The Nitrate and Nitrite Myth: Another Reason Not To Fear Bacon

Beyond just being loaded with “artery-clogging saturated fat” and sodium, bacon has been long considered unhealthy due to the use of nitrates and nitrites in the curing process. Many conventional doctors, and well-meaning friends and relatives, will say you’re basically asking for a heart attack or cancer by eating the food many Paleo enthusiasts lovingly refer to as “meat candy”.

The belief that nitrates and nitrates cause serious health problems has been entrenched in popular consciousness and media. Watch this video clip to see Steven Colbert explain how the coming bacon shortage will prolong our lives thanks to reduced nitrates in our diets.

In fact, the study that originally connected nitrates with cancer risk and caused the scare in the first place has since been discredited after being subjected to a peer review. There have been major reviews of the scientific literature that found no link between nitrates or nitrites and human cancers, or even evidence to suggest that they may be carcinogenic. Further, recent research suggests that nitrates and nitrites may not only be harmless, they may be beneficial, especially for immunity and heart health. Confused yet? Let’s explore this issue further.

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It may surprise you to learn that the vast majority of nitrate/nitrite exposure comes not from food, but from endogenous sources within the body. (1) In fact, nitrites are produced by your own body in greater amounts than can be obtained from food, and salivary nitrite accounts for 70-90% of our total nitrite exposure. In other words, your spit contains far more nitrites than anything you could ever eat.

When it comes to food, vegetables are the primary source of nitrites. On average, about 93% of nitrites we get from food come from vegetables. It may shock you to learn that one serving of arugula, two servings of butter lettuce, and four servings of celery or beets all have more nitrite than 467 hot dogs. (2) And your own saliva has more nitrites than all of them! So before you eliminate cured meats from your diet, you might want to address your celery intake. And try not to swallow so frequently.

All humor aside, there’s no reason to fear nitrites in your food, or saliva. Recent evidence suggests that nitrites are beneficial for immune and cardiovascular function; they are being studied as a potential treatment for hypertension, heart attacks, sickle cell and circulatory disorders. Even if nitrites were harmful, cured meats are not a significant source, as the USDA only allows 120 parts per million in hot dogs and bacon. Also, during the curing process, most of the nitrite forms nitric oxide, which binds to iron and gives hot dogs and bacon their characteristic pink color. Afterwards, the amount of nitrite left is only about 10 parts per million.

And if you think you can avoid nitrates and nitrites by eating so-called “nitrite- and nitrate-free” hot dogs and bacon, don’t be fooled. These products use “natural” sources of the same chemical like celery and beet juice and sea salt, and are no more free from nitrates and nitrites than standard cured meats. In fact, they may even contain more nitrates and nitrites when cured using “natural” preservatives.

It’s important to understand that neither nitrate nor nitrite accumulate in body. Ingested nitrate from food is converted into nitrite when it contacts our saliva, and of the nitrate we eat, 25% is converted into salivary nitrite, 20% converted into nitrite, and the rest is excreted in the urine within 5 hours of ingestion. (3) Any nitrate that is absorbed has a very short half-life, disappearing from our blood in under five minutes. (4) Some nitrite in our stomach reacts with gastric contents, forming nitric oxide which may have many beneficial effects. (56) You can listen to my podcast “Does Red Meat Increase Your Risk of Death?” for more information on this topic.

In general, the bulk of the science suggests that nitrates and nitrites are not problematic and may even be beneficial to health. Critical reviews of the original evidence suggesting that nitrates/nitrites are carcinogenic reveals that in the absence of co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor, there is no evidence for carcinogenesis. (7) Newly published prospective studies show no association between estimated intake of nitrite and nitrite in the diet and stomach cancer. (8) Nitric oxide, formed by nitrite, has been shown to have vasodilator properties and may modulate platelet function in the human body, improving blood pressure and reducing heart attack risk. (91011) Nitrates may also help boost the immune system and protect against pathogenic bacteria (121314)

So what do we take from this? There’s no reason to fear nitrates and nitrites in food. No reason to buy nitrate-free, uncured bacon. No reason to strictly avoid cured meats, particularly those from high quality sources (though it may make sense to limit consumption of them for other reasons). In fact, because of concerns about trichinosis from pork, it makes a lot more sense in my opinion to buy cured bacon and other pork products. I do.

Have I changed your mind about the safety of eating bacon? Let me know your thoughts on nitrates and nitrites in the comments below.

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Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Rick Bunte says

    Your article confuses the presence of nitrites in food with the action of nitrates in meats to form nitrosamines in your stomach which are carcinogenic, as I’m sure you know.

    You guys are pretty smart, so I think it’s pretty clear that your omissions and irrelevant facts in this article are intentional. If you really want to do something good, write something like this:

    You want to eat bacon and sausage? Go ahead. They taste great! Be aware, though, that the saturated fat in these meats can lead to clogged and hardened arteries, obesity, increased risk of strokes and Alzheimer’s disease, reduced testosterone and increased estrogen if you’re a man, and the nitrates we put in them to keep you from getting sick combine with the amino acids in the meat to form carcinogens in your stomach, increasing your risk of stomach cancer. Be an informed consumer, and don’t fall for misleading articles by industry hacks. Thank you.

    • says

      “saturated fat in these meats can lead to…reduced testosterone and increased estrogen if you’re a man”

      Are you saying they don’t lead to that if you’re a woman?

    • DWS says

      The saturated fat and cholesterol myths have been thoroughly debunked, after being based on flawed ‘science’ from the begining, and promoted via processed food company advertising, eager to sell us more packaged food. Every illness that was blamed on saturated fat and cholesterol now looks to be caused by excess sugar, grains and processed oils, which makes perfect sense if you consider that humans have been eating animal products for thousands of years, and all these modern diseases such as heart dosease, diabetes, cancer etc have only appeared in the 100 years or so since all the processed foods and sugar have become the main staples in our diet.

      Some will argue that these disease are caused by our increased lifespan, and this too is misleading, by using ‘average lifespan’ statistics the figure is drastically reduced for ancient times because of a very high infant mortality.

      There are also issues regarding the factory farming methods and the over-use of antibiotics and growth hormones in livestock, as well as the quantity of artificial fertilizers and chemicals used to grow crops, and we are starting to realise that science is not as reliable as we thought when big money interests get involved with the politicts.

  2. Mr Fixit says

    I just stumbled upon this article. I love bacon! However my wife is on home hemo dialysis after struggling with calciphylaxis, a devastating disease, for over a year. EVERY dietitian specializing in kidney patients, EVERY nephrologist, and ALL the published material for CKD and ESRD patients say stay away from the nitrates found in cured meat like bacon. I know I am talking about a small percentage of the population, and the article may very well be true for those of us with normal kidney function, but for some it is not a “myth” but a hard reality of daily life.

  3. J. Clark says

    We would not need to worry about all of these special studies if we would simply stop using all of the chemicals to prepare the food. Eat natural, organic, locally sourced foods and the majority of these problems go away.

  4. Shane says

    It’s funny to read the assortment of comments left by all of you fine folks. Here is the reality of it all. For every business or group or whatever, there is another business or group or whatever trying to deface it so that their interests are perceived by the consumer as being more healthful or more pro-life or whatever the case may be. For every study that shows nitrates/nitrites are bad, there are equal numbers that show just the opposite. Just like politics and religion, we will believe what we want to believe and as for me I choose the bacon!

    • Peggy Williamson says

      The problem is it’s hard to measure the lethal dose.
      How many mgs. are in an Oscar Mayer hot dog? A lethal dose for my weight would be 2,400 mgs.

      “Human Toxicity Values:
      The lethal dose of potassium nitrate for an adult ranges from 54 to 462 mg/kg.
      [Burden EHWJ; Analyst 86: 429-33 (1961) as cited in Health Advisories for Legionella and Seven Inorganics p.98 (1987) PB87-235586] **PEER REVIEWED**”

  5. John says

    I say baloney, nitrates do cause problems,, so are you saying everything is imaginary, and the headaches I get after eating something with sodium nitrate is fake, I may not die from the nitrate, but I can assure you the headaches are real, so something is going on, it does not take a scientist to figure out that’s not normal,

    • Jason says

      who the hell wants to live forever anyway? I am happy with the food I eat and trust that when it’s my time, it’s time. I will not blame food or alcohol or anything else… I will just enjoy!

      • DWS says

        But the question is, will you be spending the last 20 years of your life in pain, medicated on multiple drugs, and/or crippled in some way by chronic disease? It is happening far too often because people are not paying attention.

        • Fiona says

          Very well said, DWS. You and the rest of us will probably be paying for Jason’s healthcare during those last 20 years!

        • Nels Long says

          But those 20 years in pain and the nursing home are just because those people haven’t figured out the solution, that suicide is painless.

      • Andrew says

        The average age people live these days is down by about 40+ years. We have the ability to live to 150 years old, but only if we eat the correct foods and supplement. The start of the industrial age was the end of good nutrition in our foods. Even organic foods which are grown using the GMO seed don’t contain any more nutrition on them than the GMO version, they only don’t have the extra chemicals. It’s said if you were the richest person the world who ate nothing but the finest foods you still would not be getting anywhere near the proper nutrition that you need to protect your genes from diseases and illnesses.

    • Skookum says

      How does sodium nitrate cause headaches? What is the mechanism?

      Have you tried a double blind study to determine whether or not sodium nitrate is actually causing your headaches?

      • Amy says

        I don’t know about sodium nitrate, but sodium nitrite is a vasodilator. Apparently I’m sensitive to it because, for me, it opens up the blood vessels way too much and I get a migraine.
        I have the same problem with dark chocolate and aspirin.
        I’m not sure how or why others might react to it, and I know I’m far from the norm (as usual).

        • Catriona Walsh says

          That’s a shame. I don’t know whether you’ve looked into histamine intolerance? Do any other fermented foods like sauerkraut, wine, coffee or fermented foods give you trouble?

    • ️️Kathleen says

      Liked what you had to say so much John that I did not want to read anymore comments. Thank for helping me to move on.

  6. Michael says

    So…..let’s examine….added chemicals in food = GOOD. I think I understand. No thanks, I’ll stick with Paleo and Nitrate free.

    • Dr. Wno says

      Anyone looking for evidence of the lack of reading comprehension taught in US schools need only look to this comment for proof.

      That, of course, assumes the commenter even bothered to read the article, (which is iffy at best).

          • JackieSaucepan says

            … and yet so many “scientific studies” are bang on true…

            Not to say I’m agreeing Nitrates are fine/acceptable, they are not.

            Just simply spawning more comments encouraging people to do their own tests instead of relying on others apparently “in the know”

            Stupid insta-epic generation.

    • says

      “So…..let’s examine….added chemicals in food = GOOD. I think I understand. No thanks, I’ll stick with Paleo and Nitrate free.”

      All Paleo diet food is made of chemicals. :)

  7. TJ says

    I wonder why my bowel movements take on such arbitrary forms after a healthy hot dog dinner. Are nitrates so good at reducing my ability to digest food that I’m otherwise missing the health benefits of eating more of these chemicals?

  8. Jess says

    Chris, I’m wondering about the chemical structure of nitrate and nitrite in bacon vs. water – is it for the same reason that I shouldn’t be concerned about the concentration or presence of nitrate/nitrite in my water as in bacon?

  9. MaxJax says

    Ther is the story of the woman who has eaten bacon every day, and she is 105. If it is true , as many poster think, that eating bacon caused cancer then why doesn’t she have it? Apparently, it did not cause cancer in her so one can reasonably say that it does not necessarily cause cancer. So many studies have been done that are completely worthless. Most of them are ones that use sample groups and questionnaires. These types of studies can only find a CORRELATION, and that is only if the memories and answers are correct. A correlation does not prove a cause.

    Since there are so many OTHER factors that are also said to cause cancer and none of those factors are ever examined, the studies are worthless.

    For instance, it is know that taking “FOLIC ACID” can cause cancer. The body can only convert a small amount to Methyl Folate- which is what the body uses as a vitamin. The unconverted Folic acid though is carcinogenic. Much of air food is “fortified” with folic acid, such as bread products for instance. That hot dog “bun” may be far worse for you than the hot dog, especially if you are already eating a lot of fortified products such as commercially baked breads or eating “breakfast cereals”.

    Another substance in our food supply that is related to increased rates of cancer is “ferrous sulfate”, or iron. This is not a form of iron that the body readily utilizes and can greatly increase the amount of “free” or “unbound” iron in the blood. The body tries to neutralize and store this iron by binding it to a protein called ferritin. Free iron is extremely damaging as it causes a cascade of free radicals. it also feeds cancer and makes it grow incredibly fast.

    Instead of worrying about bacon would be better off eliminating the bowl of “Total” breakfast cereal as it is “fortified” with both folic acid and ferrous sulfate.

    • John says

      sugar is what causes cancer low ph with a fermenting processes is what causes the cells to reproduce has been know since about the 1930s’

    • BayHiCoach says

      That’s the point. The author misses what’s important in an effort to justify eating something he wants to eat just because he wants to eat it. Follow what is real science and not pick and choose what you want to hear to suit your needs.

  10. Paul says

    This article goes on and on about nitrates and nitrites and how they are naturally formed in your body. But it leaves off one important detail: the cooking of nitrates causes the formation of nitrosamines, which are a known carcinogen! So yes yes yes, nitrates in bacon are a bad thing! The drawback is that nitrate-free bacon will be more susceptible to spoilage and botulism. So it would be a good idea to freeze such bacon until you’re almost ready to use it. Here is an article from the Oregon State University website that I used to draw my conclusions:

  11. Frank M Jerry says

    Chronic headaches maybe more attributable just to a lack of hydration and the intake of excessive sugar. Sugar is somehow at the root of all headaches.

    • Amy says

      Eh – not if you are otherwise fine, but the headaches occur only when you ingest certain foods or a few other triggers (incoming storms, excess caffeine, etc).

      For me, it’s a blood flow issue. Taking magnesium helps regulate that blood flow, but it won’t entirely stop the impact of a vasodilator, and that’s when the trouble starts.

      I can’t take baby aspirin either.

      • lynn says

        Coming from my chem teacher who talks about dmso, he said people use it to use over different pain killers to help them absorb into the skin, but you are also absorbing other foreign matter that has been sitting on your skin into your body.

  12. Skooter says

    For those who suffer from migraines, nitrates and nitrites are no myth, but represent a serious health threat. Roughly 10% of the population in the U.S. suffer from migraines. Foods containing nitrites or nitrates will usually trigger a migraine in those susceptible, within a few minutes, often increasing in intensity until the substance is sufficiently metabolized, which can take nearly an entire day. Migraines are not only subjectively painful, but they are associated with reduced cognitive and neurological function.

  13. Judy Sangillo says

    Chris, the danger is not in the nitrates or nitrites themselves but in their conversion to the carcinogenic nitrosamines, which will happen only in the presence of amines, found in large quantities in meat but not in plant foods. Following is a link to a study on this topic published last year in the British Journal of Cancer.

  14. says

    Isn’t the concern with nitrates related to the conversion to nitrosamines when the meat is heated? Is it a myth that nitrosamines are carcinogenic?

    • Judy Sangillo says

      Yes, the concern is related to the conversion to nitrosamines. This happens in our digestive tract in the presence of amines, which are highly concentrated in meats but not in vegetables. That’s why nitrates/nitrites in meats are considered carcinogenic but not in vegetables.

      • Konstantin says

        Just curious, so what happens if you eat meats (containing amines) and vegetables (containing nitrates/nitrites) at the same time? Will those together be converted into even more nitrosamines? Honest question, I’m no health expert. Just interested.

  15. says

    I have stage 4 kidney disease and the doctors say no bacon,ham, sausage, lunch meats any processed meat that contain nitrites and preservatives,high salt,sodium.
    Eat vegetables,but you are saying some vegetables have more nitrites than bacon,so skip the vegetables and eat the ham and bacon?
    thank you

    • says

      As already mentioned, this article does not distinguish between industrial curing salts – those used in food processing and gunpowder production for that matter – and those naturally occurring. It’s outright irreponsible to write like this. I used to come to this site as a reference guide; not anymore.

    • Judy Sangillo says

      I’m sorry to hear about your diagnosis, Jacquie. Your doctor’s advice is spot-on. Nitrates and nitrites in vegetables pose no danger, because the amines needed to convert them to the carcinogenic nitrosamines are present in high concentrations in meats but not in vegetables. An article was published last year in the British Journal of Cancer explaining this crucial difference.

  16. says

    This makes no distinction between industrially produced synthetic sodium nitrate and naturally occurring ones. The comments from the many people who know they suffer from these salts speak for themselves.

    A quick look at Wikipedia tells us that synthetic, industrial curing salts are also used for making gunpowder:

    “The largest accumulations of naturally occurring sodium nitrate are found in Chile and Peru, where nitrate salts are bound within mineral deposits called caliche ore.[4] For more than a century, the world supply of the compound was mined almost exclusively from the Atacama desert in northern Chile until, at the turn of the 20th century, German chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch developed a process for producing ammonia from the atmosphere on an industrial scale (see Haber process). With the onset of World War I, Germany began converting ammonia from this process into a synthetic Chilean saltpeter which was as practical as the natural compound in production of gunpowder and other munitions. By the 1940s, this conversion process resulted in a dramatic decline in demand for sodium nitrate procured from natural sources.”

    I recently offended a local butcher by asking if he used curing salts in his sausage: he looked at me with disbelief and potential anger: “NO, nothing here in this shop has that shit in it”.

    I won’t come for dinner round your house, Mr. Kresser.

    • Dane says

      “Let’s take back your health” is the title of the blog. But let’s justify eating bacon–forget the nitrites/ates; it’s loaded with fat, saturated and unsaturated. Anyone that promotes bacon, or the Palio diet for that matter is a quack.

