How Much Nitrate Is Too Much?

Nitrate-rich leafy greens

Nitrate-rich leafy greens

In preparing for a recent trip to Taipei, I Googled dietary nitrate intake in Taiwan and came across an article published in 2012. It highlighted an issue that’s sometimes raised when sharing Kyäni’s Nitro products. That is, how much nitrate in your diet is too much?

The news piece reported the case of a 42-year-old woman with methemoglobinemia, or too much methemoglobin.  Methemoglobin is one of several abnormal hemoglobins, molecules that transport oxygen.   We all have methemoglobin in our blood, but in amounts too small to be harmful. Too much, and our bodies become oxygen starved.

Excess methemoglobin can be a genetic problem, but usually results from contact with a toxin, like large amounts of nitrite. Fortunately, the only nitrite your body will likely ever encounter comes from a desirable source. By now you know I’m talking about the action of oral bacteria on nitrates from a healthy diet. Nitrite is then stored in the body in forms that don’t react with hemoglobin, but are used as needed to generate ”the molecule of life”, nitric oxide.

The patient’s doctor concluded – I believe incorrectly – that she’d eaten too many nitrate-rich vegetables. Given the high intake of nitrate-rich foods in the Taiwanese diet, one would expect methemoglobinemia to be a common problem. But it’s not, because the amount of nitrite that’s active in your body at any given time is very small.

Given that dietary nitrate is the chief source of nitrite in the body, it might be useful to know the safe upper limit for nitrate intake. The World Health Organization (WHO) says it’s 3.7 mg/kg, just shy of 260 mg for a person weighing 70 kg, or 154 pounds.

I bet you’d like to know how WHO arrived at this number. I was curious. Here’s what I found.

In 1962, the FDA reported that rats and dogs had no ill effects when fed large amounts of nitrate – about 370 mg/kg per day. In an effort to keep us safe, WHO divided that amount by 100, declaring 3.7 mg/kg to be the safe daily upper limit for humans.

Not very scientific!

Now consider this: There’s a strong connection between the amount of nitrate in your food and your health. Americans typically get about 77 mg of nitrate in their food each day. By contrast, the traditional Japanese diet that’s associated with less heart disease and cancer, sports over 1100 mg of nitrate. That’s nearly 4 times the WHO upper limit for an average adult, and15 times more than what the average American consumes!

It’s clear that the WHO recommended limit is way too low. We still don’t know what’s the safe upper limit for nitrate intake.

But one thing’s for sure. You’ll never come close when eating a healthy nitrate-rich diet.

So eat your spinach. And take your Kyäni!



Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Kyäni Bytes is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.

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