How Bad Is Sodium Nitrate for You?

sodium nitrate
Sodium nitrate may help fight harmful bacteria in cured and processed meats, however, overconsumption can lead to cancer, neurological illnesses and heart diseases.

Although the use of sodium nitrate (NaNO3) in cured meats is permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, multiple studies have connected nitrate overconsumption to cancer, higher risks of neurological illnesses and heart diseases.

  • Many researchers believe that adding this preservative to cured meats is bad for health because it has been connected to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease, cancers and Parkinson's disease.
  • If exposed to extreme heat or a highly acidic environment, sodium nitrate, like sodium nitrite, can change into nitrosamine in the body. Nitrosamine is a known carcinogen.
  • According to a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, sodium nitrate transformed into nitrosamines can cause gastric cancer.
  • Sodium nitrate has also been proven to have a detrimental effect on oxygen circulation in the blood, which can lead to methemoglobinemia (an inefficient oxygen circulation condition).
  • Inhalation of excessive sodium nitrate irritates the respiratory tract, which symptoms may include coughing, shortness of breath.
  • Ingestion of excessive sodium nitrate may cause:
  • Skin and eye contact cause redness, itching and pain
  • Chronic exposure:
    • In some cases, methemoglobinemia develops in people when nitrate is converted into nitrite by bacteria in the stomach.
    • This conversion can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, erratic breathing, convulsions, coma and death.
  • Aggravation of preexisting conditions in patients with a history of kidney or lung disease. These patients could be more susceptible to the effects of this substance.

Why is sodium nitrate still being used?

Sodium nitrate is a type of salt that has been used for a long time to preserve foods, especially meat and fish, despite its negative nutritional value. It is sometimes used as a replacement for sodium nitrite. It helps preserve the color of cured meat and imparts flavor, regulates lipid oxidation and functions as an antimicrobial.

  • In cured and processed meats, sodium nitrate (NaNO3) helps prevent the growth of disease-carrying bacteria, which cause botulism and listeria.
  • Sodium nitrate is even an ingredient in mouthwashes because it can help alleviate dental irritation.
  • To kill rodents, sodium nitrate is used in fumigation.
  • Sodium nitrate is metabolized in the body and meats into sodium nitrite, which has been found to have medicinal qualities, such as improved oxygen circulation and can be helpful during heart attacks and strokes.
  • Some researchers suggest that sodium nitrite helps preserve tissues when oxygen levels are low in the body.

Sodium nitrate prevents bacterial colonization of foods, which makes it a powerful oxidizing agent for meat preservatives. The U.S. Department of Agriculture attempted to restrict sodium nitrate as an ingredient in the late 1970s but was defeated by the meat industry. Because of the significant danger of cancer-causing nitrosamine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration limits the amount of nitrate allowed as food additives per 100 pounds of meat to 2.75 ounces.

How do I prevent nitrate intake?

Nitrates can be found in almost any environment since they occur naturally in several plants, fruits and cereals. When the chemical complex comes into contact with saliva, it transforms into sodium nitrite. Bodies convert nitrate to nitrite.

The following are some common methods for avoiding excessive sodium nitrate intake:

  • Reduce intake of processed meat and foods, such as hot dogs, jerky, sausage and cold cuts.
  • Examine labels carefully and avoid items containing sodium or potassium nitrates and nitrites.
  • Consume organic foods.
  • Determine whether the water contains nitrates or nitrites.
  • Consume an antioxidant-rich diet.

Nitrates and nitrites are prevalent in the environment and can be found in medications and household items. Nitrates are found in high concentrations in soil, animal feces, plants and food. Nitrate levels are naturally high in spinach, cauliflower, collard greens, beets and broccoli.

Sodium nitrate is often used as a preservative in cured meats, but they are also found in drugs used to treat heart disease and hypertension, as well as burn treatments. Volatile nitrites have been documented to be abused recreationally or for sexual enhancement. Fertilizers and explosives are two other commercial suppliers of nitrates.

Even though nitrates are necessary for all plant and animal life, excessive exposure can cause major health problems and negative nutritional effects. Be aware of how much sodium nitrate is consumed to avoid any detrimental effects.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Katan MB. Nitrate in Foods: Harmful or Healthy? Am J Clin Nutr. July 2009; 90(1):11-12.

Ma L, Hu L, Feng X, Wang S. Nitrate and Nitrite in Health and Disease. Aging Dis. 2018;9(5):938-945.

Environmental Working Group. How to Avoid Added Nitrates and Nitrites in Your Food.

Usinger EL. The Physical, Chemical and Microbial Effects of Supplemental Sodium Nitrate on Cured Meat Products. Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 2016;15210.