Nitrates, Facts and Foods

Today, a client asked a very good question. She wanted to know which foods she should avoid preparing for her baby due to nitrate levels.

Nitrates are naturally occurring nitrogen/oxygen salt compounds found in almost every vegetable that we eat and the soils they are grown in. Nitrates are also laboratory formulated and used in fertilizers. Nitrates are ingested either from vegetables or drinking water. Nitrates/nitrites have been found to be responsible for “Blue Baby Syndrome.” Adults are not affected by nitrates or nitrites because their stomachs produce acids that fight the bacteria that help convert nitrates into nitrites. This conversion, and the resulting nitrite, is what allows for nitrate poisoning or “Blue Baby Syndrome.”

The name “Blue Baby Syndrome” stems from the fact that nitrites hinder proper oxygen transportation in the red blood cells. “Once in the blood, nitrite oxidizes iron in the hemoglobin of red blood cells to form methemoglobin, which lacks hemoglobin’s oxygen-carrying ability.”Without proper oxygen saturation in the blood, the body’s cells become oxygen deprived and the skin takes on a blue or purple hue. This oxygen deprivation may leadto the slow asphyxiation of the person poisoned. (source:

Here is how to recognize “Baby Blue Syndrome, which by the way, is extremely rare, “The most obvious symptom of nitrate poisoning is a bluish color of the skin, particularly around the eyes and mouth. This is called cyanosis. A baby with these symptoms should be taken to an emergency medical facility immediately. The doctor will take a blood sample to be sure the baby is suffering from nitrate poisoning. The blood sample of an affected baby is a chocolate brown instead of a healthy red. Nitrate poisoning can be treated, and in most cases the baby makes a full recovery.

Foods that tend to accumulate the highest amount of nitrate include:

    • spinach
    • beets
    • cabbage
    • broccoli
    • carrots

If you prefer to make your own homemade baby vegetables, an alternative is to choose organic produce.

Organics do not use commercial nitrate fertilizers so, the risk of nitrate contamination/concentration is lessened, but not eliminated. The AAP suggests a very cautious waiting period, 8 months or older, to make homemade leafy vegetables that may contain nitrates. The fact is that nitrate poisoning comes from contaminated drinking/ground water before it ever comes from vegetables.

Boiling the veggies will not eliminate the nitrates. Nitrates may in fact seep into the water used for cooking. It is best to not use that water as the liquid to make your puree. For some people, they may be more comfortable feeding baby jarred carrots, beets and other vegetables that may contain nitrates until baby reaches 8 months of age. Commercial baby food is screened for nitates, but since they are naturally occuring, they can not be eliminated.