In the recent years, the trend to have sodium nitrate free lunch meat has expanded. So, for manufacturers of lunch meat, this has meant switching to sodium nitrites as a curing, preserving agent. So, what is the difference between sodium nitrates and sodium nitrites besides one letter? And are they as bad for you as the government agencies and media would like you to believe?
The chemical difference between the two is one atom, an oxygen atom to be exact. “What it comes down to is one oxygen atom — sodium nitrite has two oxygen atoms and one nitrogen atom. Sodium nitrate has one more oxygen atom.” It was interesting to read that when we consume nitrates, our bodies change them into nitrites. What?
Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrites are also different in the fact that sodium nitrate can be mined and sodium nitrite is chemically made.
Sodium nitrate is the chemical compound with the formula NaNO3. This salt is also known as Chile saltpeter or Peru saltpeter (due to the large deposits found in each country) to distinguish it from ordinary saltpeter, potassium nitrate. The mineral form is also known asnitratine, nitratite or soda niter.
Sodium nitrate is a white solid which is very soluble in water. It is a readily available source of the nitrate anion (NO3−), which is useful in several reactions carried out on industrial scales for the production of fertilizers, pyrotechnics and smoke bombs, glass and pottery enamels, food preservatives, and solid rocket propellant. It has been mined extensively for these purposes.
Did you notice the uses for sodium nitrate? Kind of scary that a food preservative can also be used for pyrotechnics and smoke bombs.
Sodium nitrite is the inorganic compound with the chemical formula NaNO2. It is a white to slight yellowish crystalline powder that is very soluble in water and is hygroscopic. It is a useful precursor to a variety of organic compounds, such as pharmaceuticals, dyes, and pesticides, but it is probably best known as a food additive to prevent botulism.
Again, kind of scary that pesticides and food additive are in the same description.
Nitrites, not sodium nitrites, occur naturally in plants and vegetables. Arugula, celery and butter lettuce have some of the highest concentrations of naturally occurring nitrites. We even produce some nitrites in our own bodies. What is the difference? Well, the nitrites produced by vegetables and our bodies, work in conjunction with other vitamins and nutrients. Simply said, they balance each other.
The celery juice, which contains nitrites and nitrates naturally, is extracted or a powder form is used, and added to meats. Veggies with nitrates/nitrates occurring naturally are fine to eat as they are because they have other nutrients/vitamins that counteract the carcinogens formed. However, without the other nutrients, you’re just getting the cancer-causing carcinogens.
So, next time you are looking at lunch meat, read the fine print. I am not telling you not to eat the lunch meat but maybe don’t eat a whole pound. Moderation is the key and natural is the way to go but the hype about nitrates and nitrites is just that…. hype.
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