Are Nitrates and Nitrites Bad for You?

There’s cause for concern but no need to panic.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #68

Are There Nitrates in Your Water?

For some people, the question is not what’s in your food but what’s in your water. Nitrates are used extensively as fertilizer in non-organic farming operations and the run-off often contaminates groundwater. If you live on or near a farm, you might want to have your water tested because that’s likely to be the most significant source of your nitrate exposure. (See also episode # 67, "Is Your Drinking Water Safe?"

How to Minimize Your Cancer Risk

So, my advice about nitrites and nitrates is this: Don’t panic. Although there is cause for concern, you can minimize the health risks with these quick and dirty tips

  1. Be especially careful during pregnancy: Developing fetuses are by far the most vulnerable to the carcinogenic effects of nitrosamines. Avoid cured meats such as hot dogs, bacon, and ham during pregnancy. Also, if you live on or near a farm, be sure to have your water tested and/or drink bottled water during your pregnancy.

  2. Limit your consumption of cured meat: Don’t eat cured meats every day. Try sliced turkey or roast beef instead of salami or baloney in your sandwiches. Save the ham for the holidays

  3. Cook your bacon slowly: Cook your bacon slowly over low heat (or in the microwave) and be very careful not to burn it. When you cook bacon quickly over high heat, it produces tons of nitrosamines. When you cook it gently, it produces much less. 

  4. Eat more vegetables: Eat your vegetables—especially when you are eating cured meats. (C’mon, it’s been at least three weeks since I worked that into an episode!) The antioxidants in vegetables inhibit the conversion of nitrites into harmful compounds.


If you have a suggestion for a future show topic or would like to find out about having me speak at your conference or event, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com.  Please include the topic of your question in the subject line of your email.

You can also post comments and questions on my Nutrition Diva Facebook Page or tweet to me on Twitter. I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

Have a great day and eat something good for me!


Nitrate/Nitrite Toxicity

Nitrate in Meat

Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: harmful or healthy?

Hot Dogs and Nitrites

Hot Dog image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.