With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment industry, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.
Are Nitrates in Your Food Something You should Worry About?
Although consumers are often concerned about contaminants like nitrate in their water supplies, they often are oblivious to nitrates contained in food. Water supplies are actually heavily regulated to ensure that nitrate levels are safe (unless you are getting your water from a private well, in which case you should definitely contact a water treatment professional), but the level of nitrate contained in foods is not regulated.
The Dangers of Nitrates
Although nitrates or nitrites are a normal component of a typical western human diet, as with all minerals, excessive amounts can actually cause a host of problems. This is especially true with children and infants who due to their lower body weight consume more nitrates proportionally than adults.
Nitrates have been linked to a number of serious conditions such as non Hodgkin lymphoma and leukemia as well as cancers of the colon, rectum, stomach, bladder, ovaries, thyroid and pancreas. Nitrates occur in vegetables and fruits such as celery and spinach naturally. However, they are also found in manmade food preservatives such as sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate are added to cold cuts and cured meat to prevent the fats from becoming rancid, thwarting the growth of bacteria and even to preserve the reddish color. Nitrates can also enter the food chain as a result of nitrogen based fertilizer products contaminating water run off which is not uncommon in well water supplies near agricultural areas.
Minimizing the Consumption of Nitrates
Nitrates can convert into nitrosamines, which are also carcinogens, if they are exposed to high levels of heat during the cooking process. Nitrate based food additives can convert into nitrites after consumption and scientists and researchers believe that it is these conversions, which could be responsible for the medical conditions referenced here. Nitrates have also been linked to infant health issues and pregnancy complications.
Before you eliminate nutrient rich vegetables due to their nitrate content, it is essential to understand that naturally occurring nitrates are often consumed with the vitamin C contained in fruits and vegetables, which inhibits the conversion of nitrate into nitrosamines. Nature usually thinks of everything. This means that it can be simple and easy to minimize the nitrates in your diet without compromising your mineral and vitamin intake. As an example, if you minimize your consumption of cured meats and processed foods in your diet, you can immediately reduce the nitrates in your diet. You will need to carefully read all food labels as nitrates are presents in salami, bologna, pastrami, ham, most sausages and in fact, in almost all cold cuts and especially hot dogs. They can even be found in some meat free items. You should be cautious of “uncured” items, which may contain ingredients such as celery juice, that could actually increase the nitrate content of the item. Ideally, you should avoid foods, which have been grown with any synthetic nitrogen based fertilizers PERIOD.
One solution is that you could switch to organic foods, which will dramatically reduce harmful chemicals including nitrates from the produce you consume. You can also counter the effects of nitrates by increasing your consumption of antioxidant rich foods such as blueberries, which can reduce the rate of conversion of nitrate into nitrosamines.
If do get your water from a private well, have your local water treatment professional test it for nitrates. There are a host of water filtration modalities that can help eliminate all nitrates which may have accumulated in the groundwater of your water supply.