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FrankfurterOrganic or regular: big difference! Photo by Sarah Lewis | SXC.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

STEPHANIE ZONIS focuses on good foods and the people who produce them.

 

 

September 2006
Updated June 2009

 

Product Reviews / NutriNibbles

Organic Hot Dogs Vs. Conventional Hot Dogs

Page 3: Hot Dog Nitrates & Nitrites


Click here to read other Organic Matter columns

This is Page 3 of a six-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

 

Nitrates and nitrites are chemicals that occur naturally in both foods from animals and food derived from plants. When nitrates break down through digestion or other means, they form nitrites. Both substances are extraordinarily useful to processed meat manufacturers, as they provide cured meats (including hot dogs) with their characteristic “cured meat” flavor and their usual pink color. These chemicals are also very important in food preservation; they’re especially good at combating botulism. They’ve been used for these purposes since the late 1800s.

So what’s the problem? It turns out that amines, substances that occur when protein hot dogsis digested, combine with nitrites to form compounds that are carcinogens. This holds true for any processed product with nitrites or nitrates; it isn’t just hot dogs.  The chemical reactions leading to these carcinogens are not subject to speculation, nor are the formations of the carcinogens themselves. Both are well-documented. Although these carcinogens have been demonstrated to cause cancer in laboratory animals, no one knows if they also cause cancer in humans.

Some research has suggested that individuals with heavy consumption of cured meats have higher risks of cancers such as colon and pancreatic; One study, that followed over 190,000 people of multiple ethnic backgrounds for seven years, concluded that those who consumed the greatest amount of cured meats increased their risk of pancreatic cancer by 67% in comparison to those who had the lowest consumption of such meats. Interestingly, the same study concluded that heavy consumption of pork and red meat in general increased one’s risk of the same cancer by 50%, so it could be suggested that the lion’s share of the risk resulted from heavy red meat consumption.

Again, no one can conclude anything definitively here. While this project stopped short of blaming the nitrites/nitrates in cured meats for increased risk of human cancer, not all do. Other studies have claimed that maternal consumption of hot dogs during pregnancy leads to increased risk of childhood brain tumors or brain cancer, or that heavy consumption of hot dogs during one’s childhood leads to a greater likelihood of childhood leukemia. More research needs to be done in this area, and, as one might expect, there are scientists who question the validity of these, and related, studies.

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