Whole Foods Sells Both 'Nitrate-Free Meat' and Nitrate Supplements. Yup.

By Josh Bloom — Oct 16, 2019
The giant supermarket chain is long on marketing but short on science; this is hardly news. However, its officials apparently can't fathom the irony of selling nitrate-free meat in addition to nitrate dietary supplements. But we do.
Bipolar Beets. Original Photo: Gardening Knowhow

Whole Foods chemists, an incongruity if ever there were one, must have a helluva job. They somehow must explain to suckers customers how the same chemical can be both good and bad for you. And also how an inorganic salt can be "organic" depending on its source. This takes a degree of creativity, and Whole Foods is nothing if not creative, especially when it comes to science. 

Let's start with meat. The company is quite clear that preserving meat with nitrates is a big no-no.

Let’s nix the synthetic nitrites and nitrates. While they occur naturally in some foods in small amounts, nitrates and nitrites are often added to preserve bacon, ham, hotdogs, sausages and deli meats. Whole Foods Market does not sell products with synthetic nitrates or nitrites

Source: Whole Foods Website: Let's Not Mess With Nature

I think they ought to change their motto a bit...

...because when it comes to science. especially chemistry, Whole Foods is totally out to lunch. Here's why.


  • "While [nitrates] (1) occur naturally in some foods in small amounts"

Nonsense. Nitrates are found in vegetables –and not in small amounts. Vegetables are, by far, the primary source of nitrates in our diet, accounting for 80 percent of our nitrate intake. No, "some foods" do not contain "small amounts" of nitrate. Vegetables contain a whole lot of it.


Nitrate content of vegetables, Sources: European Food Safety Authority, USDA.


  • "Whole Foods Market does not sell products with synthetic nitrates or nitrites"

This statement is technically correct, but misleading, perhaps intentionally so. Sodium nitrate is sodium nitrate, no matter its source. The chemical is made in factories, in plants (the green kind), and by your body (more on that later) and the three are indistinguishable – identical in every way. It is dishonest to imply that there is any difference. Here's a demonstration.



Something else that Whole Foods probably doesn't want you to know is that none of what I've written makes a difference. It's clever marketing to claim that nitrate-free beef is somehow superior (1) while minimizing the nitrate content of vegetables. 

But this doesn't matter either. Eating nitrate-free preserved meat, nitrate-laden spinach or nothing at all will make little difference because nitrate is produced by your body, and in far greater quantities than found in anything you eat. (See NPR Doesn't Know Spit About Saliva, Nitrates Or Deli Meat)

"Although fruit and vegetables contribute 11-41% of exogenous nitrite dietary intake ... this amount is overshadowed by the endogenous reduction of secreted salivary nitrate to nitrite"

"Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits." 

 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


This last part borders on hilarious. You can buy the following online. 

Whole Foods organic beet root dietary supplement. 

So what? All kinds of companies sell all kinds of crappy supplements. Shouldn't Whole Foods have the option to do so? Why, of course.

You may be asking why anyone would want to take such a product. WebMD tells us why.

Beet Juice Benefits

"In some studies, drinking about 2 cups of beet juice daily or taking nitrate capsules lowered blood pressure in healthy adults."

Source: WebMD

Beet juice is a source of nitrate, which is supposed to lower your blood pressure (it doesn't). Does anyone see the humor here? (3)


  1. Whole Foods want you to believe that the small amount of nitrate/nitrite in meat will harm you (2) so you should buy their nitrate-free meat.
  2. They neglect to tell you that the vegetables in the next aisle contain a bazillion times more nitrate than the preserved meat.
  3. They either don't know (or won't say) that neither the meat nor the vegetables will harm you because your body makes far more nitrate that you will ever eat.
  4. They sell a supplement packed with nitrate.
  5. I should have become a Whole Foods scientist. Or maybe a plumber. Not much difference.


(1) Some phony health sites will tell you that nitrates are OK; it is nitrites that are harmful. Nice try. Nitrates are converted to nitrites in your body, especially in the gut and in saliva. For the purposes of this discussion, they can be used interchangeably. 

(2) I'm more concerned about listeriosis or botulism poisoning from meat that isn't preserved. I'm funny that way.

(3) It's hardly just Whole Foods that sells beet supplements. If you put the terms "beet" and "supplement" into Amazon's search engine it returns more than 2,000 results.


Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

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