Scientists from Sorbonne Paris Nord University and elsewhere found that common food additives in processed meats are linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Nitrites and nitrates occur naturally in water and soil and are commonly ingested from drinking water and dietary sources.
They are also used as food additives, mainly in processed meats, to increase shelf life and avoid bacterial growth.
Previous studies suggested both the benefits and harmful effects of nitrites and nitrates on type 2 diabetes risk.
In the current study, researchers aimed to examine these associations in significant population-based research and distinguished foods and water-originated nitrites/nitrates from food additives.
The team used data from 104,168 adults from the French NutriNet-Santé cohort study (2009 to 2021).
Associations between self-reported exposure to nitrites and the risk of type 2 diabetes were examined.
During a follow-up of 7 years, there were 969 cases of type 2 diabetes.
The team found total nitrites and foods and water-originated nitrites were both associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
People with higher exposure to additives-originated nitrites and specifically those having higher exposure to sodium nitrite (e250) had a higher risk of type 2 diabetes compared with those who were not exposed to additives-originated nitrites.
The team found there was no evidence for an association between total, foods and water-originated, or additives-originated nitrates and type 2 diabetes risk.
They suggest that no causal link can be established from this study and there were several main limitations.
The team concluded that their findings did not support any health benefits of dietary nitrites and nitrates.
They suggested that higher exposure to both foods and water-originated and additives-originated nitrites is linked to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
This study provides new evidence in the context of current debates about updating regulations to limit the use of nitrites as food additives. The team says the results need to be replicated in other populations.
The research was published in PLOS Medicine and conducted by Bernard Srour et al.
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