      • says

        Hello Dane, You’ve been misinformed about fat, as is typical of Americans, since our medical system is a hodge-podge of good information and horribly incorrect information. Both saturated and unsaturated fats are a natural part of our evolutionary diets and good for our health, when they come from truly natural sources, such as organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed dairy. Unfortunately, 95% of American dairy comes from grain-fed beef, in which the fats are basically the inverse of grass-fed beef. Saturated fats, overall are good for us, except that palmitic acid and myristic acid are associated with more cardiovascular disease. Well, grain-fed beef fats have much higher levels of these saturated fats than grass-fed beef fats. Further, grass-fed beef is high in omega-3 fats, like you find in fish, where grain-fed beef has almost none. You can read more about the differences at

      • DWS says

        I agree with what Michael has said. The mainstream “message” regarding what is healthy and unhealthy to eat, is woefully distorted by conflicting political and financial interests. The science showing that saturated fat and cholesterol do not cause heart disease has been available for many decades, yet it is still being denied, all the while the processed food industry fund junk science studies to try and prove the opposite, in much the same way as the tobacco industry did. It can be argued that the present ongoing debacle with industry-funded health authorities has cause far more injury, suffering and death than the tobacco industry ever did. And when you consider the statistical anomaly known as the “French Paradox”, where French people eat more saturated fat and cholesterol, and smoke more than anywhere in Europe, yet have some of the lowest heart disease and cancer rates – including lung cancer – then it suggests that tobacco causing lung cancer is certainly not the whole story, and that possibly a poor diet, encouraged by false information from authorities, is actually a far greater health risk.

        You cannot rely on your doctor to tell you what is right and wrong regarding nutrition, because you can spend one single day reading about nutrition and you will have received more education on the subject than he ever did throughout his entire medical degree.

        And you cannot rely on government “health” agencies to give you the complete truth either, when they are are funded by the biggest players in the junk processed food and sugar industry.

        There is no alternative to educating yourself, from as many difference sources as you can find, and search out the information that appears to disagree with what you already believe is true, and give it due consideration.

        • Fiona says

          DWS – On asking my GP what I should do to put on a bit more weight, she advise me to have some ‘elevenses': a salami sandwich and a small glass of wine! I shall never ask her about diet again.

          • DWS says

            Fiona – hilarious! There was a survey recently into how much nutrition education doctors received during the medical training, and I think the average was about 4 hours!

            Luckily people are starting to wise up now because of the interent, and the general public has access to thousands of medical studies etc. When I first started looking into this, around 2001, the only book I could find (that was not a medical text book) was “The cholesterol myths” by Uffe Ravnscov. Now, there are dozens of books, from authors such as Taubes, Kendrick, Enig, etc.

  17. beccy smith says

    Is is possible to buy nitrite free bacon without sulfites? I an a few I know really react negatively to sulfites…..

  18. Marcia says

    Chris, would you rather eat food with nitrates from highly nutrient dense vegetables with antioxidants or a manufactured chemical? I know there is a difference in the way the human body sees them. People don’t seem to react to vegetables with nitrates in them, but DO react to chemical nitrates. I would love to see a good study done looking into this, but maybe only our Maker will ever know the answer to this question…

  19. Don says

    Our own body produces Nitrites our saliva is swimming in them. Green vegetables are chocked full , beets are one of the big offenders. Nitrites are converted to nitric oxide a powerful vasodilator lowers blood pressure,increase athletic performance,increased blood flow to all the organs, Nitric oxide (NO) has anti-inflammatory activity as well inhibits blood clot formation. Dr. Nathan S. Bryan professor Molecular Medicine who has studied and compiled much information on health benefits of NO formation from dietary Nitrate/Nitrite content foods. Looks like they are unavoidable if you eat a healthy diet.

  20. ts says

    nitrites that occur in your saliva come from… wait for it… nitrites absorbed in your upper GI tract. You eat it, you excrete it. Direct correlation.

  21. cheryl a. says

    nitrites trigger migraine headaches for myself and others, so it is necessary to have nitrite free products available to those of us with food allergies.

    • ajjam says

      Most food “allergies” are either just sensitivities or all in your head! When I was in grammar school, there was absolutely NO ONE in my entire class (almost 100 students) with a food allergy. Now everyone has allergies?? And you want to blame everything for it, from vaccines to food processing techniques! Ridiculous! Just eat and stop worrying and fussing over everything.

      • says

        I used to think the same way until I got a head ache every time we ate at a Chinese restaurant. Soon I came to the conclusion that I can not tolerate MSG. I get very sick from it, even if I don’t know it’s in a food I have eaten.

      • says

        Really, tell that to the parents who lost their daughter last year after she took one bite of a rice crispie treat that had peanut butter in it.

  22. Lili says

    How about the smoking process, we have heard a lot on the news recently about the carcinogens in smoked ham, salami and salmon.

    • Michael says

      Rania – have you taken the time to read your colleague’s study? I can’t believe anyone would draw those conclusions. They completely ignored other factors like daily exercise and smoking! Just take two seconds to look at “Table 1″ and you will wonder who paid those doctors to come to those conclusions. Harvard should be embarrassed to have its name on that thing.

      • Jesse says

        Table 1 does include lines for smoking status and physical activity and if you take a look at the Methods section ( under Statistical Analysis you will see that they did control for these factors among many others:

        “In multivariate analysis, we simultaneously controlled for intakes of total energy, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (all in quintiles) and for other potential nondietary confounding variables with updated information at each 2- or 4-year questionnaire cycle. These variables included age; body mass index (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) (<23.0, 23.0-24.9, 25.0-29.9, 30.0-34.9, or ≥35.0); race (white or nonwhite); smoking status (never, past, or current [1-14, 15-24, or ≥25 cigarettes per day]); alcohol intake (0, 0.1-4.9, 5.0-14.9, or ≥15.0 g/d in women; 0, 0.1-4.9, 5.0-29.9, or ≥30.0 g/d in men); physical activity level (<3.0, 3.0-8.9, 9.0-17.9, 18.0-26.9, or ≥27.0 hours of metabolic equivalent tasks per week); "

      • says

        The Harvard study told the truth. American grain-fed beef does cause those problems. Read this article ( to see why the opposite (improved cardiovascular health, lower cancer risk, longer lifespan) happens when fully grass-fed, pasture-raised beef is eaten.
        Note that 95% of American beef is grain-fed, so the Harvard study was weighted towards grain-fed beef.

        The countries with lower CVD, etc… generally raise their cattle in pasture, eating their natural diet, which completely alters the biochemical implications of consumption.

        And yes, the Harvard study showed more deleterious effects with consumption of processed meats, which might be because of numerous factors, including nitrates/nitrates.

  23. Daniel says

    I think this article is now old – there was a recent Horizon program (UK BBC August 2014) that delved into the research. The key parts were that Nitrosamines are produced in the cooking process (from the nitrites) – so frying the bacon for example. They are also produced in acid conditions such as the stomach – on the production of Nitrosamines it did say Vitamin C kills the reaction in the stomach but for cooked bacon its probably too late (I’m not an expert) but a cold Frankfurter is probably ok with a glass of orange juice! To be honest it has put me off this particular food group (processed meats) and until I understand more I think moderation or better avoid is probably good advice.

  24. jmi says

    One of my children becomes violently ill after eating conventional meat products. “Nitrate free” don’t cause the same reaction. “Scientific studies” aside, I will stick with the ones that don’t make her sick.

    • Debbie Albertson says

      What kind of reaction does your child have? My granddaughter is having a sudden severe pain in her right jaw and within minutes excessive vomiting. After the attack she is completely exhausted and sleeps for hours. Wakes up completely normal. This has happened about 8 to 10 times this past year. Her pediatrician thinks they are abdominal migraines and was sent to a neurologist. Had an MRI and came back normal (thank God) but still don’t have much of an answer. Want to give her daily medication, but would like to find the cause first. Maybe nitrates.

      een to a neurologist

  25. Angela says

    I had no clue about the bru-ha-ha of Nitrates/Nitrites. I have to avoid them because of migraines. I LOVE bacon, but the only bacon I can eat is uncured bacon. I have noticed that certain fruits and veggies also trigger migraines. I am now going to check out their nitrate content. T

  26. Lacey says

    Nitrates and nitrites have been proven to set off migraines in people. Anyone that is susceptible avoids or limits their intake through processed meats. Nitrates are still not a benign as you are trying to make them seem.

  27. Francis says

    Yes. Nitrates and Nitrites are found in other foods as well. And by themselves are not harmful and may even be helpful. But what happens when they are cooked in the presence of meat?
    -food containing high amounts of proteins? I believe they form compounds called nitrosamines which are in fact pretty bad for you.

  28. Jason says

    Actually, I did find a credible pubmed reference to the reduction of hypertension due to nitrates and nitrites. So, I retract my previous statement regarding illegitimate source, but i think you’re still downplaying the carcinogenic risk.

  29. Jason says

    Your research is incomplete, and I am highly suspect of your intentions. Your “citations” link to other blogs that link to other blogs that link to other blogs. I have yet to find one credible source you cited. Additionally, you didn’t address the issue of nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are the result of your body’s metabolic processing of nitrites. Nitrosamines are proven by toxicology studies to be highly carcinogenic. While you’re correct in that nitrites aren’t the culprit, you fail to mention the things your body turns it into ARE. However, I will give you a pass here because it is also well documented that a regular intake of vitamin C before the ingestion of nitrites, like sodium or potassium nitrite, will interrupt and prevent your body from forming nitrosamines. So, drink OJ with your bacon and it’ll go a long way to mitigate risk.

  30. Rita says

    Sorry, I haven’t read the entire feed but has anyone mentioned that the sodium nitrates in processed meats can cause the increase of blood ammonia levels when someone has a compromised liver? The blood ammonia can cause all kinds of issues including stroke, confusion, severe sleepiness, and a feeling of cold. The only way to eliminate the blood ammonia is to take massive doses of Lactulose which enables the digestive system to pass the blood ammonia.

  31. Wendy says

    so synthetic folic acid is bad vs real folate in food (as per a previous article of yours) but synthetic nitrates/ites in bacon are equal to nitrates/ites in vegetables???? i think synthetically made vs naturally occurring is more relavent here.

    • gh says

      I very much agree. I used to react to added msg, but never to naturally occurring msg (as in a big plate of tomatoes). I react to added sulfite, but never to naturally occurring sulfites. Some manufactured amino acids (for example cysteine) can be exitotoxic, but their non-denatured forms are not. How different is manufactured nitrate to naturally occurring I wonder?

  32. Amira says

    Should we be concerned about the quality of the meat? When they take the care to not put nitrates or nitrites in the meat, it usually means that the quality that goes into raising the meat on the earth instead of in confinement lots (most of the bacon out there) is on a higher level. Bacon is mostly fat and toxins in the food the pigs ate goes right into the fat and then into us. Many farmers use GMO soy & corn.

  33. Karla says

    while they may or may not cause heart problems and cancer problems, I for one have an allergy to nitrates and nitrites that cause me to have to go to the hospital for treatment of migraines. SO they ARE NOT harmless to all people!!!

  34. Jane Sweet says

    Chris Kresser,
    Interesting you tout research as if research is solid or unbiased. Today, it is justification for trusting nitrites/nitrates. Yesterday, it was justification for mistrust of nitrites/nitrates.

    By parroting whatever you are reading and with lack of direct experience, you have little reason for such certainty.

    My body responds negatively to nitrites and nitrates. I discovered this before any article I read on the subject. Due to my body’s response, nitrates and nitrites are unhealthy for me. Therefore, I view your suggestion that they are not unhealthy and they better one’s health as lacking credibility.

    On a personal note, I recently started reading your blog. I found out about you via a webinar in which you presented yourself well, after which I concluded you might have the kind of integrity and approach I look for in a medical professional. I read your blog with a certain level of trust. I also shared your webinar and blog with friends and family.

    In reading your blog, I am seeing a side of you I did not before. It seems you may be more interested in presenting yourself as a guru for others’ bodies and health vs. presenting ways for people to know and trust themselves and their own bodies’ responses. This is concerning to see, and I wonder if you could address this perspective here.

    Thank you.

  35. Emily says

    Here is a thought…the best foods to eat are non-processed, natural foods, allowed to roam free and eat as God had intended. Now, if you make enough money to eat from foods of this caliber than go forth and prosper. If, however, you are not than eat what makes your body feel the best…period. Listen to your body, what is your overall health? Any underlying conditions, skin, autoimmune, etc? Well likely they are directly caused by what you are eating. For me, Paleo makes me feel the best I’ve felt in 40 years. What works for other people I respect and value ALL options and views. To each their own. Peace.

  36. Erik evans says

    Dr Kessler, Nitrates aside, should there still be concern for meats that are smoked which often include nitrates?

  37. Rorie says

    Not as concerned about possibly causing cancer. We are all going at some point. However, the trip getting there is more important to me. Was interested to know your thoughts on the connection between nitrates/nitrites and migraine pain.


  38. Mollie says


    Isn’t it possible — if not indeed, likely — that NATURALLY occurring nitrates/nitrites in vegetables (& in saliva, if you like) actually have a different effect on the body than chemically synthesized or processed versions that are then added to meats post facto??

    You (& many commenting above) have spent a lot of attention on the issue of the DOSE in vegetables versus that in processed meats, but I would be very interested in learning more about the provenance of the nitrite/nitrate used in processed meats. I think it will take quite a bit more evidence to convince me that something created or processed by man and added to my food is somehow healthier than natural foods, that have had as little human intervention as possible in their production. I would also be interested in understanding whether the nitrate content of vegetables has always been that high, through history and prehistory, or organic versus those treated with high-nitrogen-containing fertilisers.

    Also, what are the chemical pathways that the nitrates in veg undergo after ingestion? What is the purpose of the nitrites in saliva and what are they created from? There was no mention in your article of how and why they are there.

    It’s an interesting article, and I was hoping very much to be convinced, but I’m afraid I’m still wary.

    • Strawbery says

      Go Mollie… I am with you!

      I wonder too… if they are not “bad” why are the companies removing them now days… ? I had this thought about 2 months after reading this article.. because just 2 months ago, it was not so easy to find nitrate free hotdogs and lunch meat… Now, it is a bit more common…. just a thought…

      I also agree that anything MADE BY MAN can NEVER EVER be heather than NATURAL EARTH GIVEN NUTRITION!

    • Jared says

      Well, seeing as how nitrates and nitrites are defined chemicals, I’d say that the difference between naturally occuring and artificial is exactly zero.

      • alexander says

        Nitrites and nitrates describe a large class of molecules. There are indeed differences between them just like there are differences between sugars. There are studies suggesting for instance that the combination of olive oil and green plants such as spinach, eaten together results in the production of nitrites with a beneficial effect on blood pressure- they lead to the ‘relaxation’ of blood vessels.
        Studies are constantly being released by one side and discredited from another depending on interests. I think however that the correlation between processed meats and disease should be taken seriously. They contain high amounts of salt, saturated fats and chemicals of which the effects on the body are not fully understood. It is dangerous for opinions such as those expresses on this website to be taken seriously. Even the scientists conducting the research cannot agree, so why should we take the authors words for Gospel? As the ancient philosophers said- everything in moderation

  39. John says

    Like Mindy said, those who get migraines, or cluster headaches like myself, really need to try and avoid nitrate rich food as it can trigger the headaches.

  40. Mindy says

    We migrainuers matter too! :)

    What you say may be so, however, if you are a migrainuer, you may be extremely sensitive to high levels of nitrates as they can trigger migraines.

    Just sayin.

  41. Denise says

    I would love to explore the validity of this article with source citations. Would you please share?

    • SaraDu says

      I’d like to know which scientists were the “peer reviewers” of the study that discredited nitrates. I’d like to know who sponsored the peer reviewers. Not to be overly cynical but oftentimes industry will sponsor “peer reviewers” to discredit studies that show problems in our food supply introduced by Big Ag.

      • PorkleMcSword says

        I think you’ve misunderstood what peer review means. Peer review is the process by which scientific journals decide whether research submitted to them for publication is scientifically valid by having other scientists in the same field read the work first.
        Follow up studies and peer review are very different things.

        As to industrial funding, whenever scientists get funding from industry, the company will always insist that their name/logo etc is all over any posters or talks and that the funding is acknowledged in any published research. So whilst conflicts of interest can arise, they’re super easy to spot, if not explicitly declared (which they often are).

  42. Eric says

    “Nitrate, after its absorption in the upper gastrointestinal tract, reaches the salivary glands via the blood circulation where it is secreted into the oral cavity and partially reduced to nitrite by the oral microflora. There is a linear relationship between the amounts of nitrate ingested and amounts of nitrate and nitrite found in saliva.”

    It doesn’t just appear magically.

  43. says


    Runner’s World writer Alex Hutchinson provides a thoughtful summary of Lundberg’s pioneering discovery of how inorganic nitrate naturally found in beet juice (and leafy greens) is bio-converted to nitric oxide through a circuitous pathway in the body ( This pathway involves the swallowing of beet juice resulting in the extraction of inorganic nitrate from the blood stream, which is concentrated in the saliva gland.

    Upon release from the saliva gland, beet-derived nitrate is metabolized to the more reactive nitrite by the bacteria within the mouth only to be swallowed, which may be further metabolized to nitric oxide within the body to do its ‘magic’.

    This summary was in response to a suggestion in Runners World Sweat Science blog: If the beet juice magic happens through its interaction with the saliva in your mouth, …, why not just rinse and spit the beet juice?

    In light of the science, this question begs a follow on question: why not just short-circuit the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway and simply drink nitrite?

    At first blush, it sounds reasonable, especially if a runner is eager to enhance their performance, however, this may be a bad idea.

    While inorganic nitrate, especially when delivered in beet juice (or a spinach salad or smoothie) is nontoxic even in high doses, nitrite can be harmful at low concentrations. A case of unintentional nitrite ingestion by an athlete was reported on a runners internet form where the athlete developed symptoms suggestive of methemoglobinemia.

