Hot dogs mi­nus added ni­trites may be no bet­ter

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Back­yard cooks look­ing to grill this sum­mer have an­other op­tion: hot dogs with­out “added ni­trites.” Are they any health­ier? Os­car Mayer is tout­ing its new hot dog recipe that uses ni­trite de­rived from cel­ery juice in­stead of ar­ti­fi­cial sodium ni­trite, which is used to pre­serve the pink­ish col­ors of pro­cessed meats and pre­vents bot­u­lism. Kraft Heinz, which owns Os­car Mayer, says sodium ni­trite is among the ar­ti­fi­cial in­gre­di­ents it has re­moved from the prod­uct to re­flect chang­ing con­sumer pref­er­ences.

The change comes amid a broader trend of big food mak­ers purg­ing in­gre­di­ents that peo­ple may feel are not nat­u­ral. But ni­trites are ni­trites - and the change makes lit­tle dif­fer­ence ac­cord­ing to those who ad­vise lim­it­ing pro­cessed meat and those who de­fend it. Kana Wu, a re­search sci­en­tist at Har­vard’s school of pub­lic health, said in an email that it is best to think of pro­cessed meat made with nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents the same as those made with ar­ti­fi­cial ni­trites.

Wu was part of a group that helped draft the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion re­port in 2015 that said pro­cessed meats such as hot dogs and ba­con were linked to an in­creased risk of colon can­cer. She notes WHO did not pin­point what ex­actly about pro­cessed meats might be to blame for the link. One con­cern about pro­cessed meats is that ni­trites can com­bine with com­pounds found in meat at high tem­per­a­tures to fuel the for­ma­tion of ni­trosamines, which are known car­cino­gens in an­i­mals. It’s a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion that can hap­pen re­gard­less of the source of the ni­trites, in­clud­ing cel­ery juice.

But the US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture caps the amount of ar­ti­fi­cial ni­trites that can be added to meats to pre­vent ex­ces­sive use, said An­drew Milkowski, a re­tired Os­car Mayer sci­en­tist who con­sults for the meat in­dus­try. Meat mak­ers also add in­gre­di­ents to pro­cessed meat like ba­con that help block the for­ma­tion of ni­trosamines, he said. Though the terms ni­trates and ni­trites are used in­ter­change­ably, the meat in­dus­try says it’s mainly sodium ni­trite that com­pa­nies cur­rently use to cure meats such as hot dogs, cold cuts and ba­con.

Ar­ti­fi­cial ni­trites

For Os­car Mayer hot dogs, the pack­ages now list in­gre­di­ents like cel­ery juice that has been treated with bac­te­rial cul­ture. That turns the nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring ni­trates in cel­ery juice into ni­trites that serve a sim­i­lar pur­pose. While the ni­trites de­rived from cel­ery juice are no bet­ter, the switch may nev­er­the­less help ad­dress neg­a­tive con­sumer per­cep­tions, said Milkowski, who also teaches at the Univer­sity of Wis­con­sin’s depart­ment of an­i­mal sciences.

The Cen­ter for Sci­ence in the Pub­lic In­ter­est agrees ni­trites from nat­u­ral sources aren’t that dif­fer­ent from ar­ti­fi­cial ni­trites in pro­cessed meats. But the group has cited the WHO re­port in call­ing for a can­cer warn­ing la­bel on pro­cessed meats, re­gard­less of how they’re made. It also says ni­trite-pre­served foods tend to be high in salt and should be lim­ited or avoided any­way. The Amer­i­can Can­cer So­ci­ety also sug­gests lim­it­ing pro­cessed and red meat, cit­ing a va­ri­ety of rea­sons.

The meat in­dus­try has con­tested the WHO’s find­ing, say­ing it is based on stud­ies that show a pos­si­ble link but don’t prove a cause, and that sin­gle foods shouldn’t be blamed for can­cer. Many health ex­perts also say there’s no rea­son to worry about an oc­ca­sional hot dog or bologna sand­wich. And while nat­u­ral preser­va­tives may not make hot dogs any health­ier, they fit with the grow­ing pref­er­ence for in­gre­di­ents like cel­ery juice that peo­ple can eas­ily rec­og­nize. “I think it’s a step in the right direction,” said Kristin Kirk­patrick, a di­eti­tian at the Cleve­land Clinic.

An in­ter­est­ing wrin­kle worth not­ing is that fed­eral reg­u­la­tions re­quire pro­cessed meats with­out added ni­trites or ni­trates to be la­beled as “un­cured” and to state that they have no ni­trates or ni­trites added ex­cept those nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring in the al­ter­na­tive in­gre­di­ent.

That’s the lan­guage you’ll now find on Os­car Mayer hot dog pack­ages, though the prod­ucts pre­vi­ously only had added ni­trites. The meat in­dus­try has con­tested the re­quired lan­guage of meat be­ing “un­cured,” be­cause it says the prod­ucts are still cured, al­beit with ni­trites de­rived from other in­gre­di­ents.—AP

NEW YORK: In this photo, Os­car Mayer clas­sic un­cured wieners are for sale at a gro­cery store in New York.—AP

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