The answer is yes.
Well how can they be both?
Dietary Nitrates that get converted to Nitric Oxide are “good” and can bring with them a host of health benefits, some being a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes (1)
Nitrates that get converted to Nitrosamines are “bad” (2), these are considered carcinogenic to humans and pose an increased risk of cancer along with other illnesses.
How do you get the “Good” without the “Bad”
It is not an overly complex equation. Consume nitrates in the absence of high heat and amino acids (3) Huh?
Think bacon. Most bacon is cured with sodium nitrate, bacon has protein (amino acids), and then you fry bacon (high heat). A+B+C= nitrosamines. This equation has brought a lot of scrutiny on processed meats and their potential cancer risks. So much so that manufactures are limited in the amount of nitrate they use and they need to add Ascorbic Acid (vitamin –C) to try and inhibit the nitrosamine creation (4).
Before we get back to the “good” on Nitrates, we don’t want you to be all depressed because you cannot eat bacon, hotdogs or other processed meats. There are some steps you can take to reduce or eliminate that amount of nitrosamine formation. You can try to find processed meats without nitrates, ones that are just cured with salt (they might be frozen because they don’t last as long) OR you cook on lower temperatures and avoid burning the meats.
In the grand scheme of dietary nitrate consumption from processed meats pails in comparison to the 80% of dietary nitrates we consume are derived from vegetables (5). Adequate consumption of nitrates from vegetable sources can lead to major health benefits. The focus on today’s “good” is Nitric Oxide.
Once we consume nitr-A-tes they are converted into nitr-I-tes and then into Nitric Oxide. (6) Basically what happens here is along the way through your mouth and stomach the original nitrate drops off some oxygen molecules like a school bus driver. It starts as Nitrate (NO3-) then Nitrite (NO2-) and lastly becomes Nitric Oxide (NO).
Nitric Oxide is a very short-lived gas in our body that has a number of different functions. One of those being a signal to our blood vessels that it is ok to relax. When the blood vessels relax they can dilate with ease, this is a sign of a healthy vascular system. (7, 8) This action of improving our vascular functioning is one of the “Good” aspects of dietary nitrate consumption.
At some point throughout each week you will consume nitrates, (we recommend that you do it daily from vegetables) the onus is on you to make it” good” nitrate consumption and reap all the potent health benefits. Some of this comes down to planning ahead which we will cover in a later post. For now focus on daily vegetable consumption and do not over cook your baconJ