    Hence, there may be a very good reason why nitrate undergoes this circuitous route in the body to form nitric oxide. Keep in mind that only a minor part of the nitrate is converted to nitrite in our body and the metabolism of beet-derived nitrate is in fact released in a relatively slow and controlled fashion in the body, which may be critically important in optimizing the beneficial effects of nitrate-nitric oxide bio-conversion, while minimizing the potential harmful side effects of its intermediate, nitrite. The fact that beets and leafy greens are rich in nitrate with little, if any detectible, nitrite may also provide some insight as to why we should be weary of supplements spiked with nitrite.

    So, stay with natural sources of inorganic nitrate such as whole vegetables and vegetable juice. And the next time you drink a shot of commercially-available beet juice or make your pre-race drink with beet powder supplements, ask one important question: is your beet juice or beet juice powder supplement spiked with nitrite? Based on the science, today, there is no need to ingest nitrite or by pass the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway.

    Unfortunately, there are a growing number of supplements that spike their products with nitrite. The reality is that there are some nitrate-rich beet root juices and powders made from pure beets — with a mix of fruits — which are wonderfully effective at reducing blood pressure and enhancing performance without the addition of nitrite.

    Our suggestion is that It may not be prudent to short-circuit the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway. Just stay with all nature, NITRATE-rich beets and pure-beet juice or spinach-argula salads, juices, and smoothies. Keep healthy and safe.

    Some editorials to consider –

    • Mollie says

      Very interesting. Comes close to touching on my line of query regarding the way vegetable nitrate would be processed by the body versus straight chemical nitrate/nitrite put into meat as an additive. If drinking straight nitrite in a sports drink circumvents the natural chemical processes that have evolved in our bodies, then so would gulping down nitrate/-trite in processed deli meats.

  44. Mac says

    Since Nitrate/nitrites have been fairly conclusively proven to be an environmental trigger for Alzheimer’s/Dementia go ahead and eat your bacon, eventually someone will put it back in your mouth for you…

  45. says

    Hmm… Then it makes me wonder what’s in deli case sliced salami, pepperoni, etc that upsets my stomach so and makes me terribly bloated. I don’t have the same problem with more ‘natural’ nitrite/nitrate-free brands of cured pork and other meats.

  46. Rhonda says

    So many experts… little time…….you either eat it or you don’t…..if it isn’t a staple in your diet do you really have to sweat the small stuff? Just sayin’.

  47. Gloriamarie Amalfitano says

    A question came up on one of the Paleo FB groups about SPAM and whether it was Paleo friendly or not. many cited nitrates and then one cited your article about not fearing nitrates. So I thought I’d ask… is SPAM Paleo friendly or not?

    • says

      I would never eat spam.. is it still sold in cans too? So bisphenol-A hormone disruptors in addition to the over 50% fat content, high salt, and preservatives.. I can’t imagine choosing a lower quality source of “meat” than Spam.

  48. Grace says


    The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer said so in their 2014 report, listing nitrosodimethylamine (“present in foodstuffs especially those cooked, smoked or cured”) as a carcinogen. They put it in Group 1, not “possibly carcinogenic,” not “probably carcinogenic” but “carcinogenic to humans.”

    The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, in their most recent report, found “convincing evidence” that processed meats increase the risk of colorectum cancer and “limited suggestive evidence” that they increase the risk of oesophagus, lung, stomach and prostate cancer.

    Even the American Cancer Society, which has, sadly, been known to report on studies funded by the American Meat Institute and the National Pork Board, will at least go as far as to say “Some studies have linked eating large amounts of processed meat to increased risk of colorectal and stomach cancers. This connection may or may not be due to nitrites, which are added to many luncheon meats, hams, and hot dogs to maintain color and to prevent bacterial growth. Eating processed meats and meats preserved by methods involving smoke or salt increases exposure to potential cancer-causing agents and should be reduced as much as possible.”

    • Lucy says

      My husband was eating bacon (or sausage) daily for several years, (I wasn’t-only occasionally eating it) He also ate lots of hotdogs and other processed meats as well as regular consumption of grilled red meats. He was diagnosed with stage IIa rectal cancer last fall. It is hard to know the cause for sure, but he has not had bacon or processed meats since then. We still eat red meats, have been increasing fruits & veggies, and we’ve started eating legumes again. We’ve been doing the Resistant starch(PS) with soil based probiotics. He chose to have conventional chemo and radiation treatment. The tumor was no longer there when checked 4 weeks after completing treatment. He will be monitored for any possible re-occurrence instead of having surgery and more chemo. I know it is just n-1…. At the very least, I think that processed meats might be best eaten only occasionally.

      • says

        Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food – Hippocrates
        Do some research. There is a LOT of natural healing information for cancer on the web. Cancer is a symptom and a disease and unless you heal the underlying problem it may surface again. Ty Bollinger is one guy to start with just because he brings all the doctors who use natural treatments together in his videos, but there are lots of others. The good thing is that most of the healing requires no doctors, no money, only knowledge.

    • says

      I remember doing an experiment in my food chemistry class to determine how much cancer linked nitrosamines were formed from spinach over 30 years ago at UC Berkeley. We concluded in the presence of heat AND bacteria, you get nitrosamines being formed from either nitrates or nitrites.. it was a long time ago and I’m doing work on pesticides now, so have not thought about this cycle in a long time until my husband (an MD) sent me this article who wants to eat all the junk food he can muster. I appreciate Grace’s response. In our GI tract, the nitrites or nitrates get converted in the presence of stomach acid as I recall… but heat and definitely older and aging spinach with more bacteria significantly increased the amount of nitrosamines formed. I think we used the Kehdal sp? method to measure the different forms of N.

      I also read in the Nutrition Action magazine, written by a large number of peer-reviewed Nutrition Programs in Universities in the U.S., that nitrates/nitrites should be avoided due to enough evidence that they are of health risk. I am however now curious as to whether or not “natural” additives that the author says adds N preservation character to the food may also be just as risky such as celery juice and beet juice? I have never heard of this and am curious if anyone else is knowlegeable. Also, who is the author of the original article funded by?

  49. Hanz says

    Hello Chris. I don’t fear bacon, i love it. A problem with sodium nitrate/nitrite and me: I get a rashes around the front of my lower neck, then a few days later, i get what look like moles or warts in the region. I am suffering from what i think is Candidiasis. I have tried salt cured bacon from trader Joe’s and nothing happened. I hope this helps you and others. Thank You.

  50. ANDREW CHIN says

    Hello Everyone,
    Is there a difference between how nitrites from within a whole food complex, like celery, affect the body versus isolated nitrites (from a synthetic or natural source) added to cured meats?

    Also, is there a difference between nitrites from a whole food and nitrites created in a laboratory (a slight twist from the previous question)? Sometimes, synthetic substances can have a deleterious effect on the body when compared to its natural counterpart. Examples include folic acid vs. folate, synthetic beta-carotene vs. natural beta-carotene, ferrous fumarate and ferrous sulfate vs. natural iron, and synthetic vitamin E (d, l alpha-tocopherol) vs. natural vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol and other tocopherols, as well as tocotrienols).


  51. CountNeko says

    I have a question: You mentioned the study about nitrates and nitrates was discredited by a peer review. Do you have a source for that anywhere?

  52. Edith says

    I suggest looking into the primary literature a bit more before posting something like this. N-nitroso compounds have been linked to a variety of cancers whether they come from tobacco or cured/smoked meats and fish or whether they are formed exogenously or endogenously. To say they are not a risk is ridiculous. And yeas fruits and vegetables do contain nitrates and nitrites that can lead to endogenous formation and diets with high amounts of fruits vegetables and cured meats together do increase risk.

  53. Brandon Bauer says

    Interesting article. I suppose it gave me a bit more knowledge on the subject, assuming it wasn’t written for someone elses purposes. But I have a friend that has a reaction to Nitrates, and can’t eat foods that contain these. So bacon, and wine for example. They can take a pill to help lessen the effects, but they feel quite uncomfortable when they consume products with Nitrates. They don’t have reactions with fruit or veg that seem to naturally have these, so I wonder if there is something specific about the added Nitrates compared to those that are naturally present.

    I guess they are safe for Joe Average, but certainly you can’t paint everyone with the same brush. Just like there are coeliac or people who react to gluten.

    • Tonya says

      I have issues with processed meats that contain Nitrates/Nitrites, they trigger my migraines. I can however eat those natural meats or unprocessed meats with no reaction. It’s been wonderful to be able to eat bacon, hot dogs and ham again after 25 years. However now my cholesterol level is suffering…so moderation is in order!! Cudos to Hormel, Simple Truth and Oscar Meyer for using a more natural way to process pork.

  54. Thomas Loo says

    sodium nitrite will form nitrosamine when contacting amines and nitrosamine is a carcinogen as concluded from lab tests

  55. says

    I have spent 40 of my 60 years concerned about sodium nitrate in bacon, Ham etc. not quite ready to leap into joyful move into regular hot dogs etc from the newer groovier just meat frozen dogs or side pork as opposed to nitrated bacon.
    I do appreciate being challenged here and about Mercury, and radiation, all long standing concerns in my life and practice.
    As change comes slow I look forward to hearing about the same information from at least 2 other sources, articles

    Michael Lang, ND

  56. Sky says

    For me the effect is swift. Often I will feel the beginnings of a whopping migraine headache within a few minutes of consuming foods that contain nitrates or nitrites. The attention that these additives get is no joke for people who suffer from debilitating migraines. Nitrates and nitrites are horrible poisons, as far as my body is concerned, so I avoid them accordingly.

  57. Ivor Goodbody says

    A review of this whole subject just appeared in the journal Meat Science. Despite some minor conflicts of interest noted by the authors, I cannot too strongly recommend it for a balanced view of this whole subject, written in (relatively!) plain English:

    “The role of red and processed meat in colorectal cancer development: A review, based on findings from a workshop”

    From the abstract:

    “This paper is based on a workshop held in Oslo, November 2013, in which experts discussed how to reach consensus on the healthiness of red and processed meat.”

    Section 3 is the key one:

    “How do we think meat consumption is related to CRC [colorectal cancer]?”

    Everyone should read it for themselves to form their own judgment about the arguments pro and con. But I would summarise the main points as follows:

    – There is “no doubt” N-nitroso compounds [NOC} “have the ability to promote cancer development”
    – But there is a question whether whether “direct formation of NOC occurs in the digestive system from eating nitrite and/or nitrate containing foods”
    – There is a further question whether these NOC “induce carcinogenesis” [cause cancer]
    – Nitrates and nitrites “could, within limits, be considered indispensable nutrients” because of certain health benefits
    – But the haem iron present in red and processed meat “may catalyse the formation of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds in rat models” and be linked with cancer via other processes too
    – However, it is known that calcium binds haem iron and enables us to excrete it. This and other similar effects of a diet properly balanced for micronutrients may reduce or eliminate the potential harm of NOCs [section 4.3 offers good dietary advice here]

    The bigger danger than NOCs may therefore be a highly unbalanced diet:

    “If the diet is unbalanced due to a high intake of meat, such protective mechanisms may not be sufficient to protect the colon from DNA damage caused by haem-related reactive oxygen species.”

    This evidence IS, I submit, enough to rule out several of the most aggressive forms of Paleo (eg Ray Audette’s “Neanderthin”, Gary Taubes’ own personal diet).

    Additionally, if you select only one sentence as the up-sum of this review, it should be this one:

    “While these new discoveries concerning NO [nitrous oxide] physiology and the metabolic interrelationships among NO, nitrite and nitrate challenge the hypotheses that nitrite has significant carcinogenic effects in humans, the debate is still active.”

    ie WE DON’T KNOW.

    Sorry Chris: you cannot legitimately claim that one side of this debate is simply a “myth”.

    In the meantime, make mine fish 3x weekly, a little red meat every week or two, and heaps and heaps of vegetables every day. Oh, and hold the bacon.

    Wishing you enduring health

    Ivor Goodbody

    • Jason says

      That’s a helpful post, Ivor. This issue has complexity that isn’t being appreciated.

      It’s deceptive to give the impression that there are no health risks of nitrites/nitrates in meats when in fact they can combine with amines at cooking temperatures or in the acidic environment of the stomach and create nitrosamines that have been shown to be associated with cancer. Those are the precursors. The article Kresser cites (funded by the American Meat Institute Foundation) says “in absence of co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor”, so they are ignoring factors that have been associated with cancer. The article also only evaluated stomach cancer with respect to nitrosamines, not other cancers and diseases that other research has shown to be associated with meats that contain nitrites/nitrates. Their stomach cancer interpretation itself is debatable.

      It’s faulty to associate preserved meats with healthy fresh fruits and vegetables, as if the meat is just as healthy because both have nitrites/nitrates. Unlike preserved meats, the fruits/vegetables naturally have various antioxidants which can reduce the chance of formation of nitrosamines in the body. The meat industry has tacitly acknowledged the healthiness of fruits/vegetables by adding vitamin-C to processed meat to try to reduce the cancer risks associated with processed meats.

      The healthiness of fresh fruits and vegetables and their ability to reduce cancer risk is what should have been emphasized by Kresser and others, not the making of apologies for the meat industry and trying to marginalize the cancer risks associated with preserved meats.

  58. Laura says

    Thank you, this is interesting. I have been bothered by some time by the advent of all the “uncured” bacon, as if that is a health food and regular bacon is bad for you, but I had also read — and you have confirmed — that the “uncured” bacon just uses celery to cure it which is the same Nitrate/nitrite chemical. So people are just paying extra to delude themselves.

    I also read somewhere that in cured meat they are not allowed to use one of the two (Nitrate or nitrite – I think it was nitrite) that is considered unhealthy. But in the “uncured” meat you get a lot of that particular chemical from the “natural” curing.

  59. Fiona says

    TC (March 1) – What do we make of the fact that Tesco sells British Unsmoked Drycure StreaKy Bacon from outdoor bred pigs: “Our outdoor bred pigs are born in the heart of the countryside, where they have plenty of room to roam. They live out in the fields until they are weaned, rooting for food or resting in their huts, before moving to spacious, straw-filled barns.” How long is it before they are weaned; how long do they live in the straw-filled barns?

  60. NSku says

    Hi Chris,
    I wonder if you know anything about transient side effects from something in bacon. Both my dad and I experienced a type of head rush after eating bacon on an empty stomach. I had two pieces and my dad had one and we both had a similar experience of feeling dizzy and bleary headed and a sort of blood sugar crash kind of feeling but without the typical shakes or jitters. The feeling lasted for about 30 minutes. Someone mentioned histamines as the potential culprit and another mentioned nitrates/nitrites. It was a low sodium bacon with celery juice powder, brown sugar and sea salt (and it was smoked). I may have experienced this sort of reaction to foods in the past, but without identifying what was happening. This time it was very obvious that I and my dad were suffering from the thing we had just consumed– we both ate bacon, and we both started complaining about feeling wierd.

  61. Nick says

    Obviously, this goes back to ‘everything in moderation’. Regardless of whether or not the nitrites are derived from a natural (i.e., celery) source or not, it is going to be converted to nitrate via bacteria. Also, when nitrites are reacted with secondary amines present in proteins (also with the addition of heat), they are going to be reduced into nitrosamine, which is carcinogenic. So in conclusion, if you fry the bacon at a high enough temperature (which most people do), it will convert the nitrites present in the preservation to nitrosamine, thus forming a carcinogenic compound.

  62. says

    Reading all these varied comments from people that I have no idea what their field of expertise is, I can tell you that I now understand why doctors are never in agreement with each other and the FDA, USDA cannot come to any definite conclusion as to what is good for us and what is not. I think you just have to decide for yourself, based on the source, and the information provided, how you are going to nourish your body, or not.

  63. me says

    here have been major reviews of the scientific literature that found no link between nitrates or nitrites and human cancers, or even evidence to suggest that they may be carcinogenic. {?}
    Kris – don’t make me do the research just provide the link – one page summary of the major reviews will suffice.
    thanks in advance – ps make it a posting so I don’t have to read 100 comments looking for it.

    • me says

      apologies – CHRIS

      and quotations are missing from the copied text…
      “There have been major reviews of the scientific literature that found no link between nitrates or nitrites and human cancers, or even evidence to suggest that they may be carcinogenic.”
      (?) just looking for the referenced sources
      again thanks

    • me says

      I found your link
      and it states studies (plural) so you have that article in total that you can provide the references they cite.

      Thanks again

      Ingested nitrate and nitrite and stomach cancer risk: an updated review.

      “Newly published prospective epidemiological cohort studies indicate that there is no association between estimated intake of nitrite and nitrate in the diet and stomach cancer. This new and growing body of evidence calls for a reconsideration of nitrite and nitrate safety.”

        • says

          “The American Meat Institute Foundation provided support to conduct this review.”

          This is not in itself enough to dismiss the study out of hand, but I think
          (a) it’s worth knowing before simply taking their conclusions at face value
          (b) it should prompt far keener scrutiny of their arguments and results than if their source(s) of funding had been impartial.

          I also note that they do NOT rule out nitrite/ate carcinogenesis in the event of nitrosamine precursors, which – as we have exhaustively established – can occur via various types of additives, overcooking or both.

          Wishing you enduring health

          Ivor Goodbody (bacon-free but partial to red meat once a week, usually in the form of New Zealand lamb liver)

  64. Nena says

    The difference is the nitrites found in vegetables are likely along side vitamin C which helps inhibit their conversion into nitrosamines. Also, if eaten raw they will not be cooked which is another way conversion to nitrosamines can happen. It is at it’s worse during high heat so we might do well to saute our celery at a low to med heat.

  65. says

    From Scientific American:


    Another possible culprit for Alzheimer’s comes from the modern American diet. Researcher Suzanne de la Monte of Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School believes there is a connection between the rising number of Alzheimer’s cases and the greater amounts of nitrogen-based chemicals added to our food over the past few decades. Along with nitrogen-based fertilizers they include nitrates and nitrites, which are used to preserve, color and to flavor processed foods (as well as those added to tobacco products). In acidic environments, such as the stomach, or at high temperatures, as those reached in cooking, these compounds transform into toxic nitrosamines.

    De la Monte’s study showed that nitrosamines damage cells’ energy-producing mitochondria and block insulin receptors in rats. Both of these factors, according to de la Monte, appear to cause neurological damage and encourage the development of insulin-related diseases, including diabetes, as well as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s, in animal studies. Other research in humans also points to insulin resistance as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. “All the diseases that have changed over the past forty or fifty years are related to insulin resistance and they track really nicely with changes in our food,” de la Monte says. “And nitrosamines, I tend to think they have a huge, huge role.” She is now searching for a biomarker that will allow her to measure nitrosamine exposure in people and see whether her study results translate from animals to humans.

    End quote. Note particularly that nitrosamines can form either inside or outside the body. I have given reasons earlier in the thread why nitrites/trates taken in the form of vegetables may react differently than those taken from meats, particularly industrially processed meats.

    Wishing you enduring health

    Ivor Goodbody (bacon-free but meat about once a week, mostly in form of New Zealand lamb liver)

  66. tim says

    when i worked at farmland foods making bacon and hams and such this came up about the nitrites the fact is that you must consume over 5000 pounds a day for it to be of any harm please show me facts to pro or con this

  67. Spike Marlin says

    “In fact, the study that originally connected nitrates with cancer risk and caused the scare in the first place has since been discredited after being subjected to a peer review. There have been major reviews of the scientific literature that found no link between nitrates or nitrites and human cancers, or even evidence to suggest that they may be carcinogenic.”

    You don’t site nor link to your source. I think you are doing the pork industry a favor and those of us who want the truth will be looking elsewhere.

    Bacon tastes wonderful. I think they’re lying to you and us. If it means that much to you, go ahead and chow down. You don’t need to justify your diet to me or anybody: but do you want you’re kids eating consensus poison.? A lot more information is available, and non of the trustworthy stuff comes from the industries that profit by the use of nitrates to preserve their food.

  68. says

    So what about the link between processed meat and cancer, as Jackie mentioned above and which seems to be established by research? I am the first to doubt medical, “peer-reviewed” research because it is so biased by the medical and pharmaceutical industry’s interests. But surely we shouldn’t have a blanket-pass attitude toward processed, conventional meat. Are there no distinctions between naturally occurring nitrates and industrially produced ones?

  69. says

    You’re forgetting one very serious thing: the nitrates/nitrites being used to cure most meat are made industrially, not mined naturally as they once were. If you look at the processing used to create sodium nitrate, you might change your tune.

    This is much the same as saying that not all trans fats are bad for you. It’s been clearly shown that naturally occurring trans fats are perfectly harmless. However, these are much different from the trans fats created from the hydrogenation process.

    And one more example: High Fructose Corn Syrup.

    While HFCS may look just like regular sugar, chemically speaking, the fact is that the processing of it leaves behind not only a great deal of unbound fructose, but numerous heavy metals from the industrial processing.

  70. Fiona Weir says

    On reading ‘j’s comment today about migraine, yesterday I had some sinful but delicious bacon for my supper. I spent the evening with a migraine aura geting in the way of my TV screen and have only just realised that the bacon was probably the cause (I’m fortunate that an aura has never turned into a severe headache but I obviously ought to take care). Bacon is the only red meat I usually eat and I’m sure I can survive without it!

  71. says


    I respect your work, but having just researched the topic of nitrates, nitrites and N-nitroso compounds for an article on my own family food blog, I must say that I think you are right about the fact that nitrates and nitrites may not be harmful, but wrong to say that this means we don’t need to fear processed meat.

    Whilst it is certainly true that the studies do not show that nitrates or nitrites per se are harmful, particularly those from vegetable sources and it is also true that the methodology of many of the studies could be improved, there a great many studies have found an association between processed meat and digestive cancers (Hernandez-Ramirez, 2009; Knekt, 1999 Larsson, 2006; Loh, 2011 to name a few). The most promising line of enquiry appears to be a particular n-nitroso compound, NDMA which is present in processed meat, beer and various other foods.

    So, whilst it may be true that meat cured with celery is no better than conventionally-cured meat and it may also be true that nitrates/nitrites are not the problem, or at least not nitrates/nitrites per se, I don’t think it is wise to suggest that bacon is healthy after all.

    Incidentally, what you might want to be telling your readers is what will likely protect them against the effects of N-nitroso compounds in the diet; antioxidants like Vitamin C, E, beta-carotene and polyphenols, which modify the nitrosation process and thus have a protective effect, even when they are consumed alongside nitrate in vegetables (Kim, 2007; Hernandez-Ramirez, 2009).

    Personally, if I was you, I would pull this article and do some more research. An expert, 20-page review from the same year as this article, whilst only looking at stomach cancer and also questioning the methodology of many of the studies, concluded that future studies should look further into other factors known to impact this area, such as Vitamin C intake, emphasizing that whilst not conclusive, the strongest data suggests that salt and salted foods as risk factors and fruits and vegetables as protective (Bryan NS, 2012).

  72. Denise Passero says

    This issue is just another example of why I take everything I read about nutrition with a grain of salt. One minute something is going to kill us and the next minute it’s OK. I am one of these people who reads about clean eating. I avoid preservatives, processed foods, refined flours and sugars, try to eat organic as much as possible, choose non-GMO products whenever they are availble — all that good stuff. Just bought the book Practical Paleo and within a few pages I saw what seems like a contradiction. First I read no dairy and a few pages later it says choose full fat dairy. Some say no grains, others say whole unrefined grains. But I am not an expert. I have to depend on research from others. How is someone like me suppose to sort through it all? Sometimes it is just too overwhelming. That being said, I don’t need an excuse to eat bacon. It’s just back on my list now after reading this.

  73. 0colet says

    I read this post and comments (well, most of them!)!after eating some delicious garlic salami made by a small producer in South Australia. If I buy some commercial brands, they just have too many added preservatives and I get asthma (there are a few others that are ok). But some good quality meat from a smaller farm makes for a delicious salami. Got it from a specialist salami vendor at a farmer’s market near me – I look forward to trying more of his products, in moderate-sized quantities, over time.

  74. Kelly Leonard, MS, RD says

    Nitrates and nitrites along do not contribute to the formation of carcinogens; this requires the presence of amines, along with the nitrates/nitrites. Bacon, along with any type of processed meat, contains both of these compounds, and is associated with increased risk of colon cancer. Consumers must be informed on the science, not opinions of people endorsing the “paleo diet”. Here’s a great resource:

    • Mollie says

      I think it’s tragic that the Paleo Diet is being linked with the promotion of bacon eating. When I read Loren Cordain’s book, The Paleo Diet, what I took from it was that it’s important to eat some lean, red meat; plenty of fish; LOTS of vegetables; some fruit; some nuts; some eggs and some healthy fats. I do not remember his saying, “Load up on bacon and processed deli meats!!”

  75. DH says

    On lettuce, et al, containing more nitrites than bacon – I believe that vegetables contain nitrAtes – not altogether the same as nitrites. If memory serves me, much of that comes from the chemical fertilizers used on the crops. The amount of nitrates in vegetable varies considerably due to the amount of fertilizer used and the amount the plant will take up. Bacteria in the gut can convert dietary nitrates to nitrites.

    For what its worth.

  76. Jason B says

    Why are you guys taking health and nutrition advice from an acupuncturist? Talk about myths, there is no clinical, peer reviewed evidence that acupuncture is anything other than a placebo effect. It’s right up there with chiropractic and faith healing.

    As for this article, (followed by a discussion on grass-fed pork, for some odd reason) it fails to explain that nitrates, which turn into nitrites, are dangerous in the absence of certain classes of phytonutrients that prevent the formation of nitrosamines. Vitamin C can do this, which is why they now add ascorbic acid to hot dogs.

    Here’s a link to some medical information:

    • beefwalker says

      A naff and undergraduate argument there Jason.
      Chris isn’t relating bacon and acupuncture here, (disclaimer: Acupuncture doesn’t work on me as I don’t believe in it – but that may be as much a placebo effect as that experienced by those who DO believe in it – and I’d love to snap the neck of every chiro out there as they do REAL damage – and have done so to me) he’s simply writing an astoundingly well research article based on a lot of good, scientific work done by ‘conventional’ scientists. There were no hippes chanting over a packet of bacon to ‘divine’ the truth about nitrates and nitrites, just a good functional medicine practitioner who knows his stuff, but is never arrogant enough to say it, nor idiotic enough to write a piece without looking at a boatload of data and science.

    • says

      Not only does Dr. Greger have the worst voice on the internet, but he is also the most biased nutrition advisor out there. He cherry picks his science, often relying on old, disproven studies. Recently he tried to say eggs were bad because a judge ruled against them. I believe the case he referred to and failed to quote from was in the early seventies and proved nothing, only his belief.. Whenever I challenge his claims — and I do so civilly — he deletes them. Please don’t bother posting his crap here. Find some real science.

      • Beefwalker says

        Really? I’ve seen a lot of his stuff but railing against EGGS? One of the most complete, benign AND CHEAP (or cheep – sorry) mega-foods out there? I’m going to go find that piece now!
        cheers, BW

  77. Daniel says

    Nitrates and nitrites are fine. What you should be worried about is nitrosamines, a group of carcinogens which occur when food containing amines are heated with foods containing nitrites. The most significant one to keep away from is ham and cheese, in which the nitrites from the curing process of the ham react with naturally-occurring amines in the cheese, creating dialkyl nitrosamine. This is converted by a family of enzymes in your body, Cytochrome P450, into alkyl hydroxyl nitrosamine. So far, studies have shown that nitrosamine content is still very low, less than 1 ug/kg, even for meats cured with high concentrations of nitrites, added amines and very high processing temperatures. In meats with a commercial amount of added nitrosamines (100-200 mg/kg), it is almost undetectable. I guess the moral of the story is, everything in moderation. Large amounts of red meat cause cancer in many more significant methods than through the small amount of carcinogens introduced by nitrites. Keep your diet balanced and you’ll be fine.

    • Roman says

      Daniel, you wrote, “Large amounts of red meat cause cancer…” Where does this come from? What’s “large amounts”? What’s “moderation”?

  78. Brett says

    Here is why nitrates in conventionally prepared meats are so bad for you.

    Most all conventional nitrate cures in the U.S. Have toxic artificial food coloring. Look up curing salt and you will see that it is pink in color. This is due to the artificial toxic food coloring. Artificial food colors pose such a health danger than many European countries have banned them. If an entire country bans something for health reasons we should be wary of it.

    I agree that meat cured with a natural nitrate with no artificial colors added would probably be fine.

  79. John says

    I Must add in that the bacon which we consume and that is smoked as well, is smoked only with Hickory wood and is not smoked with added chemicals

  80. John says

    I have a question about bacon and Nitrates and would greatly appreciate any opinion or answers.
    First of all, I am a Candida sufferer, so my diet is very strict of NO sugars and I do my best for NO Carbs.
    Secondly, I buy my pork from a local farmer here in rural NH. All the pork is natural and the bacon is only cured by smoke and smoke alone! Can anyone tell me if there is any issue with nitrates with the pork I am consuming? Especially the bacon? Thank you so very much in advance!

  81. Ilya says

    I concur with Colin. When it comes to bacon, you get a double whammy in the form of smoke via sodium nitrate plus significant levels of saturated fat and cholesterol. Anyone who believes that bacon is healthy, needs to spare the taxpayer the cost of replacing your heart valves and just kill yourself.

      • beefwalker says

        “…plus significant levels of saturated fat and cholesterol…”
        Who ARE these people commenting on this thread? If you’re so abysmally, daftheadedly behind the times, what are you doing on Chris Kresser’s site in the first place? Grab a bowl of Cheerios (they’re ‘fortified’ y’know) and go back to Fox News or the Dr. Oz page for God’s sake.

        Saturated fat is an essential (ESSENTIAL*) nutrient, and its link to heart disease began with the fraudster Ancel Keys who doctored his epidemiological study to show only the results he liked.
        As for cholesterol, where have you been? Dietary cholesterol as a CAUSE of high cholesterol was debunked (even in mainstream newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent) a decade ago.

        I eat bacon, eggs, kale, spinach and any other greens I can find (cooked in coconut oil) for breakfast almost every day – and my cholesterol is not only great, it’s better than it’s ever been.

        *Speaking of ‘essential nutrients’ it’s interesting that there’s no such thing as an ‘essential carbohydrate’. ;-)

  82. Colin says

    This article is misleading … the cancer-causing agents in bacon are nitrosamines which are formed when meat is cured using sodium nitrate.

    • beefwalker says

      Sorry Colin, you’re wrong. Nitrosamines are NOT formed when meat is cured using sodium nitrate. They’re formed in the presence of a nitrosamine precursor (so probably don’t melt cheese on your bacon) or when the bacon is COOKED at a ridiculously high temperature.

  83. Julie says

    Hi Chris, Quick question regarding nitrates: what about nitrates and inflammation? I was recently diagnosed with a herniated disc L5-S1 and am attempting the low inflammation diet route rather than injection. I’ve read nitrates/processed meats can increase inflammation and thus to avoid. Thanks! Julie

  84. Cass says

    Woot! Sharing this article with my boyfriend. Now he can stop treating me like I am smoking a pack of cigarettes every time I want a hotdog.

  85. says

    Good read. The issue with Nitrites is not about fresh food – Its due to the way its cooked and hence the fact that Sodium Nitrite added to cured meat is regulated in regards to the amount that can be used. Carcinogenic nitrosamines are formed when this additive is cooked charred, this is the issue right here and why crispy bacon is worse for you than ham: http://cancerpreventionresearch.aacr…t/3/7/852.full Then you have the other additives added on top of this – especially with Big store bought bacon.

  86. Renae says

    I am surprised, nitrates make me feel very unwell, dry mouthed, fatigued and an overall tiredness like the flu. Am afraid I am not convinced they are safe my body tells me strongly otherwise. Natural nitrites our body produces must be biologically different from the ones added to food, my body can cope just fine with naturally body produced chemicals. I have also seen children’s behaviour become very difficult after a high nitrate meal.

  87. says


    You use the evidence “in the absence of co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor, there is no evidence for carcinogenesis” to support the theory that cured meats are not carcinogenic. However, nitrates/nitrites combined with amines (found in cured meat and other foods) ARE your nitrosamine precursors. So while nitrates in foods and saliva may not pose a risk, nitrosamines produced in the process of curing meat may be carcinogenic. Manufacturers are now supposed to add acids like vitamin C to the meats to avoid as much nitrosamine production, but you do not mention this at all in the article. Can you comment on this?

  88. willie says

    My grandmother ate bacon and eggs EVERY day of her life. She only lived until 94 and took very few medications. Live long bacon.

  89. Nonique Trahan says

    As someone who makes my own bacon….just smoked several pounds last night, as a matter of fact…..there is no reason to use factory created chemicals in our food. The only reason for nitrites/nitrates in bacon is to preserve the color. Without this chemical, the meat portion turns greyish and doesn’t remain reddish. We no longer need to preserve bacon and hams in attics and cold cellars, we now have refrigeration and freezers. There is absolutely no need for these chemicals. I think the article is blowhard hogwash, frankly. I’ll take my food chemical-free, thank you very much. There are many chemicals in our food and environment that “studies” showed were safe, and where are we now? Glyphosates (RoundUp), DDT, hydrogenated fats, GMOs….all supposedly safe. I can’t believe you wrote such an article, the damage it does to the real food movement!

    OH, and puh-leeze! There is a huge difference between any naturally occurring substance and that created in a lab. I don’t care if there are nitrates in celery or in my own saliva. I’ll add the nitrates to my pork when I drool on it.

    I do get passionate about bacon….it is the perfect healthy fat. Not need to douse it in anything but good sea salt and smoke from apple wood chips. Then store it in the freezer and tolerate the color change, which is completely harmless and doesn’t even show when the bacon is cooked.

  90. Annie says

    Hello Chris

    I red your article on nitrite. really good..
    I did a research on Subway food… I have a question for you… if you would have the choice on a meat that have MSG and the other one have nitrite, which one would you choose ?.. in the nutrition data, the roasted chicken breast has MSG and no nitrite, but the ham have no MSG but have nitrite… (I would have think that the chicken would be better.. but now, I’m confused ),,,
    (i really don’t eat fast food often… it’s for when you are really in a bad position.. but I’m asking this question with a scenario, real question is which one is the worst…MSG or nitrite??)

    thanks for you help… annie

  91. Laurie Goodwill says

    Is there any difference between nitrites made in the laboratory and “natural” nitrites found in food/saliva? By chemical composition are they exactly the same?

  92. says

    Surprising. Really surprising. I still don’t’ know what I think about it…
    I read Dan’s comment above about nitrosamines.
    I think I’m going to have to do a little more digging.

  93. Dan says

    But its not the nitrates & nitrites that are the problem, its when they’re exposed to high heat and become nitrosamines. The nitrates and nitrites in vegetables also contain antioxidants, vitC etc which protects from the conversion but the same can’t be said for processed meats that are usually exposed to high heat and don’t contain antioxidants. So unless you eat the processed meats with lots of vegetables and vitC foods I think the nitrosamines will still be a problem

      • beefwalker says

        Wha? It’s well known in the science world that on the whole, nutritionists and dieticians are amongst the least scientific, and stuck-in-big-agra-dogma ‘health’ professionals out there. Chris’ science-based approach and his legendary status as a thorough researcher who looks at all sides of the debate makes him for me, one of the most reliable sources of nutritional information out there. He’s not making this up people, he’s looking at all the research and presenting a piece based on the best research and current science.

        As for “an article that goes beyond provocative”? The only ‘provocative’ and dangerous infromation out there is in the heads and mouths of those who either have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or who are too lazy to keep up with the science.

  94. Dr Edgerton says

    Great article…..hotdogs/ Vienna sausage /bacon are all better for humans than any kind of fruit even organic. The amount of sugar (and yes fructose is the worst kind of sugar) in fruit is the real killer.

  95. Nancy says

    Interesting article although it does not allay my fears. I am to understand that nitrosamines are the main things to be wary of, and they are carcinogens. Nitrosamines are created in the stomach when nitrates have proteins to bind to. Vegetables do not provide enough protein for this to be a serious problem, lunchmeats do. Also vegetables contain anti-oxidants that combat the nitrosamines on the spot, processed proteins do not. Lastly, i do not know if it is the nitrates, the nitrites, the sodium, or other? that bothers me in processed meats, but something does, and i will get an awful vomiting migraine. if i do not eat any processed meats i do not have this problem (other than with other processed foods like dairy.)

    If my understanding about nitrosamines is incorrect please educate me. Thanks.

    • Amy says

      The sodium nitrite is a vasodilator, so it opens up your blood vessels. In my case at least, my blood pressure is already pretty low, and that just causes even more of a problem. Instant migraine.

    • Amanda says

      Besides the carcinogen part, research in the past 10 years at Brown University has shown that nitrosamines cause insulin resistance in the brain, which can lead to beta-amyloid plaque formation and ultimately Alzheimer’s disease. So yeah…nitrates are totally harmless lol

  96. Dr. Porky Pig says

    I raise my own pigs, feed them only scraps from Whole Foods, artesian water, and they sleep inside. They are real tasty! And they don;t give me migraines, flatulance, or pork-breath. Pass me some pig!

  97. Meme says

    I am tremendously confused after reading this article. Just can’t figure out these nitrates and nitrites. Why are they either good or bad for our body. Do we need to watch the consumption of them? So….is bacon good for us or do we need the Applegate brand? Please explain a little more on laymen terms.


  98. says


    “The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has just completed a detailed review of more than 7,000 clinical studies covering links between diet and cancer. Its conclusion is rocking the health world with startling bluntness: Processed meats are too dangerous for human consumption. Consumers should stop buying and eating all processed meat products for the rest of their lives.

    Processed meats include bacon, sausage, hot dogs, sandwich meat, packaged ham, pepperoni, salami and virtually all red meat used in frozen prepared meals. They are usually manufactured with a carcinogenic ingredient known as sodium nitrite. This is used as a color fixer by meat companies to turn packaged meats a bright red color so they look fresh. Unfortunately, sodium nitrite also results in the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines in the human body. And this leads to a sharp increase in cancer risk for those who eat them.”

    I find your article to be a real boost for people to NOT pay attention to what they eat when in these days they should be paying more attention than ever. Tsk tsking additives is enough to make me wonder what your real agenda is here, Chris Kesser.

  99. Lynne says

    Nitrates are potentially fatal to 5% of asthmatics….

    They’re a major cause of migraines, which in addition to being incredibly painful and debilitating, cause scar tissue in the brain which greatly increases the risk of stroke and thrombosis.

  100. Ken says

    In 1970 they found that if you take nitrosamines and inject them into the blood stream they’re carcinogenic then they assumed that this happened in our stomachs without testing it. When finally tested in 2010 they found that the nitrites and nitrates are converted into rather potent vasodilator. Nitrites lower blood pressure and that’s it.

  101. says

    People keep forwarding this article, asking me if it’s true. Well, only if you cherry-pick the data:

    Salted food regardless of how it is preserved is not meant for regular consumption. Traditionally it is consumed only during the winter months, but fresh food (or fresh-frozen) is always best.

  102. says

    Chris, thank you. As a Nutritionist, my eating habits are on a constant pedestal, and bacon is the one food I am forever explaining myself for. Now, I can stay silent and simply direct the critics to your article. Once again, dispelling the myths. Keep up the great work. Steph, The Natural Nutritionist.

    • Jason says

      You’re really easy to convince. If Kresser had taken the opposite stance, would you immediately believe that too?

  103. says

    Correction: For fear of garbling the results, I’d do better to quote the authors’ own words in the study above as a more accurate statement about the “Bottom Line”:

    “The difference in telomere length (T/S ratio) between the highest and lowest quartiles of processed meat intake (0.017) corresponds to a 3.4-y age difference.”

    Wishing you enduring health


  104. says

    Of 12 food groups in this study, only processed meat was significantly associated with telomere length, a marker of biological aging:

    Dietary patterns, food groups, and telomere length in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

    Bottom Line: Authors say processed meat (including “sausage, chorizo, scrapple and bacon”) added 3.4 yrs to subjects in study, as measured by telomere length.

    Hypothesis as to why: “Constituents of processed meat that may accelerate the aging process include saturated fat, sodium, nitrates and nitrites, cholesterol, and iron (55).”

    [Ref 55= Linseisen J, Rohrmann S, Norat T, et al. Dietary intake of different types and characteristics of processed meat which might be associated with cancer risk–results from the 24-hour diet recalls in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Public Health Nutr 2006;9:449–64. Link:

    Getout clause for diehard arvinophiles: “[I]t is possible that the statistically significant association we observed between processed meat intake and telomere length was a result of chance”

    Better hope so, I guess…

    Wishing you enduring health


  105. MC says

    Chris, I’ve read as much as I could today (just found this). My 8 yr old son may have Tourette Syndrome and OCD. I was told U.S. sea salt contains MSG, an excitotoxin. Is there any definitive way to know for sure if either Applegate Turkey Bacon and/or their Sunday Bacon’s sea salt is the one which contains MSG? I simply must know. A high protein diet is good for him, as he also has ADHD. Thank you so very much for you reply ahead of time :-).

  106. Lan says

    What about sodium phosphate and sodium erythorbate? Are they bad? (I looked up on wikipedia but didn’t find too much information. They don’t seem bad there.) One popular local farm here (Toronto) use those in their pork belly bacon.

  107. Vicki Brooks says

    Hah! Carolyn, your post resonates strongly with me today. Funny!

    The 3.5 years on a low carb high fat diet were not fun but were relatively stress free because I just”knew” I was doing the best possible diet for my health and any symptoms were dismissed as “detox”, so I endured all that for the eventual radiant health I was promised.

    Four months after adding carbs back in I am wondering if all that low carb dieting damaged my thyroid /adrenals as weight gain is rapid and body temp too low. I wish I could feel at ease with my dietary choices, confident that I am doing the right kind of diet and supps for health and longevity, but there is so much contradictory info out there I am not sure what the heck to eat and drink. GRR!

    • Barbara says

      I am finding myself in the same circumstances as you, Vicki and Carolyn. My husband and I were on a low carb diet for a time and I also dismissed complicating symptoms as detox – or at least tried to. The more I read, the more I realized we were jeopardizing our adrenals/thyroid. We were taking many vitamin and mineral supplements and now read that superfoods are where we will get what we need – not supplements. We have changed our whole way of eating, but the more I research, the more I hear that our current choices are wrong, too! Now the conflicting info on meat, and in this article, specifically bacon! We also had given that up – almost – for good! And even reading through these posts, I find comments and links saying even fresh and/or fermented vegetables are carcinogenic????? Well, I don’t even want to go there! I just started on fermented foods because of compelling evidence for it! As far as bacon, there is too much compelling evidence against synthetic nitrates/nitrites and very little convincing arguments for it. Just because “it is so good” does not mean it is good for you. Without any responses that really answer the many really good questions that different ones legitimately asked, I am left to conclude that the debate for bacon with nitrates/nitrites, whether synthetic or natural, is really based on the fact that it is what bacon-lovers want to hear so that they can just keep on eating it without feeling guilty. I really like bacon, too; but I for one am tired of being sick and choose instead to choose a little more wisely than just eating what I like. We are working towards becoming totally organic, GMO-free, grassfed, pastured, wood-lot, or whatever you want to call it. It’s unfortunately very expensive, but so is ongoing medical bills and loss of time from poor health. I don’t know what all the right answers are, but I certainly believe that God-made real food is a no-brainer and man-made pleasure foods, like “bacon candy” are also “no-brainers”. As for eating more proteins and less of everything else, that isn’t good, either. I have more medical conditions now added on to my previous ones from eating too much protein. I think that if we eat real foods and in moderation and balanced, we’ll probably do much better than trying to figure out which information out there is correct and which is misleading or outright false. But definitely, out with synthetic! And I trust the orgainic thinking much more than mainstream or fanatic reasoning. I hope you find the answers that you need in this frustrating array of contradictions. I truly believe the Creator of our bodies knows best what they need, and He welcomes and bids us to just ask Him. He will faithfully lead us if we keep our eyes and hearts fixed on Him. God bless you in your healthwalk…

  108. Carolyn says

    This is a total surprise to me. I was buying grass fed, uncured hotdogs with celery juice and I was eating celery regularly. It is nice to know I don’t have to be so vigilant, at least about cured meats. I guess I will add this to my list of things I was eating for my health that turned out to be less healthful than I thought. That list is getting longer and longer-vegan diet, soy (I used to make my own soymilk.), vitamin C, vitamins in general, antioxidants, coffee (at least for me because of my wimpy adrenal glands), calcium supplements specifically, possibly iodine (I haven’t figured that one out yet.), baby aspirin, fish oil, folic acid, whole grains or any grains, alkaline water (my body became too alkaline). Now I am wondering about vegetables and eat them mostly because I like them and they are low in calories. I am trying to find a way just to eat less of everything except for adequate protein. Now, I won’t feel so bad about eating bacon of any kind, except for it not being Kosher (no problem, not Jewish) and not right for anyone’s blood type (according to Dr. Dadamo-Eat Right for Your Type). Thanks!

    • says

      Hi Carolyn,
      I love the good humor and authenticity of your post. Your holistic health outlook and writing style is refreshing! So, thank you. Would like to get to know you better, too, as I am a big holistic health aficionada. My name on facebook is Ti Bergenn.

      Have a beautiful Saturday afternoon!

  109. Suzanne says

    My husband and I grow pasture raised pigs in downeast Maine. We have used a butcher 3+ hours away because of their nitrate-free smoking. We have had difficulty finding a convenient butcher who offers liscenced nitrate-free smoking, which is what our customers want and what we thought we should be selling. Your article has been very eye opening. Because of it (and the several we have read debunking the nitrate/nitrite myth), we are choosing a more local butcher. Better for everyone!

  110. Tom says

    Hi Chris,

    Thank you for your work to date- you have have not only only helped me & then some with my personal wellness goals but my with clients on broader scale as I operate as a personal trainer.
    I have quick question that appears to be slightly conflicting in relation to your article- ‘The Nitrate and Nitrite Myth: Another Reason not to Fear Bacon’. In a nutshell I am confused considering the nitrates you speak of in bacon are synthesized yet you draw a comparison in this article to naturally occurring nitrites in vegetables. In previous articles you flag the point synthesized & naturally occurring forms of a particular nutrient can have a completely different biological process i,e trans fats & folic acid, is this not applicable with nitrates?

    Many thanks for the clarification,


    • says

      I would think it’s not applicable to nitrates because the molecular structure is the same whether it’s from plants, saliva, or from meat curing. To clarify, a “nitrate” is simply a nitrogen with three oxygens attached. There isn’t any room for structural changes in that molecule. Compare that to trans fats, which are a completely rearranged molecule from its original form into a form that does not exist in nature (because bonding is changed), and folic acid, which is a different molecule than the natural folates that occur (e.g. 5-MTHF) in food.

      Hope that answers your question, I’m not an organic chemist so someone might need to verify my answer! :-)

  111. bacon says

    There should be a warning label on Cialis: Do not take with Bacon as this may cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure.

  112. Bob Smith says

    Your assertions are contrary to a recent study from the journal of BMC Medicine ( “For half a million people throughout ten European countries, a study in BMC Medicine found, consuming processed meat went along with other unhealthful lifestyle choices, such as eating few fruits and vegetables, being more likely to smoke and, for men, consuming large quantities of alcohol.”

    “But because this sample size was so large, the researchers were able to isolate meat consumption from these other factors. When they did so, they found the association between processed meat and premature death became even stronger. They estimated that if people reduced their daily meat consumption to under 20 grams — cutting sausage down to a matchbook-sized portion — about 3 percent of premature deaths in a given year could be prevented.”

    • says

      First, the study is a sham. It is has been discredited as utter nonsense.

      Second they are making an assumption that eating fruits and vegetables is “healthy” – based on what? Third, they are making an “association”.

      Another point is that I theorize a large portion of those eating processed meat have it with bread. Did they rule out bread consumption? How?

      Aside from all that, the article Mr. Kresser wrote was referencing nitrates and nitrites, not processed food.

    • Chris Kresser says

      There’s now way to control for all of the possible confounding behaviors and dietary choices in a study like the one you linked to. Smoking, weight and alcohol consumption are important, but that’s just scratching the surface. Since people have had the idea that processed meats are “unhealthy” for many years, people who eat more of them are also more likely to engage in any number of behaviors and make dietary choices that actually are unhealthy. (This is called the “healthy user effect”.) It’s incredibly difficult to control for all of those factors in a large epidemiological study. And if it’s not nitrites and nitrates in processed meats that’s causing the increase in death, what is it? The sodium? Other studies have shown that sodium intake only increases blood pressure in a small group of hyper-responders. This is the problem with relying on observational epidemiology in nutrition.

      This article was about nitrates and nitrites specifically, not processed meat in general. But I think the jury is still out on processed meats, and this recent study isn’t conclusive.

      • Beverly says

        I think you’re way off the mark concerning nitrates and nitrites. They make me physically sick. I LOVE bacon, I don’t want to have to watch what I buy. It really hacks me off, but preservatives make me SICK! I only eat bacon that hasn’t been treated with nitrates and nitrites and no hormones or antibiotics.

      • Colin says

        “There’s now way to control for all of the possible confounding behaviors and dietary choices in a study like the one you linked to.”

        What do you base this on Chris? Gut instinct? Ever heard of covariance? Are you saying that the researchers and their peers who reviewed this article didn’t know what they were doing?

  113. TomD says

    Wow Chris, has this topic created more comments than any other?
    I stopped or slowed down on my consuption of processed meats back in the early eighties. At that time I was living in Montana and I had a moose, an elk and a deer to process. During the jerky/summer sauage making I became aware of how little ‘cure’ or pink sodium nitrite it took to preserve meat. The typical formula called for only a 1/4 teaspoon of cure for 10 lbs of meat. The use of this small amount of cure really caught my attention. It told me that anything this powerful should be avoided. I then made my jerky/summer sauage without it and I then froze my products.

  114. Jennie W. says

    While nitrates or nitrites may not be harmful, from what I’ve read the primary risk of ingesting these compounds is formation of nitrosamine, which is known to be carcinogenic, in reaction with secondary amines in the body. What is your take on this?

  115. says

    What’s your take on Richard Weller’s TEDxGlasgow presentation referencing sunlight exposure releasing NO (nitric oxide) from the body’s store of NO3 (nitrates) and NO2 (nitrites) as it might relate to the safety of ingestion of nitrates / nitrites in the first instance? Diet seems to be where Richard thinks the NO2 and NO3 come from in the first instance and thus perhaps these elements are actually critical for health as opposed to harmful. Thanks!

  116. Cris Gardener says

    I started reading this while researching the Paleo diet. I think the basic difference is the amount of ANYTHING you consume. When people were raising and processing their own meat, the bacon was only a very small part of the total amount of pork consumed. I know that when my folks were growing our own pork, that bacon NEVER lasted anything like long enough! When you had to buy meat from the local butcher, you were more concerned with cheaper cuts or with larger cuts that more leftovers could be obtained. Bacon in either case was a treat. Anything you eat to excess isnt good for you, even health promoting items. Enjoy your bacon! Or dont. Eat in moderation, or avoid it. You be certain in what you choose and let the other guy be certain too. This simply doesnt appear to be a last stand issue.

  117. says

    I’ve been on the fence about this topic for ever…I think you make a good case.

    The thing is…have you ever tried just sea-salt brined and hickory smoked “bacon”?? it’s awesome!! we can’t keep it in stock…our customers LOVE it the way it is!

    I would consider using nitrates, but I actually might not get a very good reaction from my customers now!

  118. liz says

    Very interesting I got from an article!!! Very well explained

    What about those nitrosamines? When meat containing nitrites is heated (particularly at high temperatures), the result is nitrosamines, compounds that have been linked with health issues such as gastric cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Additionally, this week the Archives of Internal Medicine published the results of a study that assessed the connection between types of meat consumption with mortality rate. Although the study leaves open many other avenues for explanation (more processed meat intake trends with lower produce consumption), the research offers one more suggestion against regular intake of conventional processed meat. (Check back tomorrow for a full critique of the latest red meat scare.)

    While it’s true the studies/reviews vary in rigor, magnitude and date, the preponderance of research on the subject (including and beyond these studies) suggests that sodium nitrite is best avoided. Of course, we’re not suggesting anyone devote a significant part of their diet to cold cuts or other processed meats, but we’ll admit we loves ourselves some bacon. Easy rule of thumb: go nitrite-free. (And especially because these kinds of meats tend to be higher in fat – primary storage for toxins, we’d also recommend going organic or as close as possible to it.)

    Read more:

  119. says

    Although I understand the reasoning for the safety of nitrates for me this falls outside of my definition of real food and will try to minimize consumption.

  120. Edward says

    In “Wheat Belly,” William Davis says that bacon and other cured meats contain a lot of AGEs, advanced glycation end products, the result of glucose bonding with proteins, and that these cannot be removed from our bodies once they enter it. AGEs he says are the chief cause of aging, the deterioration of the intracelluar space through the congestion of inert useless matter, in such things as kidney failure, cataracts, athrosclerosis and on and on.

    • Chris Kresser says

      I’ve seen very little evidence that exogenous AGEs have the same harmful effects as endogenously produced AGEs.

      • Edward says

        Yes, I would tend to think that they would be broken down by our digestive tract. I only posted that information because I am currently reading Wheat Belly and reached that point in the book at the same time as a link to this page arrived. At any rate, it’s time for breakfast here in Northern California: bacon and eggs!

      • says

        Hi Chris!
        I’m reading Wheat Belly too and I was a bit alarmed about the exogenous AGE comment as well. He mentions that foods that are cooked longer are also much higher in AGE’s. I wonder if this applies if foods are cooked at lower temperature…do you know if that makes a difference? I’d think it would, but that distinction wasn’t made. He separately mentions that high-heat cooking produces lots of AGE’s.
        Also, do you know if all meats, cheeses and cured meats are higher in exogenous AGE’s or if pastured meats have less?
        Thank you!!

  121. Victoria Stanley says

    From personal experience, I cannot eat a nitrate or nitrite without “what I call” the worst Meniere’s attack in the world. For those that don’t know what Meniere’s is – it’s an inner ear disorder – and it’s painful. As a matter of fact, Chris, with respect to your article, my pain is so bad I won’t go near anything with synthetic chemical nitrate, nitrite. I can however eat, organic bacon with no nitrates, nitrites and any other products not containing the “man made stuff.” I’ve even been subjected to coconut flakes, coconut macaroons filled with these preservatives at social functions. This “allergic” reaction is so painful to my ears… I have no problem substituting with beet, and such which occur naturally. Even a blind test, a muscle response test, and molecular structure examination of chemically derived nitrates, nitrites all scientifically point to natural being best. I’m also wondering why your so eager to support the commercial consumer world, with such flimsy suggestions and probabilities of chemically derived nitrates, and nitries being helpful. I’m more disappointed, in this article for it’s poor support, poor suggestions, and bias writing. humm – Victoria

  122. handsoffmyhealth says

    This article is misleading and frequently confuses nitrates (naturally occuring) with sodium nitrite, a synthetic additive. It also does not take into account the superbugs that have contaminated most of the pork in this country from the CAFO operations, rendering all pork products extremely dangerous to eat, even when overcooked, which in itself is a problem for human health, due to the browning effect and the resultant toxins. High heat and “welldone” bacon is dangerous to health and even medium heat and welldone bacon (crispy, dark) is loaded with nitrosamines (sp) a known carcinogen (bacon fat and drippings are even more loaded). Pastured, organically, humanely fed and grown pork is safe to eat when not overcooked. The bacon from such humanely raised pork is safe even with the synthetic sodium nitrite added, though I prefer not to put synthetics in my body at all and I do have a negative reaction when I ingest any sodium nitrite. Also, it does not affect nor prevent the superbugs in 99% of supermarket pork and cured bacon from infecting humans.

  123. Pam says

    At post 50, I have developed various food intolerances, including not being able to eat bacon, ham and cold meats without getting migraines. A medical allergy specialist, has diagnosed that I cannot take nitrate compounds found in cold meats and oaked wine. I don’t think I’m unique in my reactions, so there are probably quite a reasonable number of people who’d appreciate nitrate and nitrite free bacon, ham and other such products.

    • handsoffmyhealth says

      Don’t confuse nitrates with the synthetic sodium nitrite, which does cause problems for many people, myself included. Nitrates are present in great quantities in many vegetables as is arsenic and other minerals, naturally occuring, and don’t pose a health risk for that reason alone. However, the water supply is so loaded with pesticides, drug residue, bromine, fluoride and chlorine, we don’t know how the accumulative effect in vegetables may affect health. Dr. Mercola says that lettuces grown, even organically in Yuma AZ and So Cal, are watered from the lower Colorado river and are so contaminated with the above chemicals that they may be a critical reason for the epidemic of thyroid disorders due to those chemicals known to be blockers of iodine uptake.
      Is this “Dr” a lobbyist for the CAFO pork producers? He sure is not accurate.
      PS re wine-could be the sulfur used as a preservative that causes your problems, or maybe you have developed a fructose intolerance as well. Check for gluten sensitivity also. I found switching to faro and coconut flour solved a lot of my problems, as well as filtering my water, eating as organically as possible, and upping my probiotics and Vit D, magnesium, K2.

  124. Jeani says

    hmmm I think this whole PUFA thing, that they are bad is getting out of hand! Only in America they think this, I think it started in California and spread to the rest of the nation unquestioned, while I do beleive cholesterol is good for making hormones, I dont think eating heaps of bacon and butter is not good either. You know people that own Ice cream companies still die of heart attacks early. People owning chocolate factories as well die early of heart attacks, farmers eating bacon and eggs everyday die of heart attacks too!

  125. says

    Unfortunately, many companies that sell meat are now using celery juice and celery root powder (and other powders that are plant-sourced such as chard and others) for a “nitrate” effect in the meat. Although these seem natural because they are from plants, they are anything but natural because the glutamate (an amino acid) is taken from the source and compounded in the laboratory – without its naturally occurring co-factors, enzymes, etc. and much more of this substance is its isolated form than would be found in nature is used in the meat. They are even more dangerous than the synthetic nitrates, which are produced in a laboratory setting.

    The result is that free-glutamates in the body excite neurotransmitters in the brain. This causes the death of brain cells. Dr. Russell Blaylock talks about this in his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. Free glutamates are anything but natural and they react in the body much differently than if you were going to consume celery or chard. But whether nitrates are synthetic or “naturally sourced” from plants like celery or chard, they are still excitotoxins.

    Here is the post I wrote about the issues with celery root and celery juice powders:

    It is difficult to find naturally cured bacon and other meats, but with the rising awareness of the many deceptions of the food industry, more producers are finding ways to naturally cure meats as our ancestors have done for thousands and thousands of years – with sugar and salt.

  126. says

    Chris, do you know of any pork producers who raise their animals naturally and cure using traditional methods, i.e. hand rubbed with nitrite salt mixture and wood-smoked? Everywhere I look, bacon producers are using that infernal celery powder/juice for curing. Surely there are still some hold-outs that didn’t buy into the “natural” celery hype… I’ll even buy my bacon online if I have to.

    • Honora says

      Bought some chorizo from Fat Alberts Smokehouse in Fairlie, New Zealand. It was GF and they said it was nitrate-free. It keeps for a few days without refrigeration when opened too. I’ll send them an email asking if they used celery juice or anything and hopefully remember to get back to this site. If anyone else wants to ask, their email address is : info(at)fatalbertsmokehouse(dot)co(dot)nz
      They do a range of processed meats and smoked salmon.

    • handsoffmyhealth says

      You are confusing nitrate with nitrite. Sodium nitrite is a synthetic and most processors use it. The USDA requires ascorbic acid (Vit C) to be added when sodium nitrite is used to prevent formation of the carcinogen nitrosamine(sp). Sodium nitrite is not a “traditional” method.
      In Colorado, we have a number of farmers who pasture their pigs, use heirloom breeds, feed them table scraps, apples, milk from the goats and cows, whey, eggs, vegetables and whatever they root up for themselves. The processors (butchers) use sodium nitrite, water and sodium chloride (table salt) to cure the bacon and give it a longer shelf life. It gives a characteristic taste but is not “traditional” curing or taste.
      Consequently, I do not eat the bacon, as I consider both the nitrite and the chloride sodiums to be synthetic poisons. If I could get just the pork belly, I would brine it myself using sea salt, kosher salt, honey, and smoke it with applewood, then slice it thick.
      Celery juice and beet juice gives the taste similarity to the nitrite cured bacon.

      • Edward says

        Pork belly is not that hard to come by, and making your own bacon is a great option to get around all of this back and forth about nitrites and nitrates. Sam’s club has an electric smoker for around $300 that can be set to maintain temperature after a relatively short period of smoke for as long as you like. (I usually smoke pork ribs for 10 hours.) $300 may seem like a lot, but you can smoke many other things and smoke them at very low temperatures, <200. I personally would not brine pork belly, I would use a dry rub of carefully sourced spices to avoid soy protein fillers, no honey. I would then eat it like bacon or have it Asian style with a semi-sweet, sticky dark barbecue sauce.

    • Marlys says

      Cathy, try Nueske’s. it is applewood smoked for 24 hours with real Wisconsin apple wood only. They get their pork from a group of family owned farms in Canada. Terrific product. They have the lowest amount of nitrate the USDA allows. They also make a cherrywood smoke that is an uncured bacon.

  127. Edward carney says

    Hi Chris,
    I read a recent study about beetroot juice was good for sports and increased capacity by approximately 15%. Supposedly, this is because of the nitrate in the vegatable. So I was wondering if chewing a gum, which i assume activates salivar release to the gut as you swallow, would improve performance also?
    Perhaps a dumb question, but I thought I’d ask.


  128. Eddie says

    “When it comes to food, vegetables are the primary source of nitrites.” Isn’t this because fertilizers contain lots of nitrites? Wouldn’t organic or wild vegetables contain far fewer nitrites?

    • handsoffmyhealth says

      Again, confusion between nitrates (naturally occurring in vegetables) and nitrites, which are formed from nitrates, either naturally in the body or by ingestion of the synthetic sodium nitrite. I don’t know that fertilizers contain nitrites or that nitrites are present in leafy green vegetables in addition to the natural nitrates. I do know that in farmed areas watered by the lower CO river, such as Yuma, AZ and So Cal, the pesticides, drug residues, chlorine, chloramine, fluoride and bromine concentrations in the water end up in the lettuces particularly, even in organically grown farms, so if nitrites are part of fertilizers, then they would end up in the water supply to many farms and therefore in all vegetables so watered, wild organic or not. Something to test and research…..

  129. says

    Here’s an (unproven) hypothesis about why nitrates and nitrites can indeed promote health, but bacon may not :

    The problem has never been nitrates or nitrites per se, but (probably) nitrosamines, either in foods or formed in the body (“endogenously”) after consumption of certain foods, or in the absence of certain inhibitors of nitrosamine formation.

    Key inhibitors we know of are Vitamins C and E and pectin*. All are present in large quantities in fruit and veg, but Vit C and pectin are absent (or negligible) in meat.

    Hence eating fruit and veg is an appropriately evolutionary way of taking “the poison and the antidote” together, with resulting cardiovascular benefits.

    But (certainly) eating cured meats is not an evolutionary way of doing the same. So even though producers are required by US law to add Vitamin C to them in order to minimize nitrosamine formation, there may (possibly) be health risks.

    Note also that the form of vitamin C often added to cured meats is erythorbic acid, a cheaper substitute for ascorbic acid ( ) It’s worth considering whether this may have less healthful consequences than nature’s way of packaging and “processing” amines, nitrates and nitrites, though I know of no specific evidence for this.


    “Based on our estimates, total dietary nitrate intake per serving is most heavily influenced by vegetable consumption, specifically the green leafy varieties. However, nitrate intake in conjunction with vitamin C and possibly vitamin E may inhibit endogenous nitrosamine formation [31]. Fruits and vegetables are sources of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, including pectin. Wawrzyniak found that pectin rich diets increase the total number of Enterobacteriaceae in the stomach of rats, which is associated with the reduction of nitrates to nitrites, but also noted that pectin was responsible for decreasing the amount of sodium nitrite present under normal gastric conditions in vitro [32,33]. The benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption with their vitamin content most likely negate the potential harmful effects of nitrate intake from these sources. Our estimates indicate that nitrites and nitrosamines are most commonly associated with the consumption of meats, processed meats and fish. Based on our results, beer had the largest estimated amount of nitrosamine per serving.”

    From the same paper (note the last sentence particularly):

    “Nitrate values ranged from 0 – 188.999 mg/serving with the highest concentrations occurring in vegetable products. Spinach and squash contain the highest amounts of nitrate per serving with values of 188.999 and 43.608 mg respectively. Sweets, nuts, fats and oils contain very little nitrates per serving.

    Nitrite values range from 0 – 1.840 mg/serving with the highest concentrations occurring in meat and bean products. Beef, pork, lamb, or cabrito (goat meat) as a main dish and liver contain the highest amounts of dietary nitrite per serving with 1.840 and 1.608 mg respectively. Negligible sources of dietary nitrite are found in cottage cheese, fats such as butter or margarine, and various fruit juices.

    Nitrosamine values from food items ranged from 0 – 0.453 μg/serving with the highest concentrations occurring in meat and dairy products. Beef, pork, lamb, or cabrito as a sandwich or main dish contains 0.324 and 0.453 μg/serving. Cottage or ricotta cheese, fish and bacon contain high levels of nitrosamines with 0.266, 0.222 and 0.219 μg/serving respectively. Alcoholic beverages also contain high levels of nitrosamines, with beer and malt beverages containing the highest amount of nitrosamines per serving at 0.531 μg and 0.301 μg respectively. Wine and liquor contain relatively little nitrosamines per serving with values of 0.019 and 0.027 μg respectively. Fruits, vegetables, sweets, and fats do not contain significant amounts of nitrosamines per serving.”

    I can’t make out whether the paper you cite adequately rules out this hypothesis, since bacon both contains high levels of nitrosamines and is itself implicated in endogenous nitrosamine formation, surely?

    Personally, I remain to be convinced that a meat product unavailable in nature, processed by a method apparently dating back only 3500 years ( ), is sufficiently in keeping with human evolutionary development to be likely to promote my health.

    That’s why I’ll be keeping up my celery consumption while leaving processed meats at the deli counter.
    (Of course, I’ll probably die from pesticides. Or worry.)

    But I also realise nothing, but nothing, will ever persuade arvinophiles to do likewise.

    Wishing you (and them) lifelong health, naturally


  130. Cheryl says

    So did you say in your article the “reason” it is added to begin with? Perhaps I missed that. It may be true there are nitrates found in vegetables. Did you say these nitrates/nitrites are the same as those artificially manufactured? Who is making a profit on the addition of nitrates/nitrates to meat? When did the practice start?
    So many questions—-

  131. says

    Does anyone know what commerical used potassium nitrate is made from? I ask because I can’t immediately square the supposed healthy benefits of any nitrate containing product and the assertion that nitrate free meat contains just as much nitrate (from a different source) as meat with nitrate listed on the ingredient label, with my personal experience. In short, if I eat meat that lists nitrate on the label, I feel mildly sick and deenergized for about three days. If I eat “nitrate-free” meat, I feel fine. If I eat beets or celery I feel fine. ASssuming this article is correct, what is it that is in commercially used “potassium nitrate” besides the potassium nitrate that makes me feel bad when I eat it?

    • Marlys says

      The nitrates used to cure pork are chemically identical to the”uncured” so called natural nitrates. The “uncured” bacon actually has 3 -5 times more nitrates than traditionally cured bacon because these nitrates come from celery, either the juice or a powdered extract. The so called sodium nitrate used in traditionally made bacon is derived from salt, another natural substance. Wow! So nitrates is naturally occurring!
      Here is another News Flash! USDA mandates the use of sodium nitrate in real cured smoked bacon both because it is the most stable, clean nitrate and it prohibits botulism.

      As they say “IDENTICAL!’

  132. Stacy says

    Can you debunk the info that the FDA allows pink dye in artificial nitrites? Because artificial dye is the most evil substance for my kids, so until you deny that, artificial nitrites will not be entertained.
    And if they are allowed, you should not be playing down the danger.

  133. KathyS says

    Thank you so much. Although it’s easier to find credible information on the internet it still takes work. When the internet first became popular, it was nearly impossible to find good clinical/medical/health information because organic/natural/supplement companies had thousands of websites. I am not against people’s personal preferences if diet, but I rankle when given non scientific advice. Another example is MSG. Not one well researched test with publication and peer review shows any evidence of harm or ‘MSG syndrome.’ In fact, it is extremely helpful in lowering Na intake in diets. I also remember when a tabloid published a phony research paper about bad effects of the drug Doxylamine Succinate which was very helpful in treating morning sickness in pregnant women. Because of a chain of events caused by the tabloid, the FDA pulled the product. It was found that the ‘university’ doing the research was a sham. Carl Sagan was right. His concern about the US was that the ability of Critical Thinking was rapidly disappearing.

      • beefwalker says

        What could you possibly have against the wonderful and brilliant-by-any-standard Carl Sagan?
        “…Isaac Asimov described Sagan as one of only two people he ever met whose intellect surpassed his own. The other, he claimed, was the computer scientist and artificial intelligence expert Marvin Minsky…”

  134. kbbb says

    One of the main reasons I buy nitrate-free bacon is because it is nearly impossible to find pork that is humanely raised, antibiotic free and a from a quality source without it being free of nitrates. They seem to go hand in hand. Quality is the key.

    • Jen says

      I think you might be kidding yourself here. There’s no direct correlation. Just because they use celery juice doesn’t mean their hogs are out in sunshine and not eating crap for food. The health of the animal far outways a sprinkling of nitrates in my option. We are finding more and more humanely raised pork sources in our area and we supplement our supply from US Wellness Meats. They ship to anywhere.

      • Lisa says

        A Fantastic source of humane meats is the site EATWILD.COM. Farms and their products are listed by state. US Wellness Meats is mentioned in so many posts here, but their prices are definitely niche market prices. Many of the farms keep their prices lower as a consideration for their local economy, but ALSO will ship. I highly recommend looking for local humane farms for your healthier meats. It is worth the time to read through the listings at the site and make a few phone calls. I pay about a third of the prices that US Wellness Meats charge and my meats are also shipped to my door and help support both family farms, as well as larger farms who are raising their farm animals in a humane way and set a great example that big agriculture could emulate if so forced to do so by the buying public. !!!

  135. Todd says

    Thanks Chris.

    You probably saw this article which Mark Sisson linked to on Friday.
    (Summary: It agrees nitrates are not a problem. However, “according to the Food Chemical Codex (3rd addition, National Academy of Sciences), industrial sodium nitrate (synthetic) is allowed to contain residual heavy metals, including lead and arsenic…. ‘acceptable levels’ to be found as a residue in sodium nitrate are roughly 667x and 300x the levels recognized as deleterious to human health…”)

    Is this an issue you considered? Does it give you any pause?

