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Cancer-Causing Nitrates in Smoked Salmon?!

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Culinary bagel eating.

As you’ve probably heard, the World Health Organization’s cancer research agency classified processed meat as “carcinogenic to humans” back in October. The agency found that eating 50 grams of processed meat–i.e salted, cured, fermented, smoked, or otherwise processed–each day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%. The theory behind this finding has to do with the nitrates/nitrites found in processed meats. One proposed mechanism is that the iron in meat works as a catalyst to turn nitrates/nitrites added as preservatives into a carcinogen. (You can read about a study examining this process here).

But, here’s something you should also know: Processed meats–like bacon, ham, sausages and hot dogs–are not the only animal products containing nitrates. Some brands of smoked salmon are also made with them. To be clear, the WHO only tested the health impact of nitrates/nitrites in processed meat, not in fish. But, given the strong evidence linking nitrates in processed meat to cancer, I’d prefer to avoid the additive altogether.

Just look at the ingredients of your favorite brand of smoked salmon or lox and you may see an item such as “sodium nitrite” on the list. For example, I’ve checked some packages of Acme smoked Nova salmon and found them to contain sodium nitrites. (You can read the ingredients of Acme smoked salmon products here). Vita brand salmon also contains nitrites; sodium nitrite is the 3rd ingredient on the list (see photos below), in addition to food coloring, by the way. I’ve also seen nitrites in some store brands of smoked salmon.

The good news is that many brands have stopped using them, so there are a lot of good options to choose from. From my own research, brands that do not use nitrates/nitrites in their smoked salmon include Kirkland (Costco), Wellsley Farms (BJ’s), Trader Joe’s, and Echo Falls. Some varieties of Acme smoked salmon also do not have nitrites. However, whichever brand you buy, be sure to  check the ingredients list as I did not look at every variety offered by these companies.

Happy and healthy fishing!

 

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