About all

Sodium nitrate side effects: Sodium Nitrate: What You Should Know

Sodium Nitrate: What You Should Know

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

In this Article

  • Purpose and Functions
  • Result of Foods “Without” Nitrates
  • Is Sodium Nitrate Safe?

Most packaged foods you buy at the grocery store are made with additives to preserve freshness, maintain flavor, and prolong shelf life. But you may not know exactly how these additives affect your health.

Sodium nitrate (and its cousin additive sodium nitrite) is a common preservative used in cured meat products including bacon, deli meat, and jerky. It has been linked to the development of heart disease and diabetes. This additive has been cut out from some foods due to these concerns.

Sodium nitrate and nitrite are added to processed and cured meats to preserve shelf life and to give them flavor and a pink color. Nitrates and nitrites are also found in vegetables such as celery and spinach, and as contaminants in tap water.

The human body needs nitrates and nitrites. These additives serve an important bodily function. Your body breaks down nitrates into nitrites, which it then converts into either nitric oxide or nitrosamines.

Most of our nitrates and nitrites come naturally from vegetables. In fact, around 85% of the nitrates and nitrites in our diet come from vegetables.

Nitric oxide. This molecule is a huge supporter of heart health in your body. Many nitrate and nitrates and, consequently, nitric oxide come from vegetables. So it makes sense that a vegetable-based diet is better for your heart in the following ways:

  • Nitric oxide protects against cardiovascular disease
  • It lowers blood pressure.
  • It improves blood flow.

Nitrosamines. This compound is at the heart of why nitrates and nitrites are considered toxic. Nitrosamines are a carcinogen, or a cancer-causing substance. They are found everywhere in our environment, including the air and water. They are also in certain drugs. Yet nitrosamines earned their reputation from the sodium nitrate in our food.

When the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that processed meats were carcinogens, it was mostly in regard to the nitrates and nitrites being potentially cancer-causing. This has led to several reactions against the preservatives.

Many supermarkets offer organic, nitrate-free alternatives to processed meats. But the companies behind these products must still preserve their processed meats. They do this by using celery powder.

It’s still sodium nitrate. By definition, the use of celery powder in place of chemically processed sodium nitrate makes the product organic. But this doesn’t mean that the organic hot dogs on your grocer’s shelves contain any less sodium nitrate. It’s still used by your body and can become nitrosamines just as easily as a chemically processed sodium nitrate.

Added sodium nitrate has strict limits. The amount of sodium nitrate allowed in cured meat products will vary depending on the meat. The parts per million (ppm) signifies the number of nitrates and nitrites in a curing salt. The rest is sodium chloride (salt):

  • Bacon: 120 ppm or 0.012%
  • Dry-cured bacon: 200 ppm or 0.02%
  • Cured sausage: 156 ppm or 0.0156%
  • Brine cured ham or pastrami: 200 ppm or 0.02%
  • Dry-cured meat product: 625 ppm pr 0.0625%

Sodium nitrate has limits, celery powder doesn’t. The USDA doesn’t regulate celery salt like it does chemically processed sodium nitrate. The amount of nitrate residue on products with natural sources of nitrates is about 10 times higher than that on than traditionally cured products.

Other sodium nitrate substitutes to look out for are juices or powders made from:

  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Beets
  • Spinach

When added to meat products, these derivatives create nitrates that stop bacterial growth just like sodium nitrates and nitrites.

As of right now, there’s nothing that conclusively shows that sodium nitrates are unsafe. It’s an important compound that your body needs to maintain cardiovascular health. The real culprit seems to be processed meats, not nitrates.

Treat it like any other vitamin compound. There are many vitamins and minerals that are necessary for your health, but in excess can lead to toxicity. Getting nitrates from vegetables rather than the salt of processed meats will provide your body with the healthy compounds it needs.

Rather than worry about the nitrates themselves, worry about where they come from. Processed meats provide you with very little nutritional benefit, while vegetables provide you with healthy carbs and fiber. These natural alternatives also help prevent the conversion of nitrosamines. They help to keep the nitrates and nitrites you eat from becoming carcinogens.

Top Picks

Is Sodium Nitrate Bad for You?

Is Sodium Nitrate Bad for You?

  • Health Conditions
    • Featured
      • Breast Cancer
      • IBD
      • Migraine
      • Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
      • Rheumatoid Arthritis
      • Type 2 Diabetes
    • Articles
      • Acid Reflux
      • ADHD
      • Allergies
      • Alzheimer’s & Dementia
      • Bipolar Disorder
      • Cancer
      • Crohn’s Disease
      • Chronic Pain
      • Cold & Flu
      • COPD
      • Depression
      • Fibromyalgia
      • Heart Disease
      • High Cholesterol
      • HIV
      • Hypertension
      • IPF
      • Osteoarthritis
      • Psoriasis
      • Skin Disorders and Care
      • STDs
  • Discover
    • Wellness Topics
      • Nutrition
      • Fitness
      • Skin Care
      • Sexual Health
      • Women’s Health
      • Mental Well-Being
      • Sleep
    • Product Reviews
      • Vitamins & Supplements
      • Sleep
      • Mental Health
      • Nutrition
      • At-Home Testing
      • CBD
      • Men’s Health
    • Original Series
      • Fresh Food Fast
      • Diagnosis Diaries
      • You’re Not Alone
      • Present Tense
    • Video Series
      • Youth in Focus
      • Healthy Harvest
      • No More Silence
      • Future of Health
  • Plan
    • Health Challenges
      • Mindful Eating
      • Sugar Savvy
      • Move Your Body
      • Gut Health
      • Mood Foods
      • Align Your Spine
    • Find Care
      • Primary Care
      • Mental Health
      • OB-GYN
      • Dermatologists
      • Neurologists
      • Cardiologists
      • Orthopedists
    • Lifestyle Quizzes
      • Weight Management
      • Am I Depressed? A Quiz for Teens
      • Are You a Workaholic?
      • How Well Do You Sleep?
    • Tools & Resources
      • Health News
      • Find a Diet
      • Find Healthy Snacks
      • Drugs A-Z
      • Health A-Z
  • Connect
      • Breast Cancer
      • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
      • Psoriatic Arthritis
      • Migraine
      • Multiple Sclerosis
      • Psoriasis

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, M. S., R.D., L.D., CDE — By Summer Fanous — Updated on October 12, 2017

Most of us are aware that food companies use additives to extend the shelf life of their products. But how many of us know what these preservatives are, and, more importantly, what they do to our bodies?

Sodium nitrate is a kind of salt that has long been used to preserve foods. Ever heard of cured meat? Well, you can find it in many foods including bacon, beef jerky, ham, hot dogs, lunch meat, salami, and smoked fish. It creates a distinct flavor, controls lipid oxidation, and acts as an antimicrobial.

Sodium nitrate can be found in plants and unregulated drinking water. Nitrogen is turned into sodium nitrate in soil and is necessary for plant growth. Plants absorb sodium nitrate from the soil in varying amounts. Vegetables with high levels of sodium nitrate include spinach, radishes, lettuce, celery, carrots, cabbage, and beets. According to a 2009 study, approximately 80 percent of dietary nitrates in a person’s diet are obtained from vegetable consumption.

Nitrates are a natural part of any normal diet. However, some research suggests that high levels can cause problems such as colorectal cancer. Other diseases such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, heart disease, and ovarian, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic and thyroid cancers, may be linked to excessive consumption of sodium nitrate.

The nitrate levels that are associated with these diseases are hard to get from natural foods. Also, foods that naturally contain nitrates also contain things such as vitamin C, which may protect the body from developing the diseases listed above.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your daily intake of sodium nitrate shouldn’t be more than 3.7 milligrams per kilo of body weight. So, for example, a person who weighs 150 pounds should not consume more than 0.25 grams of sodium nitrate per day. However, since the amount of these preservatives is not listed on food labels, it is hard to know how much you are getting on a daily basis.

