Of course, gymnasts all realize how important physical fitness is to their success, but did you know that 80% of fitness has to do with something that happens outside the gym? As important as workouts are, most of a gymnast’s fitness level is determined by diet. Poor nutrition and excess body fat can hold gymnasts back from reaching their full potential.
Listening to what food manufacturers say about their own products won’t help; avoiding unnecessary ingredients designed to promote shelf life, cravings, and appearances rather than good health will.
Introduction to Nitrates & Nitrites
When it comes to food, what you don’t know definitely can hurt you; topping the list of ingredients to avoid in processed foods are nitrites and nitrates. A certain level of nitrates and nitrites can be part of a normal, healthy diet. Pound for pound, kids typically take in more nitrates than adults, putting those under age 18 especially at risk.
These chemicals naturally occur in some fruits and vegetables, such as spinach and celery, but can also be used as synthetic food preservatives. Due to nitrogen-based fertilizers as well as livestock waste, even drinking water may be contaminated by nitrites and nitrates.
Nitrates & Nitrates in Natural vs. Processed Foods
Consuming nitrates that naturally occur in produce is different from consuming those added to foods as preservatives. The reason for this is that naturally occurring nitrates are found in foods that also include vitamin C and other compounds that naturally keep them from converting to nitrosamines. However, when a person eats foods that have nitrates or nitrites artificially added, they may or may not be getting those nutrients necessary to counteract the potentially harmful effects.
Nitrates & Nitrites in Processed Meats
Both sodium nitrate and potassium nitrite are often added to cured meat in order to provide the following benefits:
• Preserve color
• Prevent fats from becoming rancid
• Stop bacteria from growing
While the first item on the list may not be necessary, the other two are arguably positive, compared to the alternatives of bacteria-infested or rancid meat. However, nitrates used as food additives can still convert into nitrites; if nitrites are exposed to high heat, they can be converted into nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. (According to The World Cancer Research Fund’s 2007 study, eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat each day can increase your risk of cancer by 20%.)
When nitrite deactivates the blood’s hemoglobin, red blood cells are inhibited from carrying oxygen; the resulting condition is called methemoglobinemia, and it most commonly affects infants. For that reason, exposure to nitrates or nitrites can also cause complications for pregnancies as well as infant health.
Nitrates or nitrites are found in the following common types of processed or cured meats:
• Canned Meat
• Corned Beef
• Dried Fish
• Hot Dogs
• Lunch Meats
• Pickled Pig’s Feet
• Smoked Salmon