Food With Nitrogen

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Cooking with nitrogen, a non-toxic, abundant and harmless gas, Food With Nitrogen allows chefs to prepare food at a professional level in the comfort of their own homes. The resulting dishes are extraordinary in taste and appearance, as well as being visually stunning.

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Food With Nitrogen

We’ve talked about a variety of nutrient rich foods on this site. Many of them are well-known nutrients, like vitamin A, calcium, and iron, ones that are widely recognized as being essential. Nitrogen, however, is a little different. For one thing, nitrogen is an element, so you tend to find it as part of a compound, rather than on its own. There’s also discussion about whether nitrogen rich food is a good idea.

Some of the confusion comes from the forms that nitrogen comes in. For example, nitrogen is a key building block for amino acids, so you’ll get nitrogen from any high-protein food.

Nitrates and nitrites, on the other hand, are much more controversial. These are often used as preservatives, as they limit the growth of harmful bacteria. The compounds are commonly used for processed meat and could be one reason that this type of meat has been linked to cancer.

However, this doesn’t make all nitrates and nitrites bad. The ones that we get from fruits and vegetables won’t have the same negative effects and may even provide some benefits.

This difference is due to how compounds react in food and in the body. High heat cooking and the acidity of the stomach can lead to some harmful compounds being formed. This is a particular problem in processed meats because of compounds that are common in high protein foods.

So, when you’re looking at nitrogenous food, you can’t just pay attention to nitrogen content. You need to think about the type of food and the form of nitrogen too. We’re making that process easy by only focusing on healthy nitrogen foods on this list.

The plant-based sources of nitrogen are arguably your best choice, as there is little protein present for them to react with. Much of our nitrogen comes from plants anyway. However, animal products have their own advantages as well.

Nitrogen Rich Foods

  • Soybeans and Soy Products
  • Beans
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Meat
  • Poultry
  • Fish and Shellfish
  • Eggs
  • Leafy Greens
  • Green Herbs
  • Rhubarb
  • Fennel
  • Beetroot
  • Spirulina
  • Protein Powders
  • Antioxidant Rich Foods

Soybeans and Soy Products

Soybeans and various products that contain soy, including soy sauce, tofu, and edamame
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Soybeans are often used as a plant-based source of protein, so it’s no surprise that they contain plenty of nitrogen. This means that the beans themselves offer nitrogen, along with any product that is made using them.

In general, the more protein your soy product has, the higher the nitrogen content will be.

Soybeans are rich in nutrients, which is another reason to rely on them regularly.

Still, they are one of the most controversial types of food out there. Critics highlight a variety of problems with soybeans, including antinutrients and compounds that mimic estrogen. There’s also concern about how often soybeans are genetically modified.

Not surprisingly, many people play it safe and avoid soy products altogether.

While you can avoid soy, the evidence supporting these health issues is incredibly slim. And besides, even if antinutrients do decrease how many nutrients you absorb, you’ll still get plenty of vitamins and minerals from soybeans.

So really, there’s little reason to cut soy out completely. If you are worried, it might be best to rely on a wide variety of foods, rather than focusing too heavily on soybeans and soy products.

Beans

A glass jar of beans on a light background next to a blue cloth, with some of the beans on the table
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Other members of the legume family offer protein and nitrogen too. This includes any type of bean. Again, this is hardly surprising, as beans are such a popular source of protein. They’re also inexpensive and have a long shelf life.

There are many types of beans out there – with plenty of colors and sizes for you to choose from. There are also some differences in flavor and texture, which might influence which beans you include in which meals.

Nutrient composition changes between types of beans too. This is an excellent reason to rely on a variety of beans, rather than just your favorite type.

It’s important to soak or sprout your beans before you use them. Doing so makes it easier to absorb the nutrients from the beans, giving you more benefits from them.

Nuts and Seeds

A brown bowl of nuts, with a handful or so more nuts scattered on the table
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It’s hard to ignore nuts and seeds if you’re looking for protein. Many of them are delicious. They make easy snacks too, especially if they have been roasted and seasoned first.

Almonds and walnuts are some of the best choices for nutrients and protein, although honestly, any type of nut or seed is worth eating.

Peanuts are appealing too, even though they’re technically legumes rather than nuts. Besides, peanuts are often less expensive than other options. The price difference could be the deciding factor in some situations.  

Don’t forget about nut butter and seed butter. These products often rely on the crushed nut or seed and little else. They can provide the same benefits as the whole nuts or seeds, while also being more versatile.

