Jess–Healthy Mom perspective
If I had to pick one thing that parents should consider eliminating from their child’s diet, it would be nitrates. When I first heard about these nasty things and what they have the potential to do I was absolutely floored. Why are these things on the market? How could I have not known how bad they were? Because it is a dirty secret they don’t want us to know.
Nitrates are a preservative found in things like lunch meat, hot dogs and bacon (and all other cured meats). Their initial purpose was to prevent botulism. However due to modern refrigeration methods, today their only function is cosmetic…it preserves the pink color in the meat.
When nitrates mix with the gastric juices in the human stomach they become carcinogenic. At least 3 studies conducted in this past year alone have found a connection between nitrates and cancer of the oral cavity, urinary bladder, esophagus, stomach and brain. In a study conducted between the years of 1980 and 1987 they found that children eating more than 12 hot dogs per month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia. Another study found that children born to mothers who consumed hot dogs one or more times per week during pregnancy had approximately double the risk of developing brain tumors. Children who ate hot dogs one or more times per week were also at higher risk of brain cancer. Just think, most kids take lunch meat in their lunches EVERY DAY!
Some of you may have heard that nitrites are found in many green vegetables like spinach, celery and green lettuce. This is true, however the consumption of these vegetables is not harmful as they contain Vitamin C and D, which serve to inhibit the formation of (bad) N-nitroso compounds.
The good news is that many food companies now offer nitrate free products. We have tried many of them. Some are great, some are gross. They are more expensive…but really it seems inconsequential when all is said and done.
The healthiest option would be a meatless alternative (soy based products). You can find anything from fake bacon, chicken patties, burgers, sausage, hot dogs, corn dogs and lunch meats. Some brands we like are Tofu Pups and Morning Star Farms. These are available at coops and health food stores as well as some major chain grocery stores. I know this is a big leap for most of us. Phoebe loves the stuff, but the transition has been way harder for Paul and I…so we tend to go with nitrate free meats. The best nitrate free actual meat hot dogs we found are by Applegate Farms. They run in price from about $3.98-$5.98 (the cheapest I found at Trader Joe’s). They have hot dogs made of chicken, turkey and beef. They have more texture and take a bit to get used to, but now I could never imagine eating a regular hot dog (these taste like REAL meat).
The best nitrate free lunch meat and bacon products hands down are from Hormel (shocking, I know). The product line is called Natural Choice and they offer quite a selection and it tastes good. It is available at most chain grocery stores which is very convenient. Oscar Meyer’s nitrate free bacon was a bomb in our opinion…no flavor.
Just a final note…because the nitrate free meats are not chuck full of preservatives, we tend to freeze them if they are not used within 7 days. Also they should not be left sitting out at room temperature for very long either. I haven’t heard of any issues, I just tend to be on the safe side.
For more info check out:
Nitrates–Jen “The RD perspective”
Although there is some research to suggest that excessive use of nitrate cured foods can be harmful, many reputable studies have proven that the additive is safe in moderation.
The Food and Drug Administration and National Academy of Science studies in the 1980’s as well as in year 2000 did not find a conclusive link between moderate consumption and cancer. It was recommended that the additive remain as a way to prevent botulism. The DART committee did not find significant evidence to ban the food additive from the GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list.
The USDA did mandate that Vitamin C be added to these cured products to offset the body’s conversion to Nitrite. In addition, it has been shown that nitrate levels in preserved meats have decreased dramatically over the last 20 years and are often measured at 1/10 of the 200 parts per million limit set by the USDA.
Some organizations recommend no more than 12 servings of nitrate cured foods per month and most schools and daycares limit hot dogs to 1 serving per week as a precaution. An added preventative measure could be to serve a vitamin C rich food such as tomato, strawberries, or oranges with the meal to further prevent the conversion to Nitrite in the body.
Processed meats, such as hotdogs, bacon, Spam–etc…are often the “food of the poor” and consumed in excess by low income populations. We also have to look at low fruit and vegetable consumption in these groups as well as living near areas with water and air pollution. Each of these factors also raises the risk of cancer.
The best known method of cancer prevention is to eat a diet high in antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables and to consume red meat/processed meats sparingly. Parents should avoid smoking–especially near their children–and encourage a lifestyle of physical fitness.
In our house, I might serve hot dogs twice per year–and like Jessica, I choose soy products most of the time. Morningstar farms makes a great soy corndog and there are many other foods that you can add to a hot dog bun–such as the banana hotdog (A banana with peanut butter as the “mustard”) or a mozzarella cheese stick “dog” with some marinara sauce for dipping.
Nitrate free products are prone to quick spoilage and should be frozen until use. They are also different in appearance from the hot dogs that we are used to–turning brown quickly and tend to have lower customer appeal than the nitrate cured products.
Hot dogs are a quick and convenient food that is popular with most children–but I would not consider them and “every day” food when they are loaded with preservatives and often very high in fat.
That said, I wouldn’t worry about my child having the occasional hot dog at a party or family gathering because we emphasize fruits and vegetables which are high in antioxidants on a daily basis and life is all about living 🙂