I Heart Nitrates

I love hot dogs and it’s not a seasonal thing. If someone is cooking them for “the kids”, even in the dead of winter, I am known to request one more be tossed on.  Street vendors, baseball concession stands, BBQers – bring me your dogs!   (Bun optional, but extra mustard is a must.)

Only problem with them is what’s in them.

One of the more demonized additives found in conventionally cured meats (used as a preservative and to keep the meat from turning grey) is nitrites – usually in the form of synthetic sodium nitrite.  The concern (which is inconclusive) is that when heated and ingested it forms carcinogenic compounds.  So it’s led many people to be wary of the words nitrates and nitrites.

Nitrates however occur naturally when plants break down nitrogen. They are plentiful in green leafy vegetables and root vegetables (in particular celery.)   So in order to get around the nitrite issue and use the claim “ No Nitrates/Nitrites Added” or the term “Uncured”, many manufacturers use celery salt and sea salt (both high in natural nitrates) to cure the meat. (Oh and the claim “Uncured” on packages, simply means that no synthetic nitrites were used in the curing.)  These claims however lead buyers to think that the products are entirely free of nitrites, but they’re not…

When we buy Uncured or Nitrate Free meat, they are not “nitrite free”, they’re simply free of  synthetic nitrites. And when we ingest naturally occurring nitrates, our body still converts them to nitrites – the same supposedly “bad for you” nitrites as the artificial ones (and often at higher levels).  Though there is some concern that synthetic chemical nitrites also contain trace levels of toxic by-products.

This same argument, though, of “no difference between synthetic and real” could be (and is) made for MSG (found naturally in food such as seaweed) and natural flavors (which when made in a lab are chemically the same as the actual food from which the flavor came.)

My opinion on the nitrite issue is this:  If given the option, I will definitely choose meats that are cured “naturally” (ie. the kind NOT found at ballparks and concession stands). Knowing now, however, that nitrates are still high even in these “all natural” products (and there may be a health risk to high levels or nitrites from any source), I am conscious of keeping cured meats to a moderate level (which is especially important if you’re a kid.) So my advice is this: eat meat (of any kind) in moderation and when you do, eat the highest quality, most “natural” ones you can find.


Related Posts
Leeks with Sausage and Mustard (this is a fabulous winter dish and hotdogs could easily be used in place of sausages)

Get Posts By Email

  • TracyS

    The only red meat my 3 year old eats is bacon, albeit it is organic but I still see nitrates listed on the back of the package—argh!  He eats it about once every two weeks..

    • Marcee

      Oh. I thought pig was considered white ….. not red meat.

      Thankfully, we do not eat any type of pork in our household. Whew.

      Think it over again Tracy S.


  • Gary J

    A rather disappointing post.  I think there are lot more concerns with hot dogs than just nitrites.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=738695256 Jess Mahler

      I agree.  

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/LWHOMFRFA2YKKY2QCC7RYCCOSI Ryan

      Spam is the best of all processed meats people…healthy no, delicious yes

  • Pam

    Oh, Michele. Once again you are my hero. Twice a year or so I buy a package of hot dogs. Then I eat them. They are magically delicious. I occasionally use MSG (and do not have any ill effects.) I am a firm believer in moderation. If I enjoy things, some is good. I think deprivation is also good in moderation. And so are hot dogs.

  • Marcee

    Ohh. I am very glad to have given up all cow since 2009!  The thing is, I never ate things like steak, or stews, etc. My choice would also be (natural ….. as if)  hot dogs ….. from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. My palate found them too salty. I would rinse and rinse and rinse. It did help. I think the hot dog roll was another huge enemy.

    These days, the only animal on my plate is a bit of chicken twice a week. Maybe fish sometimes. Turkey tastes terrible in my opinion. Gamey. Even organic. Need to forgo all of it. Then what? Starve.

    Truthfully …… I do not trust anything that has been slaughtered. It makes me terribly ill to think of.

    For us hot-dog lovers ….. we need to find a yummy recipe to make our own tofu doggies. How difficult can it be? I have tried some brands. Once again ….. too much sodium.    