Nitrate poisoning is a serious issue that affects infants and can cause a blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia. Infants can get nitrate poisoning when the water used to make formula or baby food comes from unregulated wells. According to one study, up to 15 million Americans rely on unregulated wells for their drinking water.

Sodium nitrate is a natural part of any diet, and while excess amounts can be bad for you, it also has a place in medicine.

For example, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that dietary supplements of inorganic nitrate can reduce blood pressure.

An easy way to avoid excessive sodium nitrate intake is to limit how much cured meat is in your diet. This can also help you avoid the risk of high blood pressure.

Eating organic food is another good way to avoid taking in too many nitrates, since organic food isn’t grown with synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, which boost nitrate content in crops.

Antioxidant rich foods that are high in vitamin C can also decrease the conversion of nitrates.

Last medically reviewed on May 20, 2015

How we reviewed this article:

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

  • Avoid nitrates and nitrites in food. (2013, April 1). Retrieved
  • Diet and hypertension. (2014, August 5)
  • Effects of dietary nitrate on blood pressure in healthy volunteers. (2003, December 28). The New England Journal of Medicine, 355, 2972-2793
  • Greer, F. R., & Shannon, M. (2005, September 1). Infant methemoglobinemia: The role of dietary nitrate in food and water. Pediatrics, 116(3), 784-786
    pediatrics. aappublications.org/content/116/3/784.long
  • Healthy lifestyle nutrition and healthy eating. (2014, February 8)
  • Hord, N., Tang, Y., & Bryan, N. (2009). Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(1), 1-10. Retrieved from
  • Miller, P. E., Lazarus, P., Lesko, S. M., Cross, A. J., Sinha, R., Laio, J., Zhu, J., et al. (2013). Meat-Related Compounds and Colorectal Cancer Risk by Anatomical Subsite. Nutrition and Cancer, 65(2), 202–226
  • Pluta, R. M., Oldfield, E. H., Bakhtian, K. D., Fathi, A. R., Smith, R. K., DeVroom, H. L., & Lonser, R. R. (2011). Safety and Feasibility of Long-term Intravenous Sodium Nitrite Infusion in Healthy Volunteers. PLoS ONE, 6(1), e14504
  • Powlsona, D.S., Addiscotta, T.M., Benjaminb, N., Cassmanc, K.G., de Kokd, T.M., van Grinsvene, H., L’hirondelf, J., Averyg, A.A., & van Kessel, C. (2008). When does nitrate become a risk for humans? Journal of Environmental Quality, 37(2), 291-295
  • Nitrate/nitrite toxicity what are U.S. standards and regulations for nitrates and nitrites exposure? (2013, December 5). Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Retrieved from
  • Sodium nitrite Q&A. (n.d.)

Share this article

Medically reviewed by Peggy Pletcher, M.S., R.D., L.D., CDE — By Summer Fanous — Updated on October 12, 2017

Read this next

  • Low-Sodium Diet: Benefits, Food Lists, Risks and More

    By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

    Though it’s vital to health, some people are prescribed to limit their sodium intake under certain circumstances. This article explains when a…


  • Your Love of Salty Food Probably Isn’t Hurting Your Health

    New research pits ‘low sodium’ advocates against those who say only very high levels are bad for your health.


  • What’s Causing My Colitis and How Do I Treat It?

    Medically reviewed by Saurabh Sethi, M.D., MPH

    Learn about the various types of colitis, or, inflamed colon, as well as causes and treatments.


  • Clostridium difficile and Diet: Here’s What You Should Know

    Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, R.D., L.D.

    Clostridium difficile (C. diff) can cause severe diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain. Learn which foods to eat and which to avoid with a C. diff…


  • Can You Drink Distilled Water?

