Nitrates are chemical compounds found naturally in greens and vegetables and, to a lesser extent, in water, in food processing as an additive (sausages) and in other types of products. In this sense, green leafy vegetables, such as lettuce or spinach, accumulate a greater amount of these compounds.
Although “they are relatively non-toxic”, if high concentrations accumulate they can cause health problems by transforming into nitrites, which “oxidize iron in hemoglobin producing methemoglobinemia“, stand out in the Spanish Agency for Food Safety and Nutrition (AESAN).
The most characteristic alarm sign is cyanosis, since the blood is incapable of transporting oxygen, being babies and young children the most exposed to this disease through food intake.
These are the recommended amounts per age group
For this reason, taking into account the conclusions of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA, for its acronym in English) on nitrates in vegetables, consumption habits and the recommendations of pediatricians in Spain, AESAN has updated the recommendations for the adequate consumption of leafy vegetables to reduce children’s exposure to nitrates.
How is nitrate concentration produced in certain foods? Inadequate storage of cooked leafy vegetables can “result in the conversion of nitrates to nitrites”, a phenomenon that is accelerated “when these vegetables are in puree form”. In this way, AESAN has established limits for the daily intake of various vegetables:
Regarding the consumption of spinach and chard, experts recommend not including them in the diet before the baby’s first year of life. If they are included in puree form, it is advisable to follow the following guidelines:
- From 3 to 6 months: If they are incorporated as a supplement to breastfeeding, the daily intake should not exceed 25 grams.
- From 6 months a year: consumption should not exceed 35 grams per day.
- From the first year to 3 years: it is advisable not to give more than half a portion of any of these foods, that is, 45 grams per day.
On the other hand, AESAN advises do not include borage in the child’s diet before 3 years of age.
As for the vegetables already cooked, two essential guidelines must be followed to avoid risks:
- Keep them in the refrigerator if they are to be consumed on the same day or freeze them. They should not be kept at room temperature.
- To reduce the nitrate concentration, it is recommended to wash and cook the vegetables, discarding the excess water.