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Nitrates and Diabetes: How Nitrates Affect Blood Sugar


Are you hard at work building a diabetes diet? If so, your top concern may be cutting down on the types of carbohydrates you eat on an average day. Of course, that isn’t the only factor people with diabetes should consider while creating a nutritious diet. Processed meat products may not contain carbs, but they often contain nitrates—and these components can definitely cause problems for people who have (or are at risk of developing) diabetes.

If you’re unfamiliar with nitrates, you might have questions like “can nitrates cause diabetes?” and “are nitrates bad for people living with diabetes?” To get the answers you’re looking for, read on for Advanced Diabetes Supply’s complete overview of the potential connections between nitrates and diabetes.

The Relationship Between Processed Meats and Insulin Resistance

Before you can understand the health concerns associated with processed meat, you’ll need to know exactly what processed meat is. This category includes any type of meat that has been preserved through canning, drying, salting, smoking, or curing, such as:

  • Smoked meat
  • Sausages
  • Meat jerky
  • Ham
  • Cured bacon
  • Salted and cured meat (including corned beef)
  • Canned meat

Processed meats often have high amounts of saturated fats and calories; because of this, eating a meat-heavy diet can cause increased levels of abdominal fat. This is a known risk factor for insulin resistance, which plays a prominent role in the development of type 2 diabetes. Making matters worse, abdominal fat is more closely associated with type 2 diabetes than any other type of body fat.

The Risks of High Nitrate Consumption for Individuals Living with Diabetes

The connection between a diet full of processed meats and diabetes is reason enough to limit your meat consumption, but that isn’t the only reason you should be concerned. Even if you already have diabetes, nitrates come with other serious health risks. Most notably, the nitrates found in processed meats can raise your risk of developing some types of cancer.

With that in mind, where are nitrates found? Processed meat products such as deli meat, hot dogs, bacon, and ham are high in sodium nitrate, which is used to extend their shelf life and prevent bacteria growth. Still, these meat products are far from the only place where nitrates appear. Leafy greens like lettuce, bok choy, and spinach are all rich in natural nitrates, which are beneficial for health as are vegetables like celery and beets. Beyond that, nitrates also occur naturally in water and soil.


Nitrates and Diabetes: Myth or Reality?

It may be tempting to assume the connection between processed meats and diabetes is somewhat overblown. But recent research—specifically, a January 2023 study published in PLOS Medicine—suggests the diabetes-nitrates link is all too real.

This study examined data from 104,168 people participating in the NutriNet-Santé cohort study, which began in 2009. A careful analysis of this information found that people who reported and consumed larger amounts of nitrates had an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

Before this study’s publication, there was no clear consensus on whether nitrates were helpful or harmful in terms of diabetes development. The results of some earlier studies found that nitrates improved glucose studies, while other studies supported the opposite opinion.

Understanding the Link between Nitrates and Diabetes

Based on this study, there definitely seems to be a connection between consuming nitrates and risks for developing type 2 diabetes. Even so, it’s still too early to answer the question “can nitrates cause diabetes?” with a simple “yes.” Nitrates aren’t inherently good or bad—instead, the effects they’ll have on your health can vary based on their source.

If you consume nitrates that come from plants, your body converts them into nitric oxide. This process can result in a number of health benefits, such as enhanced circulation, better blood pressure regulation, and a lower risk of developing heart disease. These perks are especially notable for people living with diabetes, as heart disease is a well-known diabetes complication.

Unfortunately, the nitrates found in processed meat products don’t act the same way. These nitrates have an opportunity to combine with the amino acids found in proteins, forming compounds known as nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are the culprit behind many of the health drawbacks associated with nitrates.

Fortunately, there are a few simple ways to prevent nitrosamine production. By eating foods packed with vitamin C and antioxidants, you can block nitrates’ ability to form nitrosamines. The same goes for cooking processed meats at lower temperatures (i.e., microwaving bacon instead of frying it). Still, the single most effective way to avoid nitrosamines is to reduce your overall intake of processed meats.

Manage Diabetes the Right Way

Given the alarming connections that apparently exist between nitrates in processed meats and diabetes, your first instinct may be to treat all foods containing nitrates with suspicion. That said, not all nitrates are created equal. While leafy greens and processed meats both include significant amounts of nitrates, one of these food categories like including vegetables spinach, bok choy and broccoli for example can and should be a major part of your diabetes diet.

Creating a diabetes diet that prioritizes nutritious foods is a great way to manage diabetes, but it’s still just one step in your efforts to keep this condition under control. You’ll also need a reliable source of diabetes supplies such as glucose meters, insulin, and testing supplies. To get all these products and more from a supplier that understands the importance of quick turnaround times and high-quality customer service, explore ADS’ expansive diabetes products today!