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Topic —  Health

Nitrate Debate

Theresa Albert
February 13, 2012
Theresa Albert
Nitrates: Good or Bad?
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The ‘earth is flat’ food battle of our time is being fought and it’s called ‘nitrates are bad for you’. On the one side is the 10 year-old theory that nitrates in food mix with the bacteria in your gut to create nitrosamines which can lead to cancer. The new science refutes that claim and posits that more than 90% of the nitrates consumed come from otherwise healthy plants (leafy greens are a particularly rich source). If the old theory is true, the new science says it means that the very things meant to protect us from cancer are capable of causing it. But that can’t be right. It’s a head scratcher.

Professor Andrew Jones presented his findings at a food science conference about a year ago. This exercise physiologist explained how nitrate from beetroot juice widens blood vessels, reduces blood pressure and allows more blood flow. (It was verified, by the way, by isolating the nitrate in the juice and retesting. The nitrate-free juice did not have the same effect). They are now studying the effects of this isolated nitrate as a—get this—performance-enhancing drug. Well, that’s a game changer. What about the link to cancer?

The problem with science is that it doesn’t jive with human nature. The scientific method poses a theory and tests it. The conclusions must be retested by other scientists to either prove or disprove the findings, but once a theory is entrenched in the human lexicon, it is almost impossible to remove. The layperson just throws up his hands and says “First you said this, now you say that?! Forget it. I don’t want to listen anymore”. But we have to keep listening and keep letting the new information in if we are going to move ahead. (Just like any other effective relationship.)

The studies on nitrates and their link to cancer are in that process right now. The story is moving in slow-motion, but the questions being raised make enough sense for us to hit pause and listen. If nitrates exist in soil and plants, then why don’t we all have stomach and colorectal cancer? The epidemiological studies based on self-reported diet history indicating that high levels of processed meat consumption and colon cancer cannot prove cause and effect. (The self reporting alone is a terribly flawed way to assess data. It’s that human confounder again.) Epidemiological studies can only raise enough questions that need to be further investigated.

What heats the whole debate up is the use of said nitrites, and nitrates are in deli meats. And no one wants to listen to the producers of ‘Big Food’; we are certainly not going to get our health news from THEM, but they should get a voice in the conversation too. Know that nitrites, as a preservative, are mandated for use in deli meats. In other words, if you make and sell deli meats in Canada, the government says you must use them in your product to prevent other, more pressing problems like deadly bacteria. They can choose from a synthetic source or from a natural source like the vegetables stated above.

As a follower of the story, you want to find the best course of action. It’s more about what you DO in the meantime that matters. Vitamin C in plants helps to prevent the conversion of nitrates to the risky and suspect nitrosamines. Smoked and cured meats have been consumed for millennia and they taste good, nitrites/nitrates and all. So, if you are going to continue enjoying these meats, do so wisely. Choose the best one you can find that has managed the other factors that such a food comes with. Specifically, find the leanest, lowest sodium option made with the highest quality ingredients you can find. Enjoy it in moderation, and eat it with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables (and keep reading to figure out whether the earth is round or flat…again).

Theresa Albert is a Food Communications Expert, Brand Spokesperson, Author (Cook Once a Week, Eat Well Every Day and Ace Your Health: 52 Ways to Stack Your Deck), Speaker, Toronto-Area Nutritionist, Columnist for the international Metro Newspaper and The Huffington Post and regular contributor to both lifestyle and news media. Find her at
Comments | Tagged under food, health, lunches
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Handwashing How-To's
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As moms, we all know that hands have the potential to carry disease into our bodies via our eyes, nose and mouth. When we get our kids into the hand-washing habit, we are helping their overall health and potentially ours as well.

Here are some tips to start this habit today:

  1. Give kids the facts. The truth is that their hands could be dirtier than a public toilet seat. Even if they wash their hands after using the bathroom, things that they shared in school or touched while out may have other people’s fecal matter on them.
  2. Set your family expectations around hand-washing and stick to them. Make sure they’re washing hands when they come home from school after bags are emptied, after toileting and always before a meal. When we reinforce the habit, it becomes second nature.
  3. Use a reminding picture and/or words to help. Diagrams or notes on the bathroom mirror can help to cue kids to wash their hands—teach them how to do it properly (singing a song for the correct duration) and then have them teach Grandma or Dad so that they are sharing helpful knowledge and feel capable.

Are you wondering why your child says she washed her hands when she didn’t? This is a common behaviour for preschoolers. One of the easiest ways to stop the lie is to stop asking a question when you already know the answer. Instead, state what you know: “I didn’t hear water. You need to go back and wash hands.”

We suggest a different script: when your child comes out of the bathroom, say: “Smell check!” If soap was used, the child will be happy to let you smell her hands. If not, she’ll head back in and wash them. No more arguing and no more lies.

Good to Know: It’s also really important to have a small container of hand sanitizer on hand in your purse for those emergency situations where a sink isn’t on hand.

Here’s a fun video that introduces the ‘how-to’s’ of hand washing to your younger ones.


Julie Freedman Smith and Gail Bell provide tools for real life parenting through their company, Parenting Power™. Using over 40 years of combined experience, they work with parents across the country through telephone coaching, podcasts, and video courses to ease the stress and guilt of parents while providing practical solutions to everyday parenting challenges. Visit to ask your own parenting questions.
Comments | Tagged under health, parenting, seasonal
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