Nitrite Additives in Processed Foods Linked with Diabetes

The results from a new scientific study suggests that nitrite food additives (such as sodium nitrite) that are added to processed meats and other processed foods (as opposed to nitrites and nitrates that occur naturally in water and soil) appear to be linked with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.  

Study overview

Scientists studied 104,168 adults from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort study. The longitudinal study period was from 2009 to 2021. A total of 79.1% of the subjects were female with a mean age of 42.7 years. Associations between self-reported exposure to nitrites and nitrates (evaluated using repeated 24-hour dietary records, linked to a comprehensive food composition database and accounting for commercial names/brands details of industrial products) and risk of type2 diabetes were assessed and adjusted for known risk factors (sociodemographic, anthropometric, lifestyle, medical history, and nutritional factors). During a median follow-up duration of 7.3 years, there were 969 incidents of type 2 diabetes cases. Total nitrites and foods and water-originated nitrites were both positively associated with a higher type 2 diabetes risk. Participants with higher exposure to additives-originated nitrites and specifically those having higher exposure to sodium nitrite had a higher type 2 diabetes risk compared with those who were not exposed to additives-originated nitrites. (source)




The data suggest that higher exposure to both foods and water-originated and additives-originated nitrites was associated with higher type 2 diabetes risk. Taking into account that study participants were mostly female and that data were derived from self-report which can be flawed, the current peer-reviewed study must be replicated in other populations before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the results. That said, some countries are considering severely limiting the use of nitrites like sodium nitrite as additives in food. The researchers state that this study provides a new piece of evidence in the context of current debates about updating regulations to limit the use of nitrites as food additives.

Journal reference: Bernard Srour, et al. Dietary exposure to nitrites and nitrates in association with type 2 diabetes risk: Results from the NutriNet-Santé population-based cohort study. PLOS Medicine Journal,  Published: January 17, 2023.