Don’t feel bad if you’re confused about nitrates and nitrites in food. Are they good, bad, or something else? Unless you majored in chemistry, some uncertainty is understandable. They certainly sound similar. But rest assured there are differences between these compounds.
Nitrates are fairly simple molecules consisting of one nitrogen atom bound to three oxygen atoms. The chemical formula for nitrate is NO3. Nitrite is a molecule that consists of one nitrogen atom bonded with two oxygen atoms: NO2. To further confuse the issue, nitric oxide, which occurs naturally in the body, consists of one nitrogen bonded with one oxygen. This simple gaseous molecule is represented as: NO.
To be clear, NO is good for you. Indeed, it’s crucial. The body uses NO to signal your blood vessels to relax. This helps promote lower blood pressure, and even plays an important role in healthy sexual function.
The Good and The Bad Nitric Oxide (NO)NO is a key signaling molecule. When released by the blood vessels themselves, it signals blood vessel muscle cells to relax. This, in turn, lowers blood pressure. That’s important, because high blood pressure (hypertension) is one of the most common and dangerous risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Hypertension is often linked to atherosclerosis, the underlying process of inflammation and plaque buildup that accompanies the stiffening and narrowing of blood vessels. Atherosclerosis tends to be a long-term, progressive process.
Some people with atherosclerosis may eventually experience heart attack or stroke. In most cases, they will have experienced hypertension, often for years, as the heart struggles to compensate for partially clogged blood vessels, dysfunction in the endothelium (the tissue lining the interior of blood vessels), and restricted blood flow. Having adequate supplies of NO on hand helps the blood vessels function properly, and may significantly reduce blood pressure.
Nitrates: (NO3) And that’s where nitrates (NO3) come in. Dietary nitrates are compounds primarily found in whole plant foods, such as beets and dark green leafy vegetables which supply the raw material the body needs to produce NO. Research shows that people who consume greater amounts of these foods tend to have higher levels of NO,and lower blood pressure.
They also enjoy a certain amount of protection against cardiovascular disease. For example, some intriguing small studies have shown that drinking raw beet juice every day may be linked to significant reductions in blood pressure among people with mild hypertension.
The evidence is clear: consuming dietary nitrates through the diet is good for cardiovascular health. Thus both NO and NO3 are good for you.
Nitrites: (NO2) Nitrites (NO2) have gained a bad rap because they are routinely used to cure deli meats. They are added to products such as bacon, for instance, to preserve the meat’s “healthy” red or pink color. Left untreated, bacon and other cured meats tend to oxidize and turn an unappetizing shade of gray.
Sodium nitrite is a salt of nitrite that has been used for this purpose for centuries. Although sodium nitrite is not inherently toxic, problems can arise when this chemical reacts with amino acids in the meat itself,especially during cooking. This reaction can form chemicals called nitrosamines.
Nitrosamines are carcinogenic, meaning they have been linked to the promotion of cancer. Research has repeatedly shown that people who eat more processed, cured, and deli-type meats are at greater risk for cancer. Although it is not entirely clear how much of this additional risk may be attributed to nitrite preservatives in processed meats, it is certain that nitrosamines are occasionally formed during cooking. And they are not healthful. Nitrosamines occur in tobacco smoke, for example, and are considered a chief carcinogen associated with exposure to smoke.
Summary: Nitrate containing compounds are necessary for survival. Dietary nitrates, primarily from plant foods, are linked to better cardiovascular health, because they provide the body with the material it needs to produce a steady supply of nitric oxide (NO). NO signals blood vessels to relax, lowering blood pressure.
Recently the sister of a friend of mine suffered from a pulmonary embolism (PE) which reminded me that two of my siblings had pulmonary embolisms as well. The lack of knowledge of just what pulmonary embolisms (PEs) are is astonishing. I hope this helps clear up some of the confusion.
What is a Pulmonary embolism? Pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in your lungs. In most cases, pulmonary embolism is caused by blood clots that travel to the lungs from deep veins in the legs or, rarely, from veins in other parts of the body (deep vein thrombosis). Because the clots block blood flow to the lungs, pulmonary embolism can be life-threatening. However, prompt treatment greatly reduces the risk of death. Taking measures to prevent blood clots in your legs will help protect you against pulmonary embolism.
Symptoms of a Pulmonary Embolism; symptoms can vary greatly, depending on how much of your lung is involved, the size of the clots, and whether you have underlying lung or heart disease.
Common signs and symptoms include:
In many cases, multiple clots are involved in pulmonary embolism. The portions of the lung served by each blocked artery are robbed of blood and may die. This is known as pulmonary infarction. This makes it more difficult for your lungs to provide oxygen to the rest of your body.
Occasionally, blockages in the blood vessels are caused by substances other than blood clots, such as:
In addition, some medical conditions and treatments put you at risk, such as:
In rare cases, small emboli occur frequently and develop over time, resulting in chronic pulmonary hypertension, also known as chronic thromboembolic pulmonary hypertension.
Prevention: Preventing clots in the deep veins in your legs (deep vein thrombosis) will help prevent pulmonary embolism. For this reason, most hospitals are aggressive about taking measures to prevent blood clots, including:
Your doctor might suggest the following to help prevent blood clots during travel:
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death in Western countries, representing almost 30% of all deaths worldwide. Evidence shows the effectiveness of healthy dietary patterns and lifestyles for the prevention of CVD. Furthermore, the rising incidence of CVD over the last 25 years has become a public health priority, especially the prevention of CVD (or cardiovascular events) through lifestyle interventions. Current scientific evidence shows that Western dietary patterns compared to healthier dietary patterns, such as the ‘Mediterranean diet’ (MeDiet), leads to an excessive production of proinflammatory cytokines associated with a reduced synthesis of anti-inflammatory cytokines. In fact, dietary intervention allows better combination of multiple foods and nutrients. Therefore, a healthy dietary pattern shows a greater magnitude of beneficial effects than the potential effects of a single nutrient supplementation. This review aims to identify potential targets (food patterns, single foods, or individual nutrients) for preventing CVD and quantifies the magnitude of the beneficial effects observed. On the other hand, we analyze the possible mechanisms implicated in this cardio protective effect.
1. Serve more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes. Just about everyone could stand to eat more plant-based foods. They're rich in fiber and other nutrients, and they can taste great in a salad, as a side dish, or as an entree. Watch that you don't use too much fat or cheese when you prepare them.
2. Choose fat calories wisely by:
3. Serve a variety of protein-rich foods. Balance meals with lean meat, fish, and vegetable sources of protein.
4. Limit cholesterol. Cholesterol in foods, found in red meat and high-fat dairy products, can raise blood cholesterol levels, especially in high-risk people.
5. Serve the right kind of carbs. Include foods like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and sweet potatoes to add fiber and help control blood sugar levels. Avoid sugary foods.
6. Eat regularly. This helps someone with heart disease control blood sugar, burn fat more efficiently, and regulate cholesterol levels.
7. Cut back on salt. Too much salt is bad for blood pressure. Instead, use herbs, spices, or condiments to flavor foods.
8. Encourage hydration. Staying hydrated makes you feel energetic and eat less. Encourage your loved one to drink 32 to 64 ounces (about 1 to 2 liters) of water daily, unless their doctor has told them to limit fluids.
9. Keep serving sizes in check. It can help to use smaller plates and glasses, and to check food labels to see how much is in a serving, since it's easy to eat more than you think. Some guidelines: