5 common sense tips about bacon (and nitrates)

Bacon -- nom, nom, nom.Frying bacon lures all living creatures to your kitchen. Add bacon, and your recipe just turned into a party.

Bacon is the Comeback Kid. Foodies are more excited about it than ever. Creative recipes sizzle all over web — chocolate-covered bacon, bacon ice cream, bacontinis

Whether it is rebellion against chia seed or an unabashed reclamation of hedonism, eating bacon is IN.

A question of nitrates:

Deep down, we know bacon is not the healthiest choice.

It’s not really the fat; our fat-phobia is waning. But ALL bacon contains nitrates, and these can convert to nitrosamines, known human carcinogens. Even “uncured” or “nitrate-free” bacon contains nitrates.

In fact, some nitrate-free bacon has up to three times more than its conventional counterparts.


Celery powder. Several vegetables are naturally high in nitrates. Celery is one of them. Concentrated in powder, you’ve got yourself a solid dose of nitrates.

Are companies misleading consumers by stamping “nitrate-free” and “uncured” on their packages? Take that up with the USDA, who requires them to do so to set them apart from products that contain synthetic sodium nitrate. Applegate Farms explains this.

Confusing and inconsistent data

On one hand, the World Cancer Research Fund International boldly states,

“Processed meats are too dangerous for human consumption. Consumers should stop buying and eating all processed meat products for the rest of their lives”.

The American Institute for Cancer Research, states NO amount of processed meat is considered safe until we know exactly WHY eating it increases our cancer risk.

On the other, the American Medical Association finds,

“Epidemiological studies cannot confirm any association between…nitrites (or nitrates) in food and the formation of NOCs and the causation of human cancer. Studies suggesting a link between nitrites in food and cancer have largely been disputed”.


When research contradicts more than it clarifies, which it often does, it’s time to rely on common sense:   

  1. It is possible that synthetic sodium nitrate causes a different reaction in the body than naturally occurring nitrates. Whole vegetables also include antioxidants and other goodies that could keep their nitrates from turning into nitrosamine. So the claim, “I may as well eat a strip of bacon instead of a carrot stick” still doesn’t fly.
  2. But, celery powder is still processed and concentrated. If you want to avoid nitrates, you will have to avoid bacon, and any other processed meat, altogether. Even the “nitrate-free” variations.
  3. If #2 makes you weep, treat yourself occasionally, not daily. Use bacon as seasoning, not a side dish. Cook 3-4 slices to use in an entire dish rather than serving 2 strips on each plate.
  4. Eat bacon with antioxidant-rich foods, especially those high in vitamin C or ascorbic acid. They inhibit the conversion of nitrate to nitrite in the body. Kale, for example, might have enough vitamin C to completely protect us against the nitrates they contain.
  5. The best bacon I ever ate was from a local pig, conventionally cured at a local butcher. The elimination of factories and feed lots makes a world of difference in flavor. Splurge on local bacon and savor every bite.

Want to learn more? Livestrong.com  has all kinds of informational tidbits and links on the subject.

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About Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson is a freelance writer with nearly 20 years of experience in community health education, non-profit program management and mental health counseling. Amy works on projects that promote greener, healthier living through pragmatic approaches. She is an avid fan of reality therapy, small town farmers markets and dishing out home cooking with unsolicited advice. You can also follow Amy’s adventures in realistic wellness.

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