Nitrates are esters or salts released from nitric acid in some of the foods you consume. An excessive intake of nitrates, however, can put you and your family at risk for numerous health problems, which include cancer, intrauterine growth retardation and sudden infant death syndrome. By limiting your exposure to nitrates from the foods you consume, you can reduce your risk of the adverse health effects associated with toxic levels.
While vegetables naturally contain nitrates, the soil and amount of fertilizer used on the crop can increase nitrate content. Various factors can even affect organic vegetables, such as factors that increase the nitrate content, including the nitrogen content of compost used, the water supply and the temperature during growth. Researchers found that artichokes, tomatoes, asparagus, sweet potatoes, broad beans, summer squash, eggplant, potatoes, garlic, onion, peppers, green beans, mushrooms and peas are classified as very low in nitrates, according to a study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in July 2009.
The same factors that affect vegetables also affect fruits. The type of fertilizer, the water supply and the nitrogen content of the soil can lead to varying nitrate levels, even among the same fruit. Watermelon was classified as very low in nitrates, with less than 20 milligrams of nitrates per 100 grams of fruit, according to the study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition." The researchers also found that apple sauce, fruit mix and oranges contained less than 1 milligram of nitrate per 100 grams of fruit, while bananas contained 4.5 milligrams per 100 grams of fruit.
Meats that contain nitrates, including bacon, salami, hot dogs, bologna, corned beef, sausage, luncheon meats and cured meats, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the United Stated Department of Agriculture as to their nitrate content. These meats contain nitrates added as preservatives. When consuming meats, look for uncured or nitrate-free on the food label. Ham is lower in nitrates, with 0.90 milligrams per 100 grams of meat.
Water Supply and Food Preparation
Your water supply could contain nitrates because of nitrate contamination, which is a concern when you use water for cooking. Even if you are consuming nitrate-free foods, using nitrate-contaminated water when washing or preparing these foods will increase your nitrate intake. Private wells are at a higher risk of containing nitrates because of agriculture runoff and proximity to feed lots. As an alternative water choice, opt for bottled water. The Environmental Protection Agency regulates public drinking water systems, so if you are on city or county water, then your water source is considered safe.