Purpose of review: To review the most recent published literature on the biological effects of nitrite and nitrate in order to establish the context for potential health benefits vs. potential risks or adverse effects. Nitrite and nitrate are indigenous to our diet and are formed naturally within our body from the oxidation of nitric oxide. Emerging health benefits from dietary sources of nitrite and nitrate contradict decades of epidemiological research that have suggested an association of nitrite and nitrate in foods, primarily cured and processed meat, with certain cancers.
Recent findings: The major source of exposure of nitrite and nitrate comes from the consumption of nitrate-enriched vegetables. The preponderance of epidemiological studies shows a very weak association with consumption of meats and certain cancers, which contain very little nitrite and nitrate. Nitrite and nitrate in certain foods and diets can be metabolized to nitric oxide and promote cardiovascular benefits and cytoprotection.
Summary: The cardiovascular benefits of nitrite and nitrate are beginning to be translated in humans by the increasing number of clinical trials using nitrite and nitrate. The collective body of evidence suggests that foods enriched in nitrite and nitrate provide significant health benefits with very little risk.