Dietary nitrate and nitrite: Benefits, risks, and evolving perceptions

Research paper by Wendy Bedale, Jeffrey J. Sindelar, Andrew L. Milkowski

Indexed on: 18 Mar '16Published on: 09 Mar '16Published in: Meat Science


Consumers have an illogical relationship with nitrite (and its precursor, nitrate) in food. Despite a long history of use, nitrite was nearly banned from use in foods in the 1970s due to health concerns related to the potential for carcinogenic nitrosamine formation. Changes in meat processing methods reduced those potential risks, and nitrite continued to be used in foods. Since then, two opposing movements continue to shape how consumers view dietary nitrate and nitrite. The discovery of the profound physiological importance of nitric oxide led to the realization that dietary nitrate contributes significantly to the nitrogen reservoir for nitric oxide formation. Numerous clinical studies have also demonstrated beneficial effects from dietary nitrate consumption, especially in vascular and metabolic health. However, the latest wave of consumer sentiment against food additives, the clean-label movement, has renewed consumer fear and avoidance of preservatives, including nitrite. Education is necessary but may not be sufficient to resolve this disconnect in consumer perception.