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Nitrite and its presence in food.

Nitrite, what is that?

Nitrites are ions that occur naturally in the environment. They come from the oxidation of nitrogen by microorganisms present in soil, water or plants.

Manufacturers add nitrites to processed foods like cured meats to preserve them and extend their shelf life. The meat is preserved by the manufacturers thanks to nitrites. It is they who explain why smoked meat is pink or red. The nitrites, converted into nitric oxide, then interact with a certain number of proteins in the meat, changing its color and helping to preserve it.

The dangers of nitrites:

Reduced oxygen transfer rate.

In fact, nitrites do not allow red blood (hemoglobin) to carry oxygen to the organs. Therefore, nitrites are likely to cause methemoglobinemia. Such an anomaly can cause cyanosis, blueing of the skin and even asphyxiation.

Production of harmful and carcinogenic substances.

Many carcinogenic derivatives are likely to develop in our bodies. They bind to amino acids and produce nitrosamines. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), these products are considered carcinogenic. Therefore, these substances in particular are suspected to be responsible for the development of gastric and colon cancer.

Other risks and dangers of nitrites are:

migraine dizziness drop in blood pressure nausea

Most often, this danger is manifested with excessive consumption of foods containing it.

To prevent added nitrites from entering your body, do the following:

Reduce consumption of processed foods and dried meats such as hot dogs, sausages and charcuterie. Check labels carefully and avoid products containing nitrites. In addition to processed meats, some canned beans and vegetables with bacon, and even packaged seafood can contain these added chemicals. Eat a diet rich in antioxidants. Vitamin C and certain other vitamins can reduce the conversion of nitrites to nitrosamines.

How do you recognize nitrites?

Sometimes we are in such a hurry to eat that we don’t pay attention to what we eat. Check labels carefully and avoid products containing: potassium nitrite (E249); sodium nitrite (E 250); potassium nitrate (E 251); Sodium nitrate (E 252).

The maximum permissible dose for these substances is 150 mg/kg. They are also found in organic products, but in lower amounts (50 mg/kg). Nitrite-free products are also available. They can be recognized by their much lighter, grayish color.


Techniques such as cooking, smoking, drying, and curing have been developed and perfected by humans for the preservation and preservation of food, and meat in particular.

Salting dates back 5,000 years to when humans discovered that saltpeter, also known as nitrate, preserved meat. Researchers later discovered, beginning in the early 20th century, that nitrite is the molecule that improves the shelf life of meat. Beginning in the 1960s, nitrites were used directly in extremely low doses in the manufacture of certain meats.

Nitrites and the environment:

With the presence of nitrates and phosphorus in the water, the phenomenon known as eutrophication occurs: the development of algae and microorganisms leads to the combustion of a large part of the oxygen present in the water.

In freshwater, the process of eutrophication is due to high levels of phosphorus. In marine waters it is due to the presence of nitrates. For example, the build-up of toxic organisms – bacteria, phytoplankton and responsible green algae – can have detrimental and suffocating effects on fish and crustaceans.

* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.

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