Meat

A large cooked steak that has been cut in half and is rare in the middle
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We can’t talk about high nitrogen foods without mentioning meat. You’ll get plenty of protein from any type of meat, which means plenty of nitrogen as well.

However, meat isn’t all the same. Some options may be healthier than others.

Many experts recommend relying on lean meat whenever possible while moderating your red meat intake. Avoiding high heats and burning your meat can be important too, as high-temperature cooking may produce carcinogens.

Of course, opinions are mixed. Some groups, including those following a low carb or keto diet, feel that fatty cuts of meat are healthy too. Plus, red meat is high in nutrients, so it could easily help improve your health.

You’ll need to make your own decision about the amount of meat to eat.

There’s much less debate about processed meats, including bacon. Processed meats are more likely to increase cancer risk. They may use nitrates and nitrites as preservatives as well, which is a good reason to avoid this type of meat. 

Poultry

Two grilled chicken legs with thighs on a black background with some lemon slices
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Poultry is another obvious entry to this list. Chicken tends to be the most popular choice here, as it is a versatile lean source of protein that isn’t too expensive.

You’ll get plenty of protein and nitrogen from other types of poultry too, like turkey or duck.

Poultry tends to be less controversial than red meat and it’s easier to find lean cuts, so it could be a better choice for anyone concerned about their health.

Fish and Shellfish

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Not surprisingly, fish and shellfish make this list too. Both types of seafood are excellent sources of protein. They can also provide other crucial nutrients, including vitamin B12 and zinc.

You’ll also be getting omega-3 fatty acids from fish and shellfish. These fatty acids have many advantages, like helping to lower blood pressure, improve heart health, and reduce triglyceride levels.

Omega-3 levels are directly related to the amount of fat in the fish. This makes fatty fish like salmon a powerful choice. Lean white fish like tilapia contains a much lower amount of the heart-healthy fats.

Some types of seafood are rich in purines (which is true for high fat cuts of red meat too). Purines contain nitrogen and are safe for most people to eat. However, purines do lead to uric acid production, which may increase kidney stone risk on some occasions.

If you’re sensitive to kidney stones or are concerned about getting one, then try to stick to low purine foods instead.

Eggs

Sunny side up fried eggs in a small cast iron pan
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The protein in eggs makes them a filling breakfast choice and also a rich source of nitrogen. Egg whites are often seen as the best source of protein, partly because you’re getting a lot of protein and not much else. This is why weight watchers often focus only on egg white.

However, the yolk of the egg still contains protein. It’s also a rich source of other nutrients.

There’s little reason to avoid egg yolks anyway. The biggest problem is the amount of cholesterol, yet the effect of dietary cholesterol on your body isn’t as strong as you might think.

Foods Are High in Nitrogen

Meat — especially lean meat — is primarily protein, which is made up of amino acids containing nitrogen, advises the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Opt for lean meats for a healthy diet, such as:

  • Poultry, including turkey and chicken
  • Fish
  • Shellfish
  • Lean beef cuts such as tenderloin and top sirloin
  • Lean pork

While fattier cuts of meat are also a good source of protein, the higher fat content can be detrimental to a healthy diet. Eggs and low-fat milk are also an excellent source of protein and nitrogen.

Read more: List of the Top 10 Foods With the Highest Protein Content

Nitrogen is also found in a compound called purines. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, high-purine animal foods include:

  • High-fat meats, including red meat
  • Wild game, including veal
  • Some seafood, including sardines, trout and scallops
  • Organ meat, including kidney and liver

Most people can eat high-purine foods without any negative effects. However, when purines are digested, your body produces uric acid, which can cause kidney stones and gout in some individuals.

Warning

While nitrogen in your diet is mainly consumed through protein, you may also consume nitrogen in the form of nitrates. For example, many processed foods and meats contain nitrate, which is used as a preservative.

In most cases, the level of exposure to nitrates from food is not enough to cause negative health effects, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, overexposure may cause symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal cramps and vomiting
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Headache

It may also cause certain types of cancer.

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Nitrogen gas is essential for the food packaging industry, as it increases the shelf life of packaged food products. The presence of oxygen in a package can lead to mold growth and spoiling before its use-by or expiration date. By removing the existing oxygen and replacing it with nitrogen, the food will remain fresh and safe to eat for a longer period of time.

Which Foods Are Packaged with Nitrogen Gas?

