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Are There Toxic Foods? (Part 1)

Despite your best intentions, you are exposed to many chemical compounds through the foods that you eat. Are they as harmful as they are made out to be? Here’s all the information you should know about this.


Nitrates are naturally found in air, water, and in the ground, but they can also be added to some foods, particularly in deli meat during the curing process. Nitrites are mainly found in baked foods, cereals, and some vegetables. When they come into contact with saliva (and its bacteria), about 20% of nitrates turn into nitrites. This process continues in the stomach, where nitrites can bind with amines (found in cheese and meat, among other things) and create nitrosamines. These are closely connected to various types of cancer, such as stomach cancer and possibly colorectal cancer. However, the quantity of nitrates used as food additives is reduced as much as possible because of the Food and Drugs Act. In addition, they can only be used in certain types of foods (bacon, ham, cured meats, and some types of cheese).

On the other hand, the naturally-occuring nitrates found in some plants (mainly beets, celery, lettuce, radishes, and spinach) are partially transformed into nitric oxide (NO) in the stomach. NO has a rather positive effect on the body, as it causes vasodilatation of the blood vessels, improving their elasticity. This is good news for your heart, especially if you suffer from hypertension! NO also has an influence on many pathogenic bacteria that can end up in our digestive system (including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli), which ensures better gastrointestinal health. Therefore, you would greatly benefit from including a large variety of vegetables in your nutrition!


It is present in food as methylmercury, mainly in marine mammals and predatory fish such as sharks, swordfish, some species of tuna, pike, bass, yellow perch, etc. After being absorbed in the digestive tract, it is distributed in all organic tissues, and can remain in the brain for a very long time. Breastfeeding children and foetuses are especially vulnerable.

The major issue with methylmercury concerns its potential toxicity when accumulated in the body. In Canada however, our level of exposure is low, unless we eat large quantities of fish on a daily basis. The main health effects associated with its consumption concern mainly the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, and can manifest in various ways (ex: memory disorders, tremors, eye problems). Don’t get me wrong, fish is still an excellent source of omega-3 and quality protein, and is also low in saturated fat. The benefits of eating fish outweigh the drawbacks! Don’t miss out because of this!

For more information about the recommendations of Health Canada concerning this matter, you can consult this link: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/chem-chim/environ/mercur/cons-adv-etud-eng.php

Keep an eye out for my next article! I will discuss arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and acrylamide.

By Valérie Noël, P.Dt. Nutritionist


Health Canada. 1992. Le nitrate et le nitrite. Online. <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/water-eau/nitrate_nitrite/index-fra.php>. Page viewed on June 13, 2014.
Extenso. 2012. Salubrité alimentaire – Les nitrates et les nitrites. Online. <http://www.extenso.org/article/les-nitrates-et-les-nitrites/>. Page viewed on June 13, 2014.
Médecine & nutrition. 2011. Nitrates, nitrites, oxyde nitrique (NO) : nouvelles perspectives pour la santé? Online. < http://www.medecine-nutrition.org/articles/mnut/abs/2011/02/mnut1120001/mnut1120001.html>. Page viewed on June 13, 2014.
Health Canada. 2008. Le mercure et la santé humaine. Online. <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/environ/merc-fra.php>. Page viewed on June 17, 2014.
Organisation mondiale de la Santé. 2013. Mercure et santé. Online. <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs361/fr/>. Page viewed on June 17, 2014.

Valérie Noël

Holder of a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Université Laval in 2006 and member of the Ordre professionnel des diététistes du Québec, Valérie has been working as a nutritionist at Nautilus Plus since March 2014. Throughout her career, she has worked in various fields, from hospitals and physical rehabilitation to writing articles and reference documents. However, she has dedicated the majority of her work to food safety and allergies. Curious and versatile… but most of all, passionate about cooking and sports nutrition, she loves giving advice to her clients to help them make the best choices to reach their specific objectives, whatever they may be. Physical activity has always been an important part of her life: recreative and competitive volley-ball, training in the gym, group classes, and also running in the last few years. She also loves the feeling of freedom she gets from it, and would love to surpass herself by running increasingly longer distances during competitions!

Are There Toxic Foods? (Part 1) is a post from I'm taking charge. I'm taking charge is a blog that aims to help people in their journey to fitness through articles on training, nutrition, motivation, exercise and healthy recipes.
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