E250 Sodium Nitrite
Sodium nitrite is a common ingredient added to processed meats and fish that helps preserve the food and prevent bacterial growth that can cause botulism. This food additive also adds attractive colour to meat and fish.
Aside from acting as a food preservative, sodium nitrate has utility in several other applications. It’s more commonly called “saltpeter,” and is one of the main ingredients in gunpowder and explosives. Nitrate salts also have applications as chemical fertilisers, since they provide sources of nitrogen to growing plants. Industrially, it’s used to make nitric acid
Health Dangers of Sodium Nitrite
While sodium nitrite is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables, its use as a food preservative can be damaging to your health.
Cancer - Sodium nitrite helps preserve cured meats, such as bacon and sausage, by inhibiting the growth of Clostridium botulinum, the microbe that produces the botulism toxin. Sodium nitrite by itself is not a carcinogen, but it commonly combines with amines in protein-rich foods to form the cancer-inducing agent nitrosamine.
Heart Disease – Sodium nitrate may increase your risk of heart disease by causing your blood vessels to harden and become narrower.
Thyroid Risks – Women who have long-term exposure to nitrates in their food and water may be at greater risk of developing thyroid disease. According to an American study, older women living in Iowa who consumed nitrate-contaminated public drinking water for at least five years were three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer in comparison with those who drank minimal amounts. In the same study, women who ate vegetables that contained large quantities of nitrates were also more likely to develop hypothyroidism.
Childhood Type 1 Diabetes – Type 1 diabetes can occur in infants and young children when their pancreas does not have the ability to produce insulin. This can be a life-threatening condition if insulin levels are not monitored closely. High intake of sodium nitrites while pregnant may increase your baby’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes. The risk of juvenile type 1 diabetes can also occur if your water supply is high in sodium nitrites and you drink it while pregnant or offer it to your young children.
Allergic Reactions – Consuming too much sodium nitrate can cause you to experience an allergic reaction called urticaria, or hives. Excessive ingestion of the preservative can also cause headaches. If you have a known allergy to sodium nitrate, repeated exposure to the additive may result in anaphylactic shock.
Nitrate Exposure in Infants – Infants who are exposed to excessive amounts of nitrates are at risk of developing a serious condition called methemoglobinemia. When an infant ingests nitrates, bacteria in their body convert them to a by-product –nitrite -that reacts with their haemoglobin to create methemoglobin. Methemoglobin does not carry oxygen to the infant’s vital organs, which can result in cyanosis and eventual death.
Digestive Trouble – Eating a diet high in foods that contain sodium nitrites can cause irritation to your digestive system, including your mouth, oesophagus and stomach. If irritation occurs, you may experience pain, particularly abdominal pain.
Foods High in Sodium Nitrites
Meats – Sodium nitrite is often found in cured meats. Meats that contain sodium nitrite include hot dogs, sausages, ham and bacon. It is also found in pepperoni, corned beef, salami and luncheon meat Sodium nitrite is also found in specialty items such as pate spreads
Fish – Processed and smoked fish such as smoked salmon and smoked tuna sometimes contain amounts of sodium nitrite. Dried fish often contain sodium nitrite to keep the fish fillets, steaks or pieces as bright as possible while still keeping the item safe to eat.
Vegetables – Many vegetables contain sodium nitrite naturally. Those include green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce and root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots.
Vitamin C prevents the formation of nitrosamines, in fact vitamin C is added to many processed meats for this very reason. If you want to protect yourself even further, you could try taking a vitamin C supplement before tucking into that ham sandwich.