Red Meat Danger – Nitrates and Nitrites

About Author Marko Visic, M.Pharm.(Master’s in Pharmacy) is a professional pharmacist with years of experience, and is very passionate about truly natural and healthy products.


For starters I have to confess I am a little bit of a health junkie. Running 10k in under 50 minutes is not a problem anymore and benching 150 pounds seems like a piece of cake. God, do I crave it though.


Having a workout routine is great but I’ve learned that results won’t show if I eat cake every day. This is why my fridge is always full of healthy foods such as broccoli, eggs, skim milk, chicken and yogurt. However, eating clean for a prolonged period of time makes you start to crave the cake even more. And I have one other craving – red meat. Salami, burgers, you name it, as long as it has beef in it I’ll eat it on my cheat day.

For example I eat salami every Sunday morning. Even before WHO declared red meat substantially dangerous to health I noticed that I can have the same salami in the fridge for 3 months (nobody touches my salami with the big note ‘MARKO CHEAT FOOD’). What is surprising is that after 3 months the taste, the smell and the color of the salami is exactly the same as it was on the day I bought it. That was the first alarm. I mean, I can’t even leave chicken for 3 days in the fridge without being paranoid I’ll get salmonella if I eat it undercooked.

With WHO starting to give official warnings about red meat I went into research. I knew what I’ll probably find – some kind of preservatives in the salami, but the real question was what kind? Well, it turns out that the delicious, my most precious, full of taste and exuberance salami contains two rather nasty chemicals that are used as food preservatives – nitrates and nitrites.

Putting nitrates in salami and other red meat as a preservative is a nasty chain that ends in cancer. Chemically nitrates (NO3-) are rather harmless on their own (in terms of health – otherwise nitrates are used to make gun powder and explosives) and are therefore added to red meat and it is all fair play. However, nitrates have a chemical tendency to decay into nitrites (NO2-) by losing one oxygen atom.

Now nitrites are a dangerous thing to put in your system. Why? They have a great affinity to proteins in human body. Every protein has a chemical functional group called ‘amine group’ to which nitrites readily bind. The result of this reaction is a formation of a completely new chemical called nitrosamine. This is the end of the chain – and unfortunately it ends at nitrosamines which are well known cancer-causing agents.


This chemical chain can happen in human digestion when nitrites are introduced to body’s proteins or in the very meat itself. Meat, as we all know, is full of protein that can react with nitrites to create cancerous nitrosamine. So, in short, when I leave my salami in the fridge for 3 months this is the process that is taking place and at the end I’m eating salami filled with cancer-causing agents. In 2010 WHO itself declared nitrates and nitrites are probably carcinogens so why I am still eating them?

One important thing to remember is that this chemical chain does not need access to oxygen to transpire. That means that cancer-causing nitrosamine is being created in the meat that is packaged. My advice is to always check when the salami or red meat was packaged and if it is a long time prior to you buying it (some salami can be in the fridge for even half a year), don’t buy it. This is how, eventually, we can influence producers to work on their food quality.

I, for one, will stop eating packaged red meat. If you, the reader, stop eating it there are already two of us. And if the trend continues producers will be forced to do something about it and in such a way we will both bring benefit not only to our bodies but will ensure the health of others with future advancements in food quality.

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