List of Foods High in Nitrites

Bacon slice being cooked in frying pan
Bacon frying in a pan. (Image: Volodymyr Krasyuk/iStock/Getty Images)

Nitrites give cured meats that characteristic smoky flavor and pink color that make them irresistible. Although evidence that nitrites cause cancer is limited, processed and cured meats may increase your risk for cancers of the prostate, lung, esophagus and stomach, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. Limit your intake of these foods and eat more plant-based foods to decrease your cancer risk.

Hold the Bacon

The most common dietary source of nitrites is processed meat that is smoked, cured or salted. Ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, hot dogs and sausages fall into this category. Nitrites, which are highly toxic to bacteria, are added to these foods to preserve them.

Have a Salad

Some vegetables, such as potatoes, naturally contain a similar compound called nitrates. The amount of nitrates found in plants depends on the soil and the fertilizers used. Your body can convert some of the nitrates to nitrites and other chemicals that are considered carcinogenic, according to the World Cancer Research Fund. The benefits of eating vegetables outweigh the risk of nitrate exposure, however. Plant foods such as fruits and vegetables are protective against cancer, including cancers in which nitrites are implicated.

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