The Harmful Effect of Sodium Nitrite in Food

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 color to meat and fish. While sodium nitrite is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables, its use as a food preservative can be damaging to your health. This additive is present in foods like bacon, lunch meat and hot dogs, and knowing more about it will help you make healthier food choices.

Limit your intake of processed meats to lower your exposure to sodium nitrite. (Image: istockphotoluis/iStock/Getty Images)

Inhibited Oxygen Transportation

Your body relies on sufficient production of hemoglobin to ensure that all internal systems get the oxygen they need to function properly. According to the American Medical Association, a diet high in sodium nitrites may lead to a health condition called methemoglobinemia, which is the inability of your red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body. This condition causes respiratory problems and can be fatal. Reducing your intake of foods with sodium nitrites can help prevent this condition.

May Cause Cancer

The reaction that your body has to the ingestion of sodium nitrite can vary depending on how much of it you consume from foods. Phyllis A. Balch reports in her book, "Prescription for Dietary Wellness," that the salts in sodium nitrites can cause a reaction that produces a chemical called nitrosamines, which increase your risk of developing cancer. The American Medical Association says that sodium nitrites can lead to gastrointestinal and brain cancer. Restricting your intake can help prevent these reactions from occurring.

Increase in Childhood Type 1 Diabetes Risk

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 American Medical Association says that this risk is higher for male babies and occurs because of your body's reaction to sodium nitrite. 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.

Other Effects

Eating a diet high in foods that contain sodium nitrites can cause irritation to your digestive system, including your mouth, esophagus and stomach. If irritation occurs, you may experience pain, particularly abdominal pain. High consumption of sodium nitrites is also associated with damage to your blood and your blood vessels. At toxic levels, sodium nitrites can also lead to rapid heart rate and difficulty breathing.

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