A new report published by Queen’s University Belfast appears to prove that nitrates used in the curing process for processed meats can produce chemicals that cause an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

Specifically, the study—spearheaded by Dr. Marie Cantwell and Professor Chris Elliott—shows a direct link between nitrates used to produce bacon and dangerous nitrosamines.

Adding nitrate and nitrite to foods is meant to prohibit the growth of microbial contamination, thus improving food quality. However, nitrate and nitrite are sources of N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). These are known carcinogens.

“The latest research at Queen’s University Belfast has shown that there is a direct link between nitrites and the formation of nitrosamines. This means that when people consume bacon –which is currently cured with nitrites in the UK – they could be increasing their risk of contracting cancer,” says Elliott.

In order for these dangerous chemicals to be produced, a number of factors come into play:

  • Amount of nitrite added to the food product
  • Quality of the meat being processed
  • Fat content
  • Processing
  • Packaging
  • How the consumer handles the meat at home

The research from Queen’s suggests that green tea polyphenols could be used as a healthier alternative to nitrates and nitrites in processing meat. They can also improve the quality, shelf life and safety of processed meat products.

Cantwell’s and Elliott’s report has been published in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics.

More on processed meats:
WHO Says Processed Meats Cause Cancer 
In Whom Should We Trust? Case in Point: Red and Processed Meats
Analyzing Acrylamide: A Focus on Food Carcinogens

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