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Nitrates in Food | Facts and Tips to Reduce Them

By I Prefer Organic @ipreferorganic

nitrates in food

What are Nitrates?

Nitrates are nitrogen compounds, which are essential nutrients for all plants. To ensure the vegetables and fruits with enough nitrogen either natural or artificial fertilizers are applied. When fertilization is overdone, plants accumulate surpluses of nitrates, which under certain conditions and quantities become harmful and even dangerous for us. Under the influence of certain bacteria and higher temperatures, nitrates are converted into nitrites. Nitrites are harmful to our health as they make the transport of oxygen through the blood very difficult. Nitrites are carcinogenic too.

Nitrates in Food

During winter and spring the natural amount of nitrates in vegetables is higher than in summer. Sunlight reduces the amount of nitrates and therefore summer crops (grown with lots of sun) have a lower level of nitrates than the greenhouse winter crops.

Vegetables and fruits that are chemically forced to mature earlier have larger amounts of nitrates than those that are naturally ripe.

Nitrate concentrations are highest in the plants’ leaves and roots, and lowest in their fruits and seeds. It is proved that the highest levels of nitrates are in lettuce, spinach, red beet, turnip, Chinese cabbage, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes and carrots. Tomatoes, peppers, beans, potatoes and cucumbers absorb smaller quantities of nitrates. Fruits, grains and nuts contain negligible amounts of nitrates.

Different types of vegetables accumulate nitrates in various parts: cabbage – in the outer leaves as well as in their “veins”; beet and turnip – in the tail; carrots and potatoes – in the core; cucumbers, radishes and zucchini – in the skin. Green vegetables like spinach, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, rhubarb, onions, parsley, and fennel accumulate the highest nitrates in their leaves.

How to Recognize the Nitrates in Veggies?

  • If the skin of the cucumbers, gherkins, marrows and potatoes have yellow spots, they contain more nitrates than acceptable. Do not eat them!
  • The nitrate vegetables quickly get very soft and liquify even if they are stored properly;
  • Usually the biggest vegetables have the highest amounts of nitrates, which have caused this rapid growth. These vegetables spoil quickly;
  • When choosing vegetables, select those that are apparently healthy, clean, fresh, firm, and don’t have a strange odor and taste.

How to Reduce the Nitrates in Vegetables?

There are a few simple rules to follow in order to reduce the amount of nitrates in vegetables:

  • Green vegetables need to soak in cold water for at least half an hour. During this time the water should be changed at least twice;
  • Potatoes and carrots have to be cut in half and put in cold water for 1-2 hours. Change the water 1 – 2 times;
  • For the rest of the vegetables the best is to remove those parts of the plants with the most nitrates: cut the outer leaves of the cabbage and the Chinese cabbage; peel the skin of the cucumbers, zucchini, gherkins and courgettes; cut both ends of the cucumbers, beets and turnips;
  • If you are in a hurry and don’t have time to soak the vegetables, wash them thoroughly with cold running water;
  • When cooking, the amount of nitrates in potatoes and carrots can be reduced from 40% to 80%. For this purpose, throw away the boiling soup while still hot, otherwise part of the liberated nitrates will be back in the vegetables.
  • Chopped vegetables release more nitrates in the water in which they are boiled. Unfortunately, with this process most of the vitamins will also go into the water.

How Nitrates Turn into Nitrites

If foods rich in nitrates are stored for several hours at high temperatures and with low or no oxygen, then nitrates are converted into nitrites. Typical example is lettuce or spinach in a closed plastic bag.
Tip: Eat your salads with lemon juice. Vitamin C neutralizes the harmful processes triggered by the nitrates in our body.

More Nitrates….. (sad face)

Apart from the vegetables, nitrates are often found in fresh meat and fish.
Few people know that frozen meats are processed with nitrates in order to keep their fresh color and flavor longer.

It is believed that nitrates are the lesser evil to pathogenic organisms and decay processes in which meat is exposed if not frozen immediately after harvesting it. Unlike nitrate vegetables, nitrate meat is more difficult to detect.

Fish and shellfish such as salmon, squid, baby octopus, etc. that are available fresh probably have been treated with nitrates or other chemicals to stay fresh longer time.

Always wash raw meat and fish with running water and soak them in water before cooking.  The safest option, of course, is eating organic vegetables and meat.

Finally, water may also contain a certain amount of nitrates due to improper fertilization or artificial manure of the soil. It is extremely important that agricultural production is controlled not only for the cleanliness of the production but also for clean air, soil and water with which it comes into contact.

Thanks for reading this long post! & I Wish You a Happy Toxins-Free Spring!

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