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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Random Thoughts: Nitrates

Nitrates take such a beating in the press and on documentaries, that I thought it was time for some additional information about this compound to come out. Listening to the anti-additive crowd, you would have thought it was created in a laboratory some where with lots of little white rats, but in reality nitrate is a naturally occurring part of the nitrogen cycle.

Many people know that nitrate is an approved food additive used in cured meats (like hot dogs, lunch meats, and sausages), but few know that it is also a component of plants - especially their leaves. Nitrate breaks down into nitrites, which possess antimicrobial activity, N-nitroso compounds, and nitric oxide, which plays a role in the plant's vasoregulation.

Any guess as to the typical amount of nitrate found in cured meats? 156 mg/kg. Want to guess the typical amount of nitrate found in arugula? 4667 mg/kg! Ok, you say, but you don't eat arugula. How about mixed lettuce (like the blends you buy at the grocery store)? 2000 mg/kg. Celery? 1100 mg/kg. Spinach? 1000 mg/kg. Reality is you consume far more nitrate than you think. The FAO/WHO (JECFA) set the acceptable daily intake at 3.7 mg/kg per kg of weight per day (for a 190# person that would work out to 318 mg/kg per day). That number certainly seems low given the results of the new research on the nitrate levels in plants (can be found here.)

So the next time your health-conscious friend belittles you for chomping on that hot dog, lamenting all of those nasty nitrates you are consuming, you can just turn and smile knowing the amount of nitrates found in their salad!

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