Should Australians cut back on charcuterie after French findings on bowel cancer risk? | Meat

Nitrates are back in the news again after French health authorities confirmed a link between additives in processed meats and bowel cancer.

France’s National Food Safety Authority now recommends reducing the consumption of nitrates and nitrites found in processed meats such as prosciutto, bacon and chorizo.

What are these compounds, and does the discovery mean Australians should give up their next Charcuterie board?

What are nitrates and nitrites?

Nitrates (NO3-) and nitrites (NO2-) are common compounds in a variety of foods, including vegetables such as spinach, carrots, and beets.

It is also added to meat products and some cheeses as a preservative in the form of sodium or potassium salts. As an additive, the main purpose of which is to prevent the growth of Clostridium botulinumBacteria that produce the powerful and deadly botulinum toxin – known as Botox.

In 2015, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said there was enough evidence of a causal relationship with bowel cancer – also known as colorectal cancer – to classify processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, in the same category as asbestos and tobacco smoking. . (Although they are in the same category, that doesn’t mean these carcinogens are equally dangerous.)

Agency experts at the time concluded that the risk of colorectal cancer increased by 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day.

Not all nitrites and nitrates we eat have the same effect – we get most of what we eat from fruits and vegetables, and foods with lower cancer risks. In Australia, processed meat accounts for less than 10% of total dietary exposure to nitrite, according to research conducted by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) in 2011.

Nitrates can be converted into nitrates by the bacteria in our mouths. “It is nitrates, not nitrates, that are linked to cancer,” says dietitian Dr. Rosemary Stanton.

“Nitrite can react with protein fragments that remain after proteins have been digested – proteins from meat are the main culprits here, especially the iron-carrying protein in red blood and [is] They are found in meat, but not in vegetable products.

These fragments and protein residues form molecules known as N-nitroso compounds (NOCs). That’s the problem with causing cancer, and the problem is more likely to occur in the colon, but especially from meats processed with sodium nitrite,” says Stanton.

“The problems with nitrates and nitrites also depend on another factor: nitrates in foods can be altered by bacteria in saliva, by acid in the stomach, and vitamin C in the product — [a] The appropriate protective factor for vegetables–the NOCs that reach the large intestine after digestion. “

FSANZ says on its website that the risks in Australia are low.

“Australian consumers should be reassured that exposure to nitrates and nitrites in foods does not present an appreciable health and safety risk. The health benefits of fruits and vegetables are widely accepted, and it is recommended that these foods be eaten as part of a balanced diet.

How much of these additives are in foods processed in Australia?

There are regulations in Australia about the amounts that can be added to processed foods – a maximum of 50 mg/kg of nitrate for cheese products, and no more than 125 mg/kg of total nitrate and nitrite for processed meat.

A 2008 study analyzing the nitrite and nitrate content of processed meat in Australia found that they were “below the regulatory limits” set by FSANZ.

The average Australian intake of nitrate was estimated at 267 mg per adult per day, and 5.3 mg of nitrite.

How Much Processed Meat Should I Eat?

“In Australia, processed meats are what we call optional foods” – which means they’re not among the five food groups defined in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating, says Stanton.

Australian Dietary Guidelines state that “eating processed meat may be associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer” and encourage people to limit their intake of these products to once a week or less.

“This doesn’t mean you can never eat bacon and eggs,” Stanton says. “But processed meat shouldn’t be a regular part of the diet – it should just be an occasional thing.”

FSANZ has been contacted for comment.

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