The fast-growing plant, which homeowners fear for its proclivity to invade gardens and structures, contains a chemical that may eventually replace the nitrite preservative in cured meats such as bacon and sausages.
Nitrite-rich diets have been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, prompting scientists, including those at the University of Reading, to investigate alternatives.
The PHYTOME project has developed a process for processing red meat that incorporates natural substitutes, thereby lowering the carcinogenic compound nitrite used to preserve meat. The sausages and hams were infused with a variety of plants and fruits, including rosemary, green tea, and resveratrol — an extract extracted from Japanese Knotweed.
Along with developing versions of cooked and dry cured red meats that omitted nitrite, the project evaluated whether those substitutes had an effect when combined with the naturally occurring nitrite found in processed red meats.
The international team of scientists tested the specially formulated products against conventionally processed red and white meat in a paper published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
They discovered that telltale signs of nitrite content in participants’ faeces were significantly lower when fed either specially formulated meat or minimally processed white meat.
Gunter Kuhnle, Professor of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Reading, said:
“The ongoing worries about highly processed red meat have often focused on the role of nitrite, and its links with cancer. The PHYTOME project tackled the issue by creating processed red meat products that replace additives with plant-based alternatives.
“Our latest findings show that using natural additives in processed red meat reduces the creation of compounds in the body that are linked to cancer.
“Surprisingly, the natural additives seemed to have some protective effects even when the red meat still contained nitrite. This suggests that natural additives could be used to reduce some of the potentially harmful effects of nitrite, even in foods where it is not possible to take out nitrite preservatives altogether.”
The team considered how the nitrate content of drinking water can have a significant effect on the formation of nitrite, which occurs naturally in the body, as previously discovered.
The researchers controlled for this by varying the water content throughout the trial and testing participants with both low and high nitrate-containing water during separate testing periods.
Using drinking water as a control, the results indicated that PHYTOME red meats produced significantly lower levels of the tell-tale signs of nitrite production in the body than either conventional red meat or unprocessed white meat.
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