Meat gets a bad rap. But when it comes to processed meat, it gets even worse. It goes without saying that processed meats, along with other processed foods, are full of preservatives. But one of the preservatives found in most process meat is downright dangerous, and it’s called sodium nitrite. 

What is sodium nitrite? It’s a chemical used to preserve and protect meats from harmful bacteria. It’s also what gives meat it’s characteristic salty taste and pinkish-red color.

So far so good, right? Not necessarily.

Thanks to the sodium nitrite present in processed meats, the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified this food item as “carcinogenic to humans.” It goes on to explain that “in the case of processed meat, this classification is based on sufficient evidence from epidemiological studies that eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”

But what makes sodium nitrite so harmful to humans? When nitrites are combined with high temperatures, cancer-causing substances, called nitrosamines, develop. Consumption of nitrosamines can increase the risk for various forms of cancer, including stomach, colorectal, breast and bladder cancers.

Along with cancer, sodium nitrate is associated with an increased risk for type 1 diabetes, too.

Therefore, if you frequently consume processed meats, it might be a good idea to limit your intake or seek out sodium nitrate-free alternatives.

What are processed meats that frequently contain sodium nitrite? The Who lists the following as common offenders:

  • Hot dogs
  • Ham
  • Sausages
  • Corned beef
  • Beef jerky
  • Canned meat
  • Meat-based preparations and sauces

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