    Another boo-hoo ….. I’m also about to switch over to non-gluten products. Or make my own. If possible. . Just gotta learn. So many of our foods contain gluten. No wonder so many of us are all ill.

    My tummy is still upset from the toast I had this morning. Very painful.

    I need to find the book  …. “Diet For A Small Planet” that was written in the late 70’s or early 80’s. Maybe I can relearn a few things. It just seems that our food supply is making us unhealthy. Or, our choices.




    • Carmels

      Don’t lose heart – there’s more and more gluten-free products available! Even big box supermarkets carry items, as it is very recognized now. Ask the market help, and they will lead you to the aisle which has products. Granted, they are not all tasty, you have to try different ones. Amy’s Kitchen has lots of options, including pizzas, wraps, cookies & sandwich rounds. Mary’s crackers are the best. Pamela’s cookies & cake mixes. Glutino pretzels. Bob’s Redmill oats.

    • meezermom2

      Marcee – I’m Gluten intolerant – which means it won’t kill me to eat gluten, however, when I do I feel ‘funky’. I become sluggish, and if I eat more than a couple bites of gluten I get body aches especially in my legs, along with a whole list of minor aliments.

      I cut the gluten two years ago (except for the occasional bite of birthday cake or heavy grained artisan bread – which is what I miss the most).

      Cutting out everything that has gluten is pretty overwhelming at first, but becomes somewhat easier as you go along. Many of the gluten-free recipes want you to mix several types of flours together, but I’ve found there are some pretty good mixes available out there. One of my favorites is Pamela’s Pastries. No one can tell the difference when I use this in muffins, cakes, and pancakes – in fact I think these are better with Pamela’s then regular flour.

      I also use it in my bread maker, and for pizza dough, which is pretty good for these things, but do have a considerably different taste.

      For making pasta’s I recommend corn noodles – I actually like the taste of these better than the wheat noodles – or spaghetti squash. Others I’ve tried either have a bad texture or a taste that is too strange for me.

      I eat hamburgers with all the fixings minus the buns. I can’t resist the occasional coney dog, or a home-made polish sausage, again bun-less. I know they’re bad for me, but I reason a couple per year isn’t going to kill me.

      I travel a lot and restaurant dining is one of the hardest parts of being gluten-free. Some restaurants will do substitute bread for something – for instance grits, or potato or fruit at breakfast or extra veggies for dinner – but most won’t – it is however getting better all of the time.

       Check out http://www.livingwithout.com – its a really good website for gluten-free recipes.

  • Anonymous

    My concern with hot dogs isn’t the nitrites at all; when I was younger a kid in the neighborhood was convinced that they were made with beetles’ wings as a major ingredient. Didn’t stop me, though :-) 

  • Sheshleegy

    ABSOLUTELY! Not pushing my 6 year old to eat meat if he doesn’t want to. Find cheese and yogurt give him all the fat he needs. Along with the occasionally flax seed hidden in the pancake batter.  

  • Carmels

    What do you think of this information about the correlation between Alzheimer’s & Nitrates/Nitrites: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/alzheimers-diabetes-brain
    It not only involves hot dogs & other processed foods,  but alarmingly, plant based foods as well, as mentioned re mega farms – they are adding nitrates to the soil they are grown in (page 3 of article). Really horrifying!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=738695256 Jess Mahler

    When you said this:   “So my advice is this: eat meat (of any kind) in moderation and when you do, eat the highest quality, most “natural” ones you can ”  ………. what you failed to mention is that a serving of HUMANELY raised meat – is the most “natural” option out there.  

    • Gary J

      Somehow when I think “highest quality” and “most natural”, hot dogs do not come to mind.

      • http://profiles.google.com/babsyboo81 Bethany Sires

        Lol. Gary I definitely have to agree with your statement. Hot dogs are traditionally made from the scraps of the animal. I put hot dogs in the same category as bologna, spam, scrapple, and potted meat (eww!).