Modified atmosphere packaging is extremely common in the food industry. It is the process of removing the oxygen from a package and replacing it with nitrogen gas. A good rule of thumb is that if the food is packaged in an air-tight container, there’s a good chance the gas inside is nitrogen rather than normal atmospheric air.
The following foods are typically packaged with nitrogen gas:

  • Chips, Popcorn, Nuts, and Other Snack Foods
  • Fresh Meat
  • Prepackaged Lunch Meat
  • Salad Mixes and Bags of Lettuce
  • Pre-cut Apples and Carrot Sticks
  • Bacon, Smoked Sausage, and Kielbasa
  • Wine Bottles
  • Emergency Food Rations
  • Berries
  • Frozen Foods

Nitrogen Gas in Food Packaging

Nitrogen gas is used in food packaging because it preserves the color, flavor, and texture of the product while preventing spoilage and extending the shelf life. In the case of chips and snack foods, the nitrogen gas also provides padding that prevents the products inside from breaking into crumbs. If these same foods were to be packaged with air, they would quickly start to change color, grow mold, and spoil. Therefore, when you see a package of lunchmeat or a container of sliced apples with a broken seal, you should never purchase it. This is also why supermarket employees are required to remove and discard damaged packages.

Vacuum Packing with Nitrogen

Modified atmosphere packaging requires the use of a vacuum. During the packaging process, the food is placed into the container. Then, all of the oxygen is removed using the vacuum. The package is then filled with nitrogen and immediately sealed. This process is often used for items like chips, popcorn, pretzels, and lunchmeat.

Nitrogen Gas Generators for Food Packaging

Here at On Site Gas, we sell new and used nitrogen gas generators for use in the food industry. You can choose from PSA nitrogen generators, nitrogen membrane generators, nitrogen cylinder filling stations, and custom engineered systems. Our machines have the ability to produce up to 99.999 percent pure nitrogen, which is necessary for preserving moisture laden foods, like sliced and cut vegetables, as well as foods that are meant to sit at room temperature.

Nitrogen Gas in the Food Process

Gaseous nitrogen is used in a variety of systems and processes in the food manufacturing and packaging industries. Often regarded as the industry standard for non-chemical preservation, nitrogen is an inexpensive, readily available option. Suited for a variety of uses, Nitrogen needs to be monitored for purity and potential contaminants. Depending on the type of use, the distribution channel, and the required purity levels, different testing plans should be implemented to ensure safety.

Uses For Nitrogen In Food Process

Because foods are comprised of reactive chemicals, it is the job of packaging specialists and food manufacturers to find ways to protect nutrients and ensure the quality of their product. Oxygen can be harmful to packaged foods as this gas causes the food to oxidize and can encourage the growth of microorganisms (Welt and Connaughton, 2017). Foods that are particularly susceptible to these risks include fatty meats, fish, veggies and ready-to-eat products. In fact, a third of fresh food does not reach consumers due to transport spoilage (Sengupta, 2017). Modifying the atmosphere of the packaging can be an effective way to ensure that products remain safe for consumers.

  Packaging lettuce
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To increase the shelf life of fresh products, many manufacturers choose to modify the atmosphere of the packaging to include higher levels of nitrogen (American Chemistry, 2010). Because it is a safe, inert gas, nitrogen is an excellent replacement for oxygen or supplemental gas in food packaging and manufacturing. Increased nitrogen preserves freshness, protects the nutrients, and prevents aerobic microbial growth. 

The main challenge with modifying the atmosphere of packaging is that some food products do require a small amount of oxygen to maintain their coloring and texture (Welt and Connaughton, 2017). Red meats, for example, will turn an unappetizing color when deprived of oxygen. Food manufacturers sometimes choose a lower nitrogen purity to make their product more palatable to consumers.

In addition to meats and vegetables, nitrogen is used with increasing frequency in the coffee and beer industries. Guinness, for example, is known for its signature foam produced by nitrogen gas (Welt and Connaughton, 2017).  Additionally, coffee brewed with nitrogen has become quite popular. Beverage manufacturers who introduce nitrogen into their product must meet certain purity levels and ensure that the gas is free from contamination.

Bottles
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The Importance Of Pure Gas Testing

Because Nitrogen is a critical component in the preservation, transportation, and quality control of fresh food products and beverages, it must be tested regularly. It is susceptible to decreases in purity levels and contaminants like gas, particles, water, oil, and microorganisms. Individual systems call for different testing protocols.  Variables to take into consideration include nitrogen cylinders verses nitrogen generators, system age and build, distribution piping and the type of contact the gas has with the product. Complete a risk assessment to ensure an in-depth understanding of your system and its unique needs.

Nitrogen Cylinders and Generators

Food manufacturers and packaging plants that choose to work with nitrogen cylinders or generators can expect to have clean and dry nitrogen at the source. However, according to Nikki Smith, Quality Manager at Trace Analytics, LLC, it is important to account for the distribution line. Smith explains that testing for gas purity at the point of use is a reliable way to ensure that the piping is not contaminating the pure gas.