    If you don’t mind the taste and you get enough minerals from a well-balanced diet, then the answer is yes. Learn about the uses of distilled water…


  • How to Deal with a Housefly Infestation

    Medically reviewed by Vincent J. Tavella DVM, MPH

    Housefly infestations are not just a nuisance. They can also be hazardous to your health. Here’s how to keep your home free of houseflies.


  • Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Boogers, and How to Remove Them

    Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., MSN

    Stubborn, stuck-on boogers may need a little more coaxing before they’re willing to part ways with the delicate lining of your nasal cavity. Here’s…


  • What to Know About Pyrrole Disorder

    Pyrrole disorder is a clinical condition that causes dramatic shifts in mood. It sometimes occurs alongside other mental health conditions. Learn more…


  • Interactive Quiz: What’s Your Self-Care Style?

    Everyone self cares differently. What works for you?


Sodium nitrite – description of the substance, pharmacology, use, contraindications, formula


  • Structural formula

  • Russian name

  • English title

  • Latin name

  • Gross formula

  • Pharmacological group of the substance Sodium nitrite

  • Nosological classification

  • CAS code

  • pharmachologic effect

  • Characteristic

  • Pharmacology

  • Application of the substance Sodium nitrite

  • Contraindications

  • side effects of sodium nitrite

  • Overdose

  • Dosage and administration

Structural formula

Russian name

Sodium nitrite

English name

Sodium nitrite

Latin name

genus Natrii nitritis)

Gross formula

NaNO 2

Pharmacological group of the substance Sodium nitrite

Detoxifying agents, including antidotes

Nitrates and nitrate-like agents

Nosological classification

ICD-10 code list

CAS code


Pharmacological action

Pharmacological action

vasodilator .


White or white crystals with a slight yellowish tinge. Hygroscopic. Easily soluble in water, difficult – in ethanol.


Reduces preload (expands peripheral veins, reduces blood flow to the right atrium) and afterload (reduces OPSS) on the heart. Reduces myocardial oxygen demand. Improves coronary circulation. The effect develops more slowly, but is longer than that of amyl nitrite.

Use of the substance Sodium nitrite

Angina pectoris, cerebral vasospasm, cyanide intoxication.


Hypersensitivity, shock, collapse, arterial hypotension (BP below 100/60 mm Hg), acute myocardial infarction (with low left ventricular filling pressure), toxic pulmonary edema, hemorrhagic stroke, craniocerebral hypertension, closed-angle glaucoma.

Side effects of the substance Sodium nitrite

Headache, dizziness, tachycardia, nausea, vomiting, decrease in blood pressure.


Symptoms: headache, dizziness, visual disturbances, skin flushing, sweating, palpitations, bradycardia, AV blockade, nausea, vomiting, intestinal colic, melena, methemoglobinemia (cyanosis, anorexia), hyperpnea, dyspnea uh , collapse, syncope, craniocerebral hypertension, paralysis, coma.

Treatment: keep the patient warm; perform a gastric lavage, if necessary – oxygen. In case of methemoglobinemia, intravenous methylene blue (1% solution) 1–2 mg/kg.

Dosage and administration

IV, 10-20 ml 1% solution (for cyanide intoxication). Inside, after meals 0.1-0.2 g (in 0.5% solution) 2-3 times a day. The highest single dose for adults is 0.3 g, the highest daily dose is 1 g.

Information for healthcare professionals only.
Are you a healthcare professional?

Sodium nitrite: what dose is dangerous to health?

Forums on the World Wide Web are full of messages like: “I bought a sausage. I looked at the composition – added sodium nitrite. I climbed into the Internet – they write, a harmful preservative! I won’t buy sausage again. Poor sodium nitrite is overgrown with rumors and myths. Is it true that a popular dietary supplement is a poison, or is this statement nothing more than another “horror story”? Vladimir Bessonov, Doctor of Biological Sciences, the Head of the Laboratory of Food Chemistry of the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Federal Research Center for Nutrition and Biotechnology”, helped Roskachestvo to sort out this issue.

What is sodium nitrite and why is it needed?

