"Toxic" chemical protects your heart

December 11, 2007
Volume 04    |   Issue 50

Go ahead. Reach for that hot dog you?ve been avoiding. Make yourself a ham sandwich. It could save your life. Here?s good news for people who love processed foods: A chemical found in cured meats and vegetables may help you survive a heart attack, and heal faster afterward. But I?m going to show you an even better way to get more of this so-called "toxic" chemical.

You?ve heard for years that you should avoid this chemical. But now researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center (Houston, TX) say it?s beneficial to your heart.

What is this chemical? Why, it?s nitrite or its cousin, nitrate. We?ve been told for years that nitrites and nitrates are toxic because they form carcinogenic chemicals called nitrosamines. However, the most recent research has failed to find a cancer connection with either of them.

Both nitrite and nitrate are beneficial - if they come from the right source. They help your body make nitric oxide - a substance that dilates arteries and helps blood flow. This increases oxygen throughout your body.

Low amounts of nitric oxide can lead to heart attacks and stroke. In this study, researchers gave mice nitrate in their drinking water, and then they induced heart attacks in the animals. The nitrate-supplemented mice had more nitrite in their hearts and less damage to their heart muscles than the mice on a low-nitrite diet.

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Vegetables are the greatest and safest source of nitrite. They contain 100 times more nitrites than cured meats. Celery, beets, spinach, lettuce, and other green leafy vegetables are highest in this chemical.

Certainly, there?s no risk in getting too many nitrites in a high-vegetable diet. In this country, we get only 0.77 mg of nitrite and nitrate in our foods, while the European diet contains around 76 mg.

But don?t look to hot dogs and bologna as a source of beneficial nitrites. You don?t need the saturated fats and they are usually chocked full of stuff you don?t want to know about.

Instead, reach for the chard and kale. Make beet soup and don?t forget to add beet greens to it. Eat more foods high in nitrites by including more healthy vegetables in your diet. They contain higher quantities of this cardio-protective chemical than processed meats. And they?re also lower in sodium than processed meats, which is a risk factor for high blood pressure and other health problems.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,


Albert Einstein College of Medicine (2007, November 14). Eating Your Greens Could Prove Life-saving If A Heart Attack Strikes.


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