Nitrates in processed meats may up colon cancer risk

Use of nitrates in processed meat products like ham and sausage increased the risk of colon cancer, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) has confirmed.

Nitrates and nitrites are a type of salts that are added to processed and cured meats to extend shelf life and to give them flavour and a pink colour. Nitrites forms nitrates when combined with oxygen.

In 2015, a World Health Organization report classified processed meat as carcinogenic because curing — by adding nitrates or nitrites or by smoking — can lead to the formation of potentially cancer-causing chemicals.

The ANSES has confirmed a link between these additives and the risk of colon cancer, also known as bowel cancer, stating “more than half of exposure to nitrites comes from the consumption of charcuterie, because of the additives used in preparing it”.

Charcuterie is a French term for a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines.

To limit their exposure to nitrates and nitrites, the French health agency advises consumers to “limit their consumption of charcuterie to 150 grams per week” and “eat a varied and balanced diet, with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day”.

“Every day, we are exposed to nitrites and nitrates through our diet,” the agency said in a statement. “In light of current knowledge on their effects on human health, ANSES recommends reducing the population’s exposure to these substances by taking proactive measures to limit dietary exposure.”

According to ANSES, the higher the exposure to nitrites and nitrates, “the greater the risk of colorectal cancer in the population”.

The findings also confirmed “the existence of an association between the risk of colorectal cancer and exposure to nitrites and/or nitrates, whether ingested through the consumption of processed meat or drinking water”.

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