      • says

        we would love to hear thoughts on it too. while you dont end up with much sodium nitrate ( and even less lead and arsenic) in the food. why bother adding it when we have safer options.It adds to the total lead and arsenic in our bodies and as Chris pointed out it is in rice, our juice etc. So awareness is key i think and it yu eat a lot of it, try to def remove that ingredient.

  136. says

    Chris-Thank you for everything you do on a daily basis. I seriously don’t know how you keep going everyday. You put great information out there for free and people have to leave negative comments or try to prove you are wrong. You write an awesome article filled with facts, then you have to go through the comments and re-state them over and over. Not sure where you find the time everyday!

    • Baba Ghanoush says

      Actually, most of the critical responses have been fairly polite and on-topic, as has Chris. I for one want to see healthy, substantive debate on the issue. A bunch of “great post” comments really are not worth my time to read. I have seen quite a bit of dogmatism on the pro-bacon side, though. And at least some of the seemingly valid criticisms (see the Harry Banaharis posts) are going ignored.

  137. Gigi says

    Isn’t the whole point of paleo to get away from this reductionist view of food– this nutrient or that additive, incomplete mechanisms used to rationalize why this process or that one is ok?
    Meat curing is a pretty sophisticated process Besides, here’s a meta study that shows most of the observations weigh in AGAINST process meat:

  138. says

    Hi Chris,

    I appreciate the article but I am not sure you have made the case. I am open to the concept but did not find your references compelling and I think you are making a big leap between when trying to call processed foods containing nitrites and forming nitrosamines….. and the vasodialatory effects of NO2 similar. Curios to hear your thoughts. Hope I am not being too much of a stickler :)


    • Chris Kresser says

      What does it matter if the foods contain nitrites and form nitrosamines? That’s the whole point of this article. There’s no convincing evidence that nitrites or nitrosamines cause cancer:

      New information has clearly established that nitrite and nitrate per se are important biological compounds and that nitrosation is an important feature of NO metabolism in human physiology including many nitrosation reactions. S-nitrosation may be partic- ularly important to the physiological effects of NO and nitrite. Car- cinogenic N-nitrosation requires conditions beyond those usually found in normal metabolism. These extraordinary conditions were the focus of concern for exposure of populations to nitrate and ni- trite before their role in overall nitrogen oxide metabolism became better understood.

      • Barbara says

        You keep re-posting the same passages! But you still are not addressing the real questions that people are asking! I sense that others are feeling frustrated, too, by your lack of real answers to real questions. Your repeat passages are not doing it.

  139. says

    I think this is a piece to the great bacon debate that you are missing… LEAD and ARSENIC.
    we just blogged on it and thought that you might want to share this info with you readers.
    here is a taste :
    “While we can’t be sure how much of these heavy metals make it into our food, let’s take some time for a little basic math. The Food Chemical Codex referenced earlier allows for up to 10,000 ppb (parts-per-billion) of lead and 3,000 ppb of arsenic to be present in synthetic sodium nitrate. However, the levels for drinking water, at which these chemicals present a serious health risk, set forth by the EPA are 15 ppb and 10 ppb, respectively. This means that the “acceptable levels” to be found as a residue in sodium nitrate are roughly 667x and 300x the levels recognized as deleterious to human health, again respectively. We repeat, still think that a nitrate is just a nitrate?”

    • DavidM says

      Chris, I am perplexed why you have not responded to this post? In my opinion, there are just too many questions to declare nitrates as safe and healthy especially the post about epidemiological data that you did respond to. Even if the epidemiological data is flawed or not reliable, it still raises questions, in my opinion, too many questions. However, this post about potential LEAD and ARSENIC contamination in synthetic sodium nitrate trumps all concerns mentioned in all of the responses. If this is true, I cannot see how sodium nitrate can be declared healthy. So either you think this is not true, or for some other reason think this is not important. If you have the time, please respond – not to me – but this post from mira and jayson calton. Thanks so much!!

  140. jim says

    Great article Chris. You show great patience in your responses to the comments! I’d be banging my head against a wall. Do you have any thoughts to Paul Jaminet’s 3 part pork is bad series?

    • Chris Kresser says

      I do think caution is warrante with pork. But as long as it’s cooked thoroughly, or cured/brined in advance, I don’t see a problem with it. And it’s delicious!

      • Lisa says

        Hi. In another article you mentioned nuts are high in omega 6, and may want to be avoided by those who “over-use”. In another you mentioned coconut milk may cause digestive distress in people with IBS or gut issues. These articles were written with paleo and LC’ers in mind. However when issues of sensitivities and migraines are addressed in these responses to your article about nitrates, it is not addressed and potential over-use of nitrated commercial cured meats is not acknowledge either. You mention the amounts of nitrated commercially raised cured meats ingested would be trivial in the diet – is this coming directly from the study or is it your personal observations of all the paleo and LC’ers you have worked with? I personally, in my very limited scope, have met numersous paleo and LC’ers who commonly eat bacon, hot dogs, and other nitrate cured commercially raised meats in their Daily diet, many times as the base of two meals a day, often charred and often in large amounts. What would your answer be to the omega 6 imbalance issue, and even the nitrate research with this fact in mind?

        Notice also the word cause, and Not does not promote cancerous or pre-cancerous conditions. Most studies Over-do the amounts ingested, to the point of impossibility of human consumption, but trivial amounts in the diet are referred to considering this newer “better” study.

        I also assume the study did not address the dye issue and also did not use charred meats.

        The happiness of the buffet seeker’s bacon comment should indicate something to you. Yes, it is delicious, as is coconut milk and are nuts, but nitrate-cured conventional bacon doesn’t benefit health, according to your article, it just doesn’t cause cancer. Whereas coconut milk and nuts packaged and produced properly, do have health benefits for most people.

        I am glad that chemical nitrates packaged into my commercially raised pork will not cause cancer! However, should I therefore eat More of these Delicious cured meats to substitute for the coconut milk and nuts I am reducing? Should these people with allergies and sensitivies go ahead and eat these nitrated commercial cured meats – as it won’t cause them cancer?!

        I am happy people have your articles that address some specific issues, and which the many informative replies can introduce a lot of new information to many. I understand as a health professional you must stay somewhat moderate, as not to offend the powers that be that can make licensing issues a nightmare, or to alienate those people from your practice who use labeling words such a “hippie” and limit themselves to mainstream information who could benefit greatly from your approach. So with respect, we can agree to disagree, as I feel many variables were not acknowledged or defined in the study as described and this article was focused on sharing the study results and confirming it was a well executed study.I also thank you for allowing the various input and discussion of issues and related issues. I feel this is a personal service you are allowing, your articles are helpful and well-meaning and your blog is an excellent forum for new and sharing of information.


        Much respect, being a health professional wading through this borage of conflicting information, and the inherent unspoken pressure of maintaining balance between not insulting commercial interests who can make life difficult for a well-meaning professional, and those potential clients who may be turned off to “hippie” or “radical” ideology , you are doing very well in addressing some little known issues and helping people who may have specific issues. Issues then addressed in the posts which are new to many people.

        I commend what you are doing, and as you have replied in other posts, you have the right to stick to your opinion, and we can agree to disagree. Much respect.

        Just a note of inconsistency in this article that people are trying to get you to recognize. A common theme among your articles has been to acknowledge people who are ill or suffer from ailments and to address over-use issues and the implications. I feel you are dismissing the issue of omega-6 pufu’s in conventional meats and the possible over-use by paleo and LC dieters. I have a feeling you do love your delicious nitrate cured bacon and are excited to share it does not cause cancer! And that you are a little stubborn and like to make your point, which is why I bring up the common thread in your articles, which is unacknowledged through this post. I really enjoy your articles, they bring up many excellent discussions. I am glad that as a health professionals you have acknowledge the imbalance of omega-6 in conventional meats, assuming it isn’t a problem because of the amount in the diet. Please consider that cured conventional meats ARE a daily part of many paleo and LC people’s diets, and despite it being

        • Lisa says

          oops, last re-written and mistakenly unedited paragraphs are to be ignored, as they were re-written and believed to have been deleted. There does not seem to be a view/edit function. Please edit this out or don’t read last two paragraphs. oops, my apologies!

  141. says

    suggesting that naturally occurring nitrates/nitrites aren’t really different that synthetically manufactured sodium nitrate/nitrite is pretty disappointing. Yes, you may have more “nitrates/nitrites” in products using celery & sea salt, but is mere quantity the issue? In a whole food source, the nitrates/nitrites exist in relationship to other constituents. With synthetic forms, the nitrates/nitrites exist in a relationship to… pink dye? What exactly is in that pink dye? What’s that made out of? What action does it have? And there are other constituents in it as well, that are allowable. What are they? Would they have no impact?

    There are SO many reports of people who reliably and strongly react to chemical nitrates/nitrites who don’t react to naturally occurring nitrates/nitrites that it seems that dismissing the difference between the two seems to me a significant oversight.

  142. David H says

    The health risks associated with cured meat is not the cured meat. The problem may be what it is eaten with. Most low carbers or paleo folk will eat it with vegetables or other protean sources. The majority will eat it with bread and assorted other processed carbs. Any health problem association is probably due to eating the cured meat with bread and soda.
    The pizza crust and soda is the problem not the peperoni.
    I am not advocating a processed meat diet. Fresh meat is better; however, the amounts or processed meat a normal person would eat should have no effect on a normal person.

  143. a.j. says

    Chris, this is good to know, however, for those of us with systemic inflammation issues is it still advisable to limit bacon consumption (to some degree) in favor of lower n-6 meats?

    • says

      Dear A.J.,
      I have a lot of success helping people with systemic inflammation. And I’m interested to know what you already have tried — which protocol, and with what degree of success. Would you please get in touch?
      Thank you,
      T. Bergenn
      Longevity Consultant

  144. Ken says

    So, people think that eating food with Sodium Nitrate is good for you, forget the fact that any additional information that comes out after the initial CAN be nothing more than the industry responsible for placing the Nitrates in the food to do damage control and make it look like the initial report look like a lie.

    I mean seriously, think about this, if something is added to natural products to make the food last longer than it’s supposed to, don’t you think that maybe….just maybe it’s not so good for you? GMO’s have been selling everybody genetically modified foods, and yet when these genetically modified foods are thrown in front of animals that aren’t brought up on a farm, they mostly reject them. DEER won’t eat GMO corn.

    If food is genetically modified to stop one creature from eating it, that usually means that it can, over time, stop everyone from eating it, you can either take research at face value, or you can stop, think for yourself, and figure out that when you buy a food that has chemicals for ingredients instead of food ingredients, it may not be meant to go into your body. Mono Sodium Glutamate is not good for you, yet it was harkened to be one of the best flavour additives for years, and people debated it…..

    So if the lot of you are out there screaming that Sodium Nitrate is good for you, here, believe this one too.

    • Liane says

      You need to base your premise in fact. Curing, while it does add flavor, is primarily to prevent botulism, not to “make it last longer”. Smoking and curing are ancient food preservation methods developed to make stuff last longer, certainly, but the modern meat processing methods are more aimed at deadly pathogen control, not shelf life.

      And MSG is a umami contributing flavor enhancer and does nothing to prevent illness from soil borne anaerobes or extend shelf life.

      I do not think sodium nitrate is “good for me”. However, my forehead wrinkles notwithstanding, I prefer it to botulism.

  145. Michael says

    I have a source of salt cured pork, without nitrates/trites. I buy it (used to anyway) to avoid the afore mentioned chemicals. Now I will buy it just because it tastes better.

    The comments regarding 0mega 6 in commercially raised pork are valid. Feeding any animal corn causes an unbalance, especially in beef. Not to mention the fact that pigs are fed GMO corn/soy. I eat very little cures/conventional meat just because of that. I really think the whole nitrate/trite argument misses a much larger issue. Just avoid commercially produced meat period. I know it’s difficult and I am certainly guilty of the occasional steak or as mentioned salt cured bacon purchase.

    But GMO’s are a far more pressing and serious matter than nitrates. BTW, conventionally grown veggies have far more nitrates than organically grown produce.

  146. says

    Bacon has its own disadvantages too without the nitrates, like unseen parasite eggs not killed by stir-frying. Not to mention meat’s bacteria is still “eating up” flesh and multiplying even when you store it at -22 deg celcius. You may also be exposed to CJD. Of course, all who eat Paleo love meat.

  147. Francesca says

    Chris, is the combination of sugar and omega 6 particularly unhealthy? In Australia all bacon is cured using sugar.

  148. Raymond says

    Great article Chris! I do personally love good quality cured meats (could be my Dutch heritage). I hope this isn’t a dumb question but I’m interested in your perspective on Nitrates in wine and immune reactions. I generally don’t have problems with cured meats but I can have adverse (what appear to be) immune reactions to wines – especially the cheapers ones (which is always a good excuse to drink a more expensive drop :-). I had always put these down to the use of nitrates as preservatives. Why I thought this is that you can buy drops that supposedly remove the nitrates from the wine (I believe it is peroxide which supposedly reacts With the nitrates turning them into NO). This seems to help although I do not have any evidence apart from my own direct experience (which of course does not prove anything). So despite nitrates/nitrites not necessarily being bad for us (especially for healthy people) could they still cause immune issues for those of us with particularly sensitive GI problems? Or would this be caused by something else? I’m sure there are plenty of other possible causes.

  149. Tanya says

    Naturally occurring nitrates are different. Also, it’s not that sodium nitrates causes cancer. Sodium nitrates pass through the protective barriers that protect your brain. Sodium nitrates which are in most deli meats as well are being linked to alzheimer’s and dementia, therefore I will still buy nitrate free meats and stick to the naturally occurring nitrates that are found in vegetables and not man made products.

  150. says

    hi, I know this article is about being able to eat bacon, i am happy about that. I am wondering about advice i received from a dietician here in the netherlands who told me to limit my leafygreens intake to three times a week because of the nitrate/ nitrite issue. I love starting my day with a green smoothie made usually from spinach and this dietician just blew me away.

    So, in answer to the question – yes, i will consider reintroducing meat candy to my diet! But please could you address this spinach question? may i return to daily portions of green leafy veggies????

    • Lisa says

      There is quite a bit on the internet, no studies, just a comment, about nitrate in green vegetables being good as a heart disease preventative and a positive influence on athletic performance, as well as a good nutritional profile.
      However, large amounts of phytates in raw greens can bind with minerals and remove the minerals from the body, possibly causing an imbalance or just not producing desired results of enhanced nutrition. Thus making the green smoothie concept somewhat redundant.
      Cooking reduces phytates, but so does par-boiling and not drinking the cooking water, where most of the phytates remain. If you just love the freshness and flavor of green smoothies and don’t have a problem with stones, or worry of concern about forming stones, then consider the smoothie as a treat and add those minerals later in your diet. However, if you love the flavor and are concerned with stones, mineral intake and want the highest nutritional benefit, consider quickly par-boiling the green leafie and adding it to your green smoothie. There is no research that I am aware of as far as time needed to reduce the phytates when par-boiling. I personally take my electric water heater, pour the hot water over the greens in a bowl, stir quickly until the water becomes slightly green, then add to the smoothie. The short amount of time retains the character and doesn’t create a cooked flavor and is still tastes good in the smoothie. In this case rely on your other fresh veggies or fruits for your enzymes, etc.
      A solution to stay within your Dr.’s recommendations and still enjoy. However, if you have a specific health concern being addressed and have a sensitivity to natural nitrates, as you mentioned specifically nitrates, then please ignore the above idea. However, I would further question your Dr. so you can fully understand the specific reason to your individual health as to why nitrates could be harmful in your circumstance.

  151. Chad says

    The irony of an (otherwise seemingly well rereaearched) article debunking one misconception while perpetuating another is amusing.

    Trichinosis has not been a serious concern for commercial pork in over a decade. Of the very few cases (fewer than 10 a year) reported in the US, almost all trace back to eating game meats, not farmed pork.

    Stop ruining your pork and enjoy it cooked to medium with a slight pink hue in the middle!

  152. Harry Banaharis says

    Hi Chris,

    Your dismissal of epidemiological evidence is disconcerting.

    What type of evidence do you look for in drawing your conclusions?

    • Chris Kresser says

      I did not dismiss it. I said it can’t be relied upon to prove causality, especially when it uses food frequency questionnaires (FFQs) which have been proven to be highly unreliable.

      In any event, it’s a moot point in this case since the review paper I cited clearly shows that the epidemiological evidence doesn’t support a link between nitrites, nitrates, nitrosamines and cancer.

      • Harry Banaharis says

        This meta-analysis of 40 studies ( is not consistent with your view of FFQs being proven to be highly unreliable.

        I would also draw your attention to the following studies:

        Nitrates inhibit iodine uptake in the thyroid (promote hypothyroidosis?) and increase the risk of thyroid cancer in males (2011, large prospective study).

        Association between cured meat consumption during pregnancy and risk of childhood brain tumors (2004, meta-analysis).

        Association between nitrosamine and risk of gastric cancer (2006, systematic review).

        Association between nitrite intake and ovarian cancer – 30% increase in highest consumers (2012, large prospective study)

        • Chris Kresser says

          Nitrosation must now be considered broadly in terms of both S- and N-nitrosated species, since S-nitrosation is kinetically favored. Protein S-nitrosation is a significant part of the role of NO in cellular signal transduction and is involved in critical aspects of cardiovascular health. A critical review of the animal toxicology literature of nitrite indicates that in the absence of co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor, there is no evidence for carcinogenesis. Newly published prospective epidemiological cohort studies indicate that there is no association between estimated intake of nitrite and nitrate in the diet and stomach cancer. This new and growing body of evidence calls for a reconsideration of nitrite and nitrate safety.

          Re: FFQs, see:

          Relative Validity of Food Intake Estimates Using a Food Frequency Questionnaire Is Associated with Sex, Age, and Other Personal Characteristics

          People with diagnosed medical conditions tend to over-estimate their consumption of meat and processed meat products ( This could certainly affect the results of epidemiological studies examining relationships between processed meat consumption and cancer, since people with medical conditions involving oxidative damage and inflammation are at higher risk for cancer. It also means that meat consumption will be inaccurately associated with disease in general.

