Advice Column, Health, Parenting

Why we should be testing our food for nitrates and GreenTest’s top tips for summertime healthy eating

Summer is here, and the holiday season is approaching with the promise of lots of outdoor fun and relaxation time.  As we start to anticipate fun in the sun, lazy afternoon cricket games on the lawn with the kids and sharing cold slices of juicy watermelon around the pool; these happy musings are imbued with the expectancy of our glowing health.

However, as we all know the good health of ourselves and our loved ones can never be taken for granted.  There’s ever-increasing awareness that taking responsibility for our health is multi-faceted, and latest scientific research is continually alerting us to nutritional and environmental issues that we need to get to grips with to safeguard our families. We can thank latest technology solutions that this is becoming far easier to do for ourselves.  Recently launched food safety device, GreenTest shows us that taking our health into our own hands does not have to be difficult and demanding at all.  The range of lightweight, easy to use, award-winning nitrate detectors empower us to make better food choices in the moment.

As Lila Bruk, a registered dietitian points out, South African consumers are becoming far more conscious not just of the nutritional value of the foods we eat, but of food safety issues as well.  “With lifestyle diseases on the rise, it is becoming increasingly important for consumers to be able to test their own food so that we can not only choose nourishing foods but manage our future health and well-being.  The ability to test nitrate and nitrite levels in our own food is significant and empowering for South African consumers.”

Why we should be testing our food for nitrates


Nitrates and nitrites are naturally-occurring compounds containing nitrogen.  Nitrates are essential for plant growth and occur in differing amounts in most of our plant-based foods.  Nitrites are typically used as a preservative in smoked and processed meats.  At low levels, nitrates which are converted into nitrites once ingested, are generally harmless in the human body.  However, at high levels, nitrates and nitrites are toxic to humans and animals.  Higher concentrations of nitrates in food, especially in meat cooked at high temperatures, also pose the risk of the formation of nitrosamines which have been associated with various health risks, including some cancers.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists ingested nitrate or nitrite ‘under conditions that result in endogenous nitrosation’ as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2A).

Concerns about nitrate levels present in our food have been growing over the past decades because of ever-increasing use of nitrate-based fertilisers in the conventional farming sector.  Nitrates and nitrates are water-soluble and also leach into the ground.  It stands to reason that we are likely to be consuming way more nitrates than previous generations, and this has raised concerns that we are at risk for nitrate toxicity and the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) specifies that the acceptable daily intake of nitrate is 3.65 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day, but up until now there’s been no way for the consumer to monitor this.

GreenTesting your summer fruits

GreenTest devices, launched in South African by food safety company, Alvarita provide an accurate reading of the nitrate levels in 64 different kinds of commonly eaten fruits and vegetables in a matter of seconds.  Some models also test the nitrate levels of meat, fish and water.  “The unique rapid analysis feature provides a green, orange or red result that informs you whether you can go back for more; should moderate your intake or rather just avoid a food for the sake of your health,” says Alvarita CEO, Damian Michael.  “With GreenTest the power to make truly healthy food choices is conveniently in your hands.”

GreenTest’s top tips for summertime healthy eating:

  • As the days get hotter, it’s the ideal time for cooler eating.  Focus on crisp salads full of fresh ingredients; swap dollops of heavy, starchy veg for light and tasty crunchy greens, and prioritise fresh fruit and veg as the premium snack options
  • Upscale and diversify the ubiquitous red meat braai by creating equally delicious vegetarian, chicken or fish braai options.  Actively reduce your nitrate intake by substituting more yummy, quick and easy plant-based foods for hot dogs, as well as cold and smoked processed meats
  • Tip the scales in favour of fruit and veg at every meal – or at least make sure that half your plate is covered with salads and non-starchy veg.  Shifting to more and more plant-based food options is a real investment in your future health.  GreenTest your fruit and veg to keep track of your daily nitrate intake
  • Yes, it’s the holidays, but still keep the treats in perspective.  It’s okay to enjoy occasional treat food without feeling guilty, after all it’s the holidays and treats abound.  Who wants to feel deprived when everyone else is indulging?  It’s okay to occasionally enjoy rich or sugary foods; just keep them in balance.  Serve yourself smaller portions of your favourite treats and take the time to savour each bite.  Mindful eating increases pleasure and satisfaction while keeping you finely attuned to your body’s real needs and comfort zone
  • Walking on sunshine – Daily physical activity goes hand in hand with healthy food choices. The summer holiday provides plenty of opportunity to get up and moving for a minimum of 30 minutes each day.  Long, sunshiny days are ideal for family bike rides, hikes and other fun physical activities
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