There are many worse preservatives than our favorite villain, sodium nitrate. But sodium nitrate (and sodium nitrite) certainly gets a lot of hate.
One thing that people use to create psychological shock and distaste is to associate a food additive (like sodium nitrite) with other non-food uses and therefore convince you that the food additive must be evil because it is also used in metal coatings, chemical reactive agents for photography and in textile dyes.
This method of creating hate for a food additive relies on emotional contagion rather than actual data. By the same token you should quit eating lemons because they are great for cleaning and deodorizing your kitchen. Stop eating anything with baking soda in it because baking soda is part of a really great toilet cleaner. And water? Wow, do you even know how many horribly unhealthy things that water is in?!
Sodium nitrate (and close relative sodium nitrite) is a salt
You can actually mine it out of the ground (or buy bags of it on Amazon). It’s a powerful antimicrobial and gives processed meats a deep red color. You’ll find it in preserved meats like hot dogs, salami, etc. But you’ll find it in plain old vegetables too. And in your saliva. Over 90% of the nitrites you eat come from vegetables.
Whereas there is a lot of concern about this food additive because it has been linked to cancer, it also appears that the problems linked to nitrates/nitrites have a lot to do with you and your gut.
IF you have a healthy level of friendly flora, nitrates and nitrites are less likely to be a problem. Similarly if you have a healthy level of stomach acid, you will be less likely to convert nitrates into nitrosamines which can cause cancer.
This is just one more of the gazillion reasons to take care of your gut biome.
Probiotics have wonderful effects on your brain, cognition and emotion.
On the other hand, it seems that meats that are preserved without nitrates often use celery powder as a preservative instead. Sounds great, right? Except if you’re trying to avoid nitrates, celery powder is full of them. That’s why it’s such a great preservative.
Nitrites and Migraines
One major down side to nitrites is that they appear to be a major player in setting of migraines or other headaches. And getting headaches or migraines has a definite emotional impact.
Here’s what I think you should focus on vis a vis the sodium nitrate issue: be very picky about where and how the meat is raised and prepared. If your hot dogs come from a feedlot or CAFO, they are likely full of antibiotics and hormones, and other unfriendlies. Find meats from animals that are grass-fed and treated right.