Unhealthy systems with ineffective filters or leaks can reduce the purity of gas and introduce contaminants like volatile hydrocarbons, water, oil, or particles. Leaks can lead to lower purity levels or contamination because they create a vacuum which brings in atmospheric air containing oxygen, moisture, and hydrocarbons (Kandl, 2005). Ineffective filters or materials can introduce particulate contamination. Whether your system works with cylinders or a generator, testing at multiple points ensures that the quality of gas does not deteriorate down the line. A third-party, accredited laboratory can provide thorough analysis for pure gas systems to ensure that the gas at the end of the distribution line is as pure as when it flowed directly out of the cylinder or generator.

Anaerobes

   Blood-agar-plates
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Using nitrogen to modify the atmosphere of packaged foods does prevent against aerobic bacteria growth, but does not stop the growth of anaerobes. Anaerobes are microorganisms that can grow without oxygen. These microorganisms can be particularly dangerous and need to be carefully guarded against as they lead to recalls and consumer illnesses.

Because anaerobes do not need oxygen to grow, poorly maintained Nitrogen systems can be at risk for this type of contamination. Obligate anaerobes only grow with a complete lack of oxygen, while Facultative anaerobes can use oxygen but do not require it to grow (USDA, 2012). Facultative bacteria include Listeria, E. coli and Botulism.

This year alone, over 20 food manufacturers issued recalls due to Listeria (FDA, 2018). Recalls can be costly at best, and devastating at worst, causing entire shut downs.  Since Listeria can survive in the atmosphere, it can pass through the system and impact food if proper precautions are not administered. Other dangerous anaerobes to test for include E. coli, C. botulinum, and C perfringens (USDA. 2012).

How Pure Gas Testing Works

Trace Analytics, LLC, uses a Gas Chromatograph-Mass Spectrometer-Flame Ionization Detector (GC-MS-FID) to test for gas purity and gas contamination. The three different pieces of equipment function together to provide precise and thorough results. The Flame Ionization Detector recognizes gas contaminants like TVHC, CO, CH4 and CO2, while the Mass Spectrometer detects ions by mass and can separate out Oxygen, Nitrogen, Argon, and water.

To determine purity, the gas sample is compared to controls using NIST traceable gas standards. Smith explains that manufacturers base their purity goals on their usage. For example, some manufacturers might require 99.0% nitrogen purity, while others could allow for a lower purity.

   Microscope
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Optical microscopy is used to test for particulate contamination. This determines particle size and count. This method allows for the evaluation of point-of-use filtration and can identify problems due to add-ons after the filter that create contamination like rust, metal shavings, o-ring materials, solder, and Teflon tape.

To properly test for anaerobic contamination, users take samples using the Pinocchio Super II Impaction Sampler along with blood agar contact plate media. A GasPak is opened in a sterile bag which removes the oxygen from the bag and ensures only anaerobic microbes can grow. An accredited microbiology lab can then incubate the media and use Gram Staining to determine whether the gas is contaminated. If a company suspects Listeria or E. coli contamination, specialty plates can be used which will reveal a positive or negative result.

Requirements And Regulations

The release of SQF Code Edition 8 has brought some clarity to the testing process and further protects end-users from contaminated products. This new edition states that compressed air and other gases must be clean and regularly monitored.

“11.5.5.1 Compressed air or other gases (e.g. nitrogen, carbon dioxide) that contacts food or food contact surfaces shall be clean and present no risk to food safety.”

“11.5.5.2 Compressed air systems, and systems used to store or dispense other gases used in the manufacturing process that come into contact with food or food contact surfaces shall be maintained and regularly monitored for quality and applicable food safety hazards.”

With the addition of the words “or other gases”, nitrogen, mixed gases and pure gases are now included and must be monitored regularly. Individual manufacturers should assess their risks and work with an ISO 17025 accredited laboratory to determine the appropriate tests. Trace Analytics, LLC offers testing for pure gas, particles, water, oil, and microorganisms.

Conclusion

Nitrogen has critical application in the food manufacturing and packaging industries. Its quality and purity have direct impact on both food and beverage products. Because of this, it is important to test for purity and contaminants regularly with a third-party, accredited laboratory. Perform a risk assessment to gain a thorough understanding of your system and risks. Then implement a monitoring plan with regular testing for your nitrogen system to ensure the safety of your end-product. Contact us to receive a personalized Pure Gas testing quote.

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