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Is Sodium Nitrate Bad For You?

Also Known As: Chile saltpeter, Peru saltpeter



Short answer

Although the use of sodium nitrate in cured meats is FDA approved, many studies have linked the overconsumption of nitrate to cancers, increased risks of neurodegenerative diseases, and heart disease. It should only be consumed in extreme moderation, if at all.



Long answer

Sodium nitrate, also known as NaNO3, is a chemical compound similar to salt and used in the preparation of meats as well as fertilizers, pyrotechnics, and pottery enamel.  The largest deposits of sodium nitrate, also known as saltpeter, are located in Chile and Peru.  It is a salt that is added to cured meats, such as hot dogs, bacon, beef jerky and deli meats, in order to preserve and add attractive coloring to the meats. The use of sodium nitrate in cured meats helps prevent the growth of disease-carrying bacteria, such as botulism and listeria. Sodium nitrate is even used in mouthwashes, as sodium nitrate can help relieve dental sensitivity.  Sodium nitrate is also used in fumigation to kill rodents.

In the body, as well as in meats, sodium nitrate is converted into sodium nitrite, which has shown to have medical properties, such as increased oxygen circulation and can be helpful during heart attacks and strokes.  Some researchers have linked sodium nitrite to the preservation of tissue when low oxygen levels are present in body tissue.

Many believe, however, that the addition of this preservative to cured meats can be harmful to overall health, as it has been linked to increased risks of Alzheimer’s disease, cancers, and Parkinson’s disease. Like sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate can transform into nitrosamine in the body if it has been exposed to high heat or in a highly acidic environment.  Nitrosamine is a carcinogenic compound. Many scientists have found that the intake of sodium nitrate can produce these effects in animals and have directly linked nitrosamine to cancer in rats. Because of this high risk of cancer-causing nitrosamine, the FDA permits only 2.75 ounces of nitrate per 100 pounds of meat.  In a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, it was found that sodium nitrate converted into nitrosamines can lead to gastric cancer. Sodium nitrate has also been found to negatively affect oxygen circulation in the blood and can lead to an oxygen circulation condition called methemoglobinemia.

Possible long-term side effects

  • alzheimer’s disease
  • parkinson’s disease
  • cancer
  • heart disease
  • methemoglobinemia

Commonly found in

Ingredients to be aware of

  • nitrosamines (a carcinogen formed under certain bodily conditions)


  • preserves color
  • prevent fats from going rancid
  • keeps bacteria from growing

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Written by Viviana Del Manzano | 06-16-2016

Written by Viviana Del Manzano
Suggest improvement or correction

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