Think about this scenario: you sit down to eat on your lunch break. You open your lunch box and pull out today’s menu: an apple, a bag of pretzels, and a turkey sandwich. Sounds delicious and nutritious, right? Not so fast.
Sure, the apple and the pretzels are relatively nutritious, but what about your turkey sandwich? You may be thinking that because the turkey is low in fat it’s nutritious, right? Wrong. You see, the pre-packaged turkey you chose to make your sandwich with is not fresh. Instead, it’s a processed meat filled with preservatives designed to keep it edible for longer than fresh turkey. Instead of adding nutritional value, these preservatives instead introduce a whole host of things into your body that you wouldn’t want to eat if you realized it.
So, what kinds of preservatives are inside your processed turkey lunch meat? The most popular are Sodium Nitrate and its close partner Sodium Nitrite. You’ll find them in different kinds of processed meats like the meat on your turkey sandwich, along with salami, hot dogs, Spam and bacon. Manufacturers introduce these chemicals into these meats for a couple of reasons:
• They preserve the color of the meat – The Sodium Nitrate and Nitrites work to keep the color of the meat consistent. For instance, think of how perfect your lunch meat looks when you eat it. This isn’t a naturally-occurring phenomenon in meat. For example, hamburger meat changes color when it is cooked, but if it is injected with Sodium Nitrates and Nitrites, then it will remain the same rich pink color even after cooking.
• They keep botulism away – The preservatives act as a barrier against this bacterium.
You might be thinking: Sodium Nitrate and Nitrites keep away bad bacteria and make my food look good, how bad can that be? Well, you haven’t learned about the flip side of these preservatives. You see, for the nice things that Sodium Nitrate and Nitrites do, they cause way worse things to happen in the body, including:
• Cancer – When you consume Sodium Nitrites, they are transformed into the cancer-causing nitrosamines. Some of the cancers that are known to result from nitrosamines include Colorectal, Stomach and Pancreatic Cancer.
• Birth Defects – Pregnant women who consume copious amounts of processed meats run the risk of passing the bad chemicals on to their unborn children. Studies have shown that children of mothers who eat processed meats on a regular basis are more likely to develop cancerous tumors.
• Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease – A study shows that people who consume processed meats regularly double their chances of developing this lung disease which affects your lungs’ oxygen capacity.
What You Can Do To Protect Yourself
It is hard to believe that any food on the store shelves can actually do you harm. The government wouldn’t let you buy them if they were dangerous, right? Well, yes and no. The governmental body that governs food, the Food and Drug Administration, works hard to protect consumers from the dangers different food brings. But, they don’t always know the full effects of a chemical in a food until years down the road.
This fact is precisely the reason why it’s extremely important to understand all of the ingredients in the food you eat. A good rule of thumb is to not eat something containing an ingredient you can’t pronounce. If you don’t understand how to say Sodium Nitrate or Sodium Nitrite, then it’s probably not a good idea to put it into your body.
Another good rule of thumb? Start purchasing foods that are fresh and all-natural. How can you do this? There are many ways to ensure the foods you are buying are fresh and all-natural:
• Only purchase fresh produce and meats – By purchasing fresh fruits and meats directly from your grocer’s counter or local farmer’s market, you know they weren’t canned and preserved with dangerous chemicals.
• Buy organic and free-range foods – You can also kick your nutritional quest up a notch by only purchasing foods that are labeled as organic or free-range. These foods are ensured to be free of chemicals because they were raised and harvested on farms that:
o No antibiotics or hormones were given to the animals.
o No pesticides are used on the produce harvested or on the land that the animals live and feed on.
o Allow the animals to roam freely and not kept in confinements where they are living in their own urine and excrement.
Diets that include free-range and organic meats and produce shield you from the disease-causing preservatives like Sodium Nitrates and Sodium Nitrites. In addition, you are likely consuming fewer calories and less fat because these foods are not injected with additional sugars to improve taste. Instead, the taste comes naturally.
What else do you get by avoiding foods filled with preservatives? Over time, you’ll likely feel lighter and more energetic because you are getting the proper vitamins and minerals in your food. This will translate into a smaller waistline, fewer illnesses and a longer life because your risk for developing cancer and other life-threatening diseases is drastically decreased.
And hey, it may take a little more work than picking up that package of processed turkey, but your health will thank you.
Oregon State University
University of Minnesota Extension
Campaign for Safe Cosmetics
John Hopkins University
The New York Times