Sodium nitrite is a salt of nitrous acid. It has antibacterial and antioxidant properties, therefore it is used in the production of food products as a preservative and, by the way, as a color fixative. On labels, sodium nitrite is usually listed as a food additive E250. You can meet it in the composition of boiled, raw-smoked, salted-smoked and dried meat products (sausages, sausages, etc.), as well as canned meat.

Food additive E250 is allowed worldwide:

  • As preservative – it protects products from botulinum bacteria.
  • Like color fixative – helps various meat and fish delicacies look appetizing, retain their pink color.


Botulism is a serious infectious disease. Intoxication that occurs after eating food with botulinum toxins leads to damage to the nervous system, muscle paralysis and, often, death. Botulism is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum.

How to recognize a sausage containing E250?

Only in color. Sausages and frankfurters, which do not contain sodium nitrite, are gray in color, like ordinary boiled meat. And they have a short shelf life.

The pink color characteristic of fresh meat is provided by E250. This substance, added in the form of a nitrite-curing mixture to sausage meat, combines with proteins and fixes the color, preventing it from oxidizing. Moreover, the more protein, the brighter, pinker, the color of the finished product.


What is nitrite salt? This is sodium nitrite mixed with common table salt. Manufacturers use such a mix – a nitrite-curing mixture – to make it easier and more convenient to dose the preservative.

How much sodium nitrite is in sausages and frankfurters?

According to the standard, there are 50 milligrams of sodium nitrite per kilogram of sausage. This is the safe level. It is calculated based on how many sausages and sausages we eat per year on average. However, manufacturers put much less, usually about 30 milligrams per kilogram – this is enough to achieve the necessary technological effect, and the body is not affected.


What dosage of sodium nitrite is safe is established by the World Health Organization (WHO). When there is even the slightest doubt about the additive, WHO revises the standard. At the moment, the allowable daily intake of sodium nitrite is 0.6 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. The standard was established in 1995.
Important! Sodium nitrite is prohibited for use in products for children under 3 years of age.

Does E250 cause cancer?

This dietary supplement saves from botulism. But there is an opinion that because of sodium nitrite, nitrosamines are formed in the body, which cause cancer. This is partly true. In a slightly acidic environment – in the environment of the stomach – nitrosamines can be synthesized under the influence of sodium nitrite.

However, this synthesis requires many conditions. At the same time, various necessary acids, organic compounds, etc. must be present in the stomach.

From a chemical point of view, this is possible. But in reality, with a low nitrite content in the product, it is unlikely. Even if sodium nitrite reacts in the stomach with other objects, a protective mechanism will be activated. Helpers will begin to act – biochemical organisms that will clean out cancer cells from our body. The dose of sodium nitrite that a person receives by eating a piece of sausage will not harm the body.

Of course, we live in an atmosphere of health risks: we breathe exhaust gas, eat smoked products, etc. If some carcinogens come in repeatedly and from different sources, the defense system may collapse. But still the risk is very small. There is only one question – how well we ourselves behave in relation to our body and how we support it.

How much sausage do you need to eat to damage the body?

Without harm to health, an adult can eat about a kilogram of sausage a day, which contains E250.

The calculation is simple: 0.6 milligrams of sodium nitrite per day is allowed per kilogram of body weight. This amount of sodium nitrite is guaranteed not to harm a person. In order for health to be shaken, it is necessary to consume 100 times more sodium nitrite per day than recommended.

Let’s give an example: in order to damage health, a person weighing 70 kg must eat 120 kilograms of sausage per day! Safe for such a person would be a kilo of two hundred boiled sausages (42 mg of sodium).

A kid of 5–6 years old, who weighs 20 kilograms, can eat about 330 grams of sausage per day. Unsafe for the baby will be 33 kilograms of sausage.

It sounds comical, because the damage here will be done not so much by sodium nitrite as by the amount of food. Fortunately, such a “sausage diet” is possible only in theory.

Sodium nitrite cannot accumulate in the body

Even if you eat sausages every day, sodium nitrite will be excreted from the body again and again.