Nitrogen is a critically important building block for proteins, enzymes, vitamins and even DNA but, if oversupplied, there are several associated health issues. There are two forms of nitrogen – ammonium nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen – but it is the nitrate form that can be problematic. When this form of nitrogen is ingested via food and drinking water, it can be converted in the gut to nitrites, which then combine with hemoglobin to form methemoglobin. This compound restricts the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen and oxygen levels at the cellular level can be compromised.
Professor Otto Warburg won the Nobel Prize for his discovery that anaerobism is a principle root cause of cancer. There have been several studies linking nitrates to cancer and reduced cellular oxygen supply (anaerobism) is undoubtedly playing a role. However, there is another issue with nitrates in our food. Nitrosomines can be formed from the sodium nitrate commonly used as a stabilizer in processed meats. These compounds are formed when amino acids from the meat combine with nitrates or nitrites. This happens very efficiently in the acid conditions of the stomach or at specific temperatures when cooking processed meat, particularly bacon.
Nitrosamines are proven carcinogens. Barbecuing processed meat like sausages can serve to convert the sodium nitrate stabiliser to nitrosamines. However, there is also the likelihood of creating two other toxic compounds that threaten to turn char grill snags into fag-like cancer risks. When fat drippings (that pour from sausages) land on the flame, the smoke that is formed is laced with carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PACs). When sausage or any other meat, is char grilled, then another toxin is formed. In this case heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are formed that have been shown to generate tumours in the breasts, colons and prostates of lab animals. Char grilled food thereby makes the list of foods to avoid if you are into proactive health management.
Nitrates You Can’t Ignore
Nitrates are now entering our bodies at rates not previously seen and this is largely due to the contamination of ground water and food through misuse and abuse of nitrogen in agriculture. A recent US study found that greater than 10% of the ground wells tested contained nitrates exceeding the maximum safe levels for humans. However, it’s not just in our drinking water, it’s in our food, and at both ends of the nutrition spectrum. It is in food from the lower rungs like processed meats where it is used as a stabiliser and it is often oversupplied in the very best of foods, our fruit and vegetables.
Sodium nitrate has been used as a food stabiliser for hundreds of years but there was a marked reduction in its use after the invention of the refrigerator in the 1930s. It is highly likely that this change was linked to a dramatic reduction in gastric cancers that were previously the most common form of cancer. However, sodium nitrate confers a desirable pinking effect to the treated meat so it is still widely used in bacon, ham, sausages and corned beef.
While there has been a reduction in nitrate contamination from processed food there have been large increases in our exposure due to a contamination of skin care products and, of course, increased nitrates in fresh produce, particularly in hydroponic food. Nitrates are a common contaminant in cosmetics and there is no regulation requiring that their presence be listed on the label. Hydroponic production involves only the nitrate form of nitrogen so it is inevitable that this food will contain excess nitrates. In this case, the proof is literally in the pudding as the bitter taste of hydroponic lettuces is the taste of nitrates. There is a move however, with some progressive hydroponic growers to use a biological approach which does mitigate this problem.
The Problem with Pumping and Pushing
When you are paid just 50 cents each for your cabbages you really have little choice but to pump up your produce and push it out as quickly as possible, or you will simply not survive. Herein lies the rub. We want our food as cheap as possible, but we tend to conveniently overlook the effect upon the economics and mechanics of food production.
The easy way to fast track plant growth is to pump the plant full of nitrate nitrogen. This is the form of nitrogen that sponsors vegetative growth, as opposed to ammonium nitrogen, which is a fruiting mineral. If you are growing green vegetables and supplying the supermarket chains you are generally receiving a pittance for your produce, so there is every motivation for taking the nitrate fast track. A healthy plant should contain 75% ammonium nitrogen and 25% nitrate nitrogen, but in many cases a supermarket cabbage will contain 75% nitrate nitrogen and 25% ammonium nitrogen. The price to pay for this inverted ratio is more than contamination with toxic nitrates, because a plant that is high in nitrates is low in everything else!
The nutrient density of food is seriously compromised when nitrates are overused. Nitrate nitrogen is taken up into the plant with water, so there is always a nutrient dilution effect in high nitrate plants. This can be easily detected using a refractometer to measure dissolved solids (brix) within the plant leaf. Brix levels are always low when nitrate levels are high, due to this dilution factor. Not only are you assaulting your immune system with excess nitrates when eating this produce but you are also missing out on many of the immune-supporting nutrients that should be present in fresh produce.
Top Ten Ways To Avoid Nitrate Contamination
1) Use marinades and don’t char grill – The liberal use of marinades when barbequing has been shown to blunt the heat and reduce the formation of both nitrosamines and HCAs. There is a growing body of research about health problems associated with overcooked meat. Learn to “love the blood” and develop a taste for rare meat, as it is much better for you. Never microwave meat, as you will convert good food into garbage food through the formation of radiolytic compounds.
