrease nitrosamines
Cooking temperatures when grilling, broiling, barbecuing and frying are cooking methods that will produce more nitrosamines than cooking methods that use lower temps: boiling, microwaving, slow cooking, and steaming.
Not so bad?
What we’ve learned about nitrates/nitrites and the nitrosamines that are caused by exposing nitrates/nitrites to high heat does not mean we have to stop eating bacon. Remember, meat manufacturers are required to limit the amount of nitrates/nitrites used in processing meat. And it takes daily consumption to more dramatically increase risk for disease. While even uncured red meat ought to be eaten in moderation, you can be intentional about shopping for natural, organic or uncured bacon.
Animal studies showing that nitrate-rich diets have potential for improving cardiovascular health by getting converted to nitric oxide, then widening blood vessels and thinning blood, decreasing risk for blood clots and stroke. Some human studies on nitric oxide have shown improvements blood pressure.
Improved athletic performance
If you are an athlete, you have likely heard of potential benefits from supplementing with beet roots or beet juice. Beets are high in nitrates and a few studies show an improvement in high intensity endurance sports when athletes added beets to their diet. The improvements in performance are thought to be due to the way that the nitrates in beets increase the efficiency of cells’ mitochondria – the part of the cell responsible for energy production.
It is normally beet roots or beet juice used in studies examining nitrates and athletic performance. But for those looking for beet recipes to add the “good” nitrates in food form, here are some tasty recipes:
After all the commotion about nitrates/nitrites, what we know is that eating processed and red meat in moderation and cooking at lower temperatures (with steaming, microwaving, slow cooking, & boiling) when possible is a good idea. Eating this way most of the time makes room for the once-a-week crispy bacon or barbecued steak.