        • Gary J

          Yes I think someone is having a Paula Deen moment.  :)

        • Egoodapple


        • Egoodapple


  • Michellea

    Oh how I miss hot dogs.  And sandwich meat.  If this is right, then it’s Nathan’s for supper tomorrow!

  • Debe

    Thanks for clearing that up.  Your blog rocks!!

  • Ctb

    Organic beef (no pork ever) hotdogs = yummy yum! & that’s the only ‘cured’ meat I buy – or eat – & only about once a month. We do eat Frontier brands ‘Bac’uns’  soy bacon-flavoured bits, what’s the deal on those, I wonder…?

  • Maggie

    Thanks for posting about Nitrates / Nitrites. This is really interesting to me because I found that eating foods with nitrates/nitrites gives me migraines. However, I wonder if it is just the synthetic nitrates that do so. I don’t have any issues when I eat leafy vegetables and root vegetables, interesting! 

  • Jen

    LOVE hotdogs. Gave up to switch to plant-based diet. Copious amounts of veggies showed an intolerance to nightshade veggies…causes arthritic pain.  Hotdogs are pink in part because of paprika, a hidden way people can ingest nightshades. Hotdogs rolls may contain potato starch, another hidden nightshade. FYI for people trying to conquer aches and pains beyond gluten.

  • Swburrell


    Read the PDF that is linked on this web page and you all will be more educated on nitrates/nitrites.

  • Becky

    I LOVE hot dogs.  There are several farms in the area that make their own hot dogs and an organic meat shop we have in town sells their own house made hot dogs, so I steer towards those when I buy hot dogs.
    Everything in moderation.

  • http://twitter.com/AnnHolly Ann Mc

    I gotta say – I love hotdogs, too!  

  • Tom Rockland

    There is a huge difference  – in both amount and effect – of nitrates in various products, and the real difference is that the ‘natural’ nitrate you speak of is merely the natural levels in foods presented in the natural way you’d expect (as chemical groups that are an integral functional group attached to other groups in proteins, etc.). The ‘artificial’ way is when they use free floating chemical sodium nitrate (primarily, which IS considered food safe), but they use it at very high levels as a preservative. It is not the same thing AT ALL, and produces the various reaction you see people having. The issue is ‘free’ nitrites, or ‘added’ nitrites. (This is the exact same with sulfites.) 

    Personally, if I eat two high nitrate hot dogs (or Subway lunch meat), I’ll be sick as a dog for at least two days. OTOH, I can eat several local artisan dogs with no added nitrates and be right as rain (there are also commercial – ballpark I think – dogs that are labelled as no nitrates added and are great). We also did find fantastic (fantastic!) no nitrates added corned beef at Whole Foods that appears near St. Patrick’s Day (we buy several for the freezer) and they work beautifully and taste even better than the nitrated verison.

    • Gjrhine

      OTOH, I can eat several local artisan dogs with no added nitrates and be right as rain (there are also commercial – ballpark I think – dogs that are labelled as no nitrates added and are great). ”

      Unfortunately you are also getting a dose of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.

      • Tom Rockland

        Not much from the artisan dogs. And as a biologist that does human medical research, you’d be hard pressed not to be acquiring some kind of inapproporiate chemical in any meat (or most veg) products. Was it canned? Screwed. Was it frozen and kept in a plastic bag? Screwed. Was it in glass, but had a plastic lined lid? Screwed. Did it come in a butcher tray? Screwed. Beyond veg grown by a local farmer you know and purchase from sans plastic, you really can’t get away from it (and the meat situation is worse). It’s all about risk management, and certainly a couple no nitrate dogs a year is not that big a deal. Walking through the fumes of the mall parking lot on a busy day is probably more unhealthy.

        • Anonymous

          Wow you’re making my case.  There is a cumulative affect.   Here are some keywords – unprocessed, organic, free-range beef, pastured pork, less sodium and saturated fat.  It all adds up.  Add those hot dogs to all those other indiscretions  Yes you can “really get away from it” to a large degree.  And each degree counts..