2) Avoid processed meats – Sausages, hot dogs, salami, bacon, ham and other small goods are stabilised with sodium nitrate. A single sausage a day has been shown to increase cancer risk by 20%. Nitrate-free alternatives are available but they don’t feature the pink colour for which some of these foods are renowned. Vitamin C has been shown to stop nitrates from becoming carcinogenic nitrosamines, so a glass of orange juice with your bacon and eggs will be helpful. However, if you are having more than a single rasher you might want to use a vitamin C supplement. Choose one that contains bioflavonoids and is fully buffered for maximum benefits.
3) Eat lacto-fermented foods with your meals – Lactobacillus offer a huge suite of benefits, to the extent that the cultures who regularly consume fermented foods are the longest living people on the planet. Lactobacillus can stop the conversion of nitrates to nitrosamines, so a couple of spoonfuls of sauerkraut or kimchi with your sausages or pepperoni pizza can help neutralise the negatives. I demonstrate just how easy it is to make your own delicious sauerkraut at my courses. You can literally make 6 months supply in 10 minutes. Click here for the recipe.
If you want to fast track the fermenting process and increase the probiotic potential of this defense food, then you sprinkle the NTS Health product Bio-Bubble™ onto each layer as you fill your bucket. If you use salt alone it will take around 3 weeks before the fermentation is complete but that becomes just 3 days if you combine Bio-Bubble™ with the salt. In 3 days, or 3 weeks depending on the addition of Bio-Bubble™, you have 6 months' supply of one of the single most beneficial foods known. If this is all too much trouble you might consider drinking a little Bio-Bubble™ with your meal, or sprinkling Digest-Ease™ onto the offending food. Both of these supplements contain billions of Lactobacillus.
4) Source natural skin care products – Your skin is unbelievably absorbent and you will pick up contaminants from skincare products as surely as if you had eaten them. Nitrates are just one of the issues, as there can be contamination with parabens, BHT, sodium metabisulfate, propolene glycol and other toxins. This is an area that is not policed so it is a really good idea to source natural, preferably organic alternatives. TamuSkin™ Rejuvenation Butter is a new rejuvenating moisturizer from NTS Health based upon the remarkable botanical, tamanu oil and supported by coconut oil, cocoa butter and papaya.
5) Avoid hydroponic food grown without biologicals – At our four-day courses we measure the brix levels of a variety of fresh produce. The lowest levels are always found in hydroponic food because the dissolved solids (nutrient density) in this food have been diluted by the nitrates that are the only form of nitrogen used in this production system. We rarely find a hydroponic lettuce with a brix level above 2 when the ideal brix level is 12. Lettuce and spinach are the worst offenders and this food should not be fed to babies or children.
6) Harvest your own vegetables late in the afternoon – Sunlight is required to activate the nitrate reductase enzyme that converts nitrates in the leaves into protein. Commercial produce is usually harvested in the morning when nitrates are at their highest but this needn’t be the deal in your own garden. The sooner you eat vegetables after harvest, the better the nutritional value of your home grown produce. Come home and pick what you will eat immediately before consumption and your home garden can become your most effective wellness tool.
7) Don’t forget molybdenum – Most home garden fertilisers ignore this critically important trace mineral and yet most soils are lacking this nutrient. Molybdenum is the other essential that sponsors the conversion of nitrates in the leaves into protein and without it you may be consuming toxic nitrates. Molybdenum is also required for the nitrogenase enzyme, which fuels the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen into ammonium nitrogen in your soil. This natural nitrogen is the best you can get for healthy plant growth but you can’t get it without molybdenum. Life Force® Total Cover™ is a foliar fertiliser for home gardens that contains luxury levels of molybdenum along with many other nutrients. Life Force® Total Cover™ also contains a rich lode of selenium to ensure that your homegrown produce contains good levels of this medicinal mineral.
8) Buy organic if you don’t grow it – Many conventional growers overdo nitrate nitrogen so the food contains too much of this mineral. This excess within the plant generates insect pressure so there is a greater requirement for chemical control. Not only do you get a nitrate packed, minerally deficient plant with no flavour or shelf life but now it is contaminated with chemical residues. A recent French study found that organic produce contained 50% less nitrates than conventional produce. This invariably means more nutrient density so although it costs more you are getting much better food. Most cancer patients are told by their natural health professional to drink organic juices as a primary strategy to source protective antioxidants. My message is “why wait until you get cancer?”.
9) Filter your drinking water – It is probably not a good idea to drink bore water in rural areas unless you have had it tested for nitrate contamination. Unfortunately, an inexpensive carbon filter is not sufficient to remove this contaminant. You can purchase specialist nitrate filters or use a reverse osmosis system.
10) Soften the blow – If you must barbecue, or you can’t afford to filter your water or to source organic food, then at least you can soften the blow with these simple strategies. Eat zucchinis with your char grill, as they are the highest source of molybdenum, which stems the conversion of nitrates to nitrosamines in your body. Carrots and green vegetables are most commonly contaminated. If carrots have a bitter aftertaste never use them for juicing because you will concentrate the nitrates that conferred the bitterness.