          The potential for confounding in these studies is also extremely high. Investigators can only control for so many factors, and they only control for those they believe are worth controlling for. I have not yet seen a study on processed meat consumption that controls for processed & refined carbohydrates, for example. Most people eat hot dogs with buns; how do we know it’s the hot dog and not the bun causing problems? And of course there are more obvious confounding factors that are often not controlled for, like average calorie intake, physical activity, etc. etc.

          Then there’s the question of mechanism. If nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines aren’t in fact associated with cancer, as the review above suggests, what is the mechanism by which processed meats cause cancer?

          The medical establishment still advises people to avoid saturated fat because it causes heart disease, on the basis of limited epidemiological data. But recent studies (like this: have shown that there is no association between saturated fat consumption and CVD.

          I think we have to be very careful about drawing conclusions from epidemiological data for this reason.

          • Harry Banaharis says

            The possible confounders in studies that find an association with high saturated fat consumption and CVD include refined carbohydrate intake, sedentary lifestyle and genetic predisposition to hypercholesterolemia and related risk factors. However, this does not mean that such studies have no value. On the contrary, they provide evidence that in individuals on high carb diets, high levels of saturated fat will increase CVD risk.

            In any case, there is now a reasonable volume of epidemiological data to suggest that caution should be exercised in the intake of meats cured with nitrites that have the potential to generate carcinogenic nitrosamines. In view of the fact that there is no health benefit to the consumption of cured meats to offset such potential risk, it is disingenuous to promote them as a health food.

            • BillP says

              Sorry, I’ll have to disagree with your view of epidemiological studies. They, in all cases, cannot be used at all to ‘suggest’, ‘provide evidence’, or anything that might be interpreted as causing any effect, period. To use them thus is a travesty of rational thought. Basically they have very limited scientific utility. All that they can do is to say, “these effects were found in this group under these circumstances, with the caveats that 1) there are many unaccounted-for and in fact unknown confounders; 2) the data is suspect due to the way it was gathered; 3) any causal suggestions are totally conjectural; 4) science journalists should understand that research conclusions herein using words such as ‘linked to’, ‘associated with’, ‘shows’, ‘may be’, all are used in a scientific sense that is quite different from the usage by the man on the street, who thinks, not unreasonably, that these terms imply causality; and that 5) since this is an epidemiological study, it is by definition almost worthless, and should only be used to encourage debate and actual experimentation.”

              The above caveat should be required in publications (good luck with that.) The problem is many scientists have made a living at data-mining the old, long-term studies for new papers for so long, the methodology is very entrenched. And unfortunately, it does not lead to good experiments as often as it should, so the original ‘conclusions’, no matter how unjustified, hang in the scientific & public consciousness for a long time.

              • Harry Banaharis says

                It appears to be a prevailing attitude amongst those who espouse fringe, unorthodox and often clinically ineffectual health practices that the medical and scientific community is conspiring against the individual and that it’s conclusions should not be trusted. A common argument to invoke is that – despite mountains of data to the contrary – it must be a particular type of study only that can provide evidence of causality and if such a study cannot be found then that constitutes proof of no association.

                To suggest that epidemiological studies are worthless – especially in the light of no evidence to support such a claim, other than a personal opinion and a play at semantics – is as preposterous as it is dangerous for those who would take such comments to heart and alter their dietary practices and ultimately their health.

                Such views are, of course, untenable and it is regrettable that they take root in the minds of vulnerable individuals.

                • says

                  I agree that epidemiological studies are not worthless, but to imply the contrary, which you are getting close to saying, is not tenable. Do you remember this Reuters article on 3/28/2012:

                  A former researcher at Amgen Inc has found that many basic studies on
                  cancer — a high proportion of them from university labs — are
                  unreliable, with grim consequences for producing new medicines in the
                  During a decade as head of global cancer research at Amgen, C. Glenn
                  Begley identified 53 “landmark” publications — papers in top journals,
                  from reputable labs — for his team to reproduce. Begley sought to
                  double-check the findings before trying to build on them for drug
                  Result: 47 of the 53 could not be replicated. He described his findings
                  in a commentary piece published on Wednesday in the journal Nature.

      • Harry Banaharis says

        You’ve provided one study and I’ve provided 4 (below). Please note the quality of the studies.

        You’ve still not explained why you’re dismissing such compelling epidemiological evidence, which sets into question the basis for your conclusions.

      • Dana says

        Do you have a list of those who funded the study? And how about who designed it? Was it designed with the outcome in mind?

        Ask that for each of the studies you’ve cited, and see where that leads.

  153. robiniawood says

    It’s the nitrosamines you will want to avoid. Nitrite indeed needs certain conditions to form nitrosames. Like a strong acidic environment. Which you find in the stomach.

    A meta-analysis on 16 studies done in Sweden found a connection between processed meats and cancer risk
    “”We decided to carry out a meta-analysis. This is an analysis in which we collated all research into processed meats and stomach cancer that we could find”, explains Susanna Larsson, research student under the supervision of Alicja Wolk at The Institute of Environmental Medicine at Karolinska Institutet.

    They found 15 studies, covering 4,704 subjects in the period 1966  2006, and the results are unequivocal: the risk of developing stomach cancer increases by between 15% and 38% when consumption of processed meat products increases by 30 grams (approximately a half-portion) per day.”

  154. Daniel says

    This is literally the dumbest thing I’ve ever read. Sure, it isn’t clear what increases the bowel cancer risk in processed meats like bacon and hot dog products – might be nitrates, might be something else – but the increased bowel cancer risk from those foods is extremely clear in very large studies. The article makes an elementary error in thinking that nitrites in vegetables and saliva are the same as nitrites in meat: this overlooks the possibility of an *interaction* between nitrites, meat and of course, the bowel wall.

    • Chris Kresser says

      If you bothered to read any of the citations I included in the article, you would see that newly published studies *do not* show an association between processed meats and cancer, barring other factors like vitamin C deficiency and/or the presence of h. pylori.

    • Chris Kresser says

      Nitrosation must now be considered broadly in terms of both S- and N-nitrosated species, since S-nitrosation is kinetically favored. Protein S-nitrosation is a significant part of the role of NO in cellular signal transduction and is involved in critical aspects of cardiovascular health. A critical review of the animal toxicology literature of nitrite indicates that in the absence of co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor, there is no evidence for carcinogenesis. Newly published prospective epidemiological cohort studies indicate that there is no association between estimated intake of nitrite and nitrate in the diet and stomach cancer. This new and growing body of evidence calls for a reconsideration of nitrite and nitrate safety.

      • Barbara says

        Chris, you have not responded to most of the comments/questions that are very legitimate concerning the nitrosamine precursors suggested: cooking bacon at too high heat/burning it possibly; combining it with coffee at mealtime or foods with amines that cause it to become toxic and carcinogenic; etc. You seem to be avoiding those real questions. Why? There have been quite a few of them in this ongoing list of people’s concerns if you care to read back. I would be very glad to hear your specific response to these specific questions, not just “…if you bothered to read any of the citations I included in the article….” responses. So far I am disappointed and tend to agree with those who choose pastured, non-GMO fed pigs without chemicals and synthetic ingredients, etc.

        • says

          Kresser has blown all his credibility by not addressing the major concerns and instead deciding to make straw-man arguments. His defense of “GO READ THE STUDY” is equally laughable. Since he didn’t even address the major going concern of nitrates, and these ‘studies’ supposedly did, then we can only infer that Chris Crisco didn’t read it, himself.

  155. Michael says

    Wouldn’t nitrates from ‘natural’ sources be different, in principle, from those that I assume are syntheticaly constructed? Ie analgous to fructose in fruit or fish as opposed to in HFCS…?

  156. says

    Hey Chris,
    You made a seriously persuasive argument here. Although you didn’t change my mind about bacon specifically, you did change how I look at nitrates. Let’s just say that, as I type this, I’m not trying to hold back on swallowing saliva.
    Thanks for an excellent piece that definitely needs to be shared. I’ll do my part to pass this along to people who could benefit from it.

  157. Clark says

    Chris, you hinted at the end that you might actually prefer nitrates/nitrite cured products over those that are not. It’s hard to find pasture raised pork that isn’t also nitrate/nitrite free. They usually use a simple, regular salt process. Is that fine? Does it serve the same purpose in regards to the trichinosis.

  158. Cuzsis says

    If you’re going to say that “X-study has been discredited” would you please provide a citation? Otherwise I’ll I can say is “Some guy on the internet said…” and that’s not going to convince anyone, even if that “some guy” is famous or well known.

    I liked the article quite a bit, but I’m afraid I can’t pass it around just yet…

    Thanks! :)

  159. Kim says

    Interesting. Then I wonder what it is about “regular” bacon that gives me an upset stomach. Everything is a-ok if I eat something like Applegate Farms brand. I thought it was the nitrates/nitrites. My n=1 continues….

  160. Kris Lauer says

    Thanks for the article. I passed it on as I do with several of your posts. I eat bacon and was wondering about the nitrates. Not enough to stop eating it though! I will sleep better now that I know the truth. Also, I suggest people sleep on their side or stomach so that the saliva created at night while sleeping doesn’t overdose them!

  161. Lara says

    Nitrates and nitrites are oxidizing agents that add electrons to your body. If you have too much of them your body converts Ferrous (easily absorbed iron) to Ferric iron(poorly absorbed iron). Resulting in poor transportation of oxygen in your blood and sometimes anemia. These are found in our water absorbed through fertilizers and other environmental toxins aside from sodium nitrates and nitrites in food.

  162. Vicki says

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve been staying away from high quality bacon and sausages from a local pig farm because of the nitrates, even though the only ingredients in the sausages are : meat, spices, nitrate.
    I will definitely feel happier eating them now.

  163. says

    I still can’t eat is because of the migraine factor (chocolate and wine too), and I’m not surprised that the celery salt/seed/juice products actually have more nitrites. I’ve read that elsewhere, but I got an even worse migraine when I missed the word “added” in the phrase “No added nitrates or nitrites!” in some hot dogs a while back. A nasty phone call to the company assured me I wasn’t the only one.

    I have to say, I’m jealous. I’d love a couple slices of bacon every now and then, but I’m not willing to spend 3 days in pain to do it.

  164. Nancy says

    After reading through the comments, I think we need some paleo meat producers to create a delicious bacon (and please do a turkey variety for those who can’t eat pork!) that is MSG and sugar free! And maybe does use the natural nitrites… There seems to be a difference in quality of the meat and digestion. And of course comes from damn healthy animals. Well, healthy until that butcher shows up…

  165. Elisabeth Hartline says

    Although this is very likely true, I still prefer the flavors and textures of “naturally cured,” meats. Plus, I’ve found that this is what my local providers usually have available, so I’m going with the bacon and ham that have been cured using traditional methods.

  166. Tamara Wyndham says

    I would have liked you to explain the source of nitrates and and nitrites in conventional bacon. I assume that they are refined chemicals; so I would still buy nitrate and nitrite free organic bacon, in the same way that I avoid refined salt and buy sea salt instead.


  167. SRobertsMD says

    Love your site. Here’s a reason I avoid processed meats–epidemiological evidence points to consumption of processed meats as correlated with telomere shortening.

    Of course this evidence is based on population studies with dietary intake recall, but the recall is established and peer reviewed methodology, and the results arise from adjusting for variables of dietary intakes, lifestyle and health factors.

    The bottom line from this study is that the more processed meat you eat, the shorter your telomeres, all things being equal. What does that mean in terms of health? I don’t know, but I can’t imagine it is a benefit to longevity, and it may be a marker for cellular aging that could translate into macroscopic aging at some threshold.

    Of course, I’ve lumped bacon into this category, though the study doesn’t specifically include it in the processed meat group (but ham and sausage are included–in my mind close enough). They do not conclude that the offending components are nitrates, but they suggest it as a commonality among the processed meats.

    Interestingly, lunch meats are included. I wonder how many pale/ primal folks eat it as a staple.

    Full disclosure: My wife is the lead author of this paper! (Honestly, that is the only reason I’m aware of it.) She would not protest if I decided to eat bacon, but I just can’t imagine the benefits of regular consumption of processed meats outweighing the potential negatives if this paper’s conclusions hold up to scrutiny.

    I bring this to the conversation only to add a nuance to the possibility that processed meats are not healthy.

  168. Des says

    Hi Chris, what about AGE’s in bacon?

    Also, this is a completely non related question to anyone willing to clarify: is the sugar in kombucha negligible just as the sugar in bacon is? Do either of these foods cause blood sugar spikes due to the sugar content? Thank you

  169. Erica Jones says

    I am 13 weeks pregnant and have read that nitrates/nitrites should be avoided during pregnancy. Please shed some light on this as there is not speak of pregnancy in regards to eating bacon in the above post. I love bacon, actually ate some this morning (nitrate free…so the package said), but need to know if it should be avoided. Thank you Chris for all the information!

    • IndyRat says

      Erica, please do NOT consider this MISLEADING article regrading the nitrates that are causing health issues. To protect your child it is best to stay away from the following ingredients….. MSG (Mono-sodium Glutamate), Aspartame(Phenylalanine), Sodium Nitrite & Sodium Nitrate and many others. The response I wrote regarding this misleading article is as follows….. I was recently informed that many medical brochures are written at a 6th grade level so that the general public will understand them more readily. I have come to the conclusion that it is more prevalent than just medical information. I must congratulate the author of this very misleading article as it is written very well in the fact it NEVER addresses the true “nitrite /nitrate” issue. This article NEVER mentions the SODIUM NITRITE & SODIUM NITRATE that is used in the processing of meats, sausages, etc and that are the root of the health issues many are experiencing. I would like for the author to insert an addendum in writing that states that the SODIUM NITRITE or SODIUM NITRATE used in the processing of meats is safe for consumption and will have no ill effect on ones health. I will be waiting…………… Until then, anyone reading this article be warned that it is VERY MISLEADING. Avoid sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate by reading the ingredient list, it is dangerous and causes numerous health issues.

  170. Gigi says

    Hubs & I notice a distinct difference in digestibility of “uncured” (celery juice) bacon & “regular” bacon. Regular tends to stay with us all day, in a not good way. And we like the taste of the “uncured” better, too. I will make a note of the lower temp cooking method to try, though.

  171. says

    Well Chris, you haven’t changed my mind about bacon… I was eating it before. What you have done is eased my mind about it, AND have educated me so that I can continue to educate clients and the people around me.

    I have to read the article again, and go through the research… even I am not immune to cognitive dissonance!!


  172. paul says

    Hi from Germany,

    i have a problem with breakfast bacon here. In all kinds of saussage and bacon contain dextrose, maltodextrose and other suspicious stuff. although the food label shows zero carbs. I seriously want to avoid sugar such as listed above to keep my insulin level under control. But like Dr. Kresser mentioned: bacon is meat candy.
    My question is now: where can i get sugar free bacon from? Even here in Germany. The other question is: what if i eat these sugar-bacon strips? will it do harm?
    I am happy for every kind of reply

    Keep up the good work

    • Gabriele says

      I just had to add my comment- I too have been buying the nitrite free meets at various stores, and while you can get lacto-fermented sausages like Salami, bacon is a little different. Until I found some at the local Farmers market. Pigs mostly raised on pasture with some grain finishing in the end. This bacon is cured with a minimal amount of nitrites and it is the best you will ever eat! It cooks differently and crisps up on low heat, does not shrink like all the other stuff does and just can’t be beat! Reading this helps to knwo that the bit of nitrates/ nitrites I am ingesting are not going to be an issue- although I just don’t eat much processed food in any case, just because I don’t trust it….

  173. andrea says

    The problem is not the nitrites or nitrates but the sugar, molases, high fructoses etc, that they add to give flavour. And let’s don’t forget the diet (GMO grains, soy and by products) they give to the pigs and how they are raised.

      • says

        True … but there are quite a few of them. I’m not convinced that bacon and other cured meats are heath food. Even if nitrates and nitrates are shown to be safe, processed and cured meats are higher in sodium, heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and advanced glycation end products (all implicated in inflammation and/or cancer).

        I eat a more-or-less paleo diet, but I think most paleo bloggers are wrong on this topic — there are plenty of reasons to avoid cured meats.

        I still eat them sometimes though — because they’re delicious.

      • Kevin says

        Ugh. I know you are correct and I value your work greatly. But i dunno, maybe it’s just me… but the correlation/causation/epidemiological studies don’t matter thing seems like it has become a nauseatingly convenient cliche in paleo land, an easy out to dismiss of data someone doesn’t agree with. I mean, don’t you cite epidemiological studies in some of your work?

        • Chris Kresser says

          I didn’t say they don’t matter. They are good for generating hypotheses, and there is a huge variation in the quality of epidemiological studies. Those that rely on food frequency questionnaires are notoriously unreliable. In any event, the review paper I cited in this article critically reviews many of these epidemiological studies and reaches the conclusion that there is no association between nitrates, nitrites and nitrosamines and cancer – which of course was the point of this article.

  174. IndyRat says

    I was recently informed that many medical brochures are written at a 6th grade level so that the general public will understand them more readily. I have come to the conclusion that it is more prevalent than just medical information. I must congratulate the author of this very misleading article as it is written very well in the fact it NEVER addresses the true “nitrite /nitrate” issue. This article NEVER mentions the SODIUM NITRITE & SODIUM NITRATE that is used in the processing of meats, sausages, etc and that are the root of the health issues many are experiencing. I would like for the author to insert an addendum in writing that states that the SODIUM NITRITE or SODIUM NITRATE used in the processing of meats is safe for consumption and will have no ill effect on ones health. I will be waiting…………… Until then, anyone reading this article be warned that it is VERY MISLEADING. Avoid sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate by reading the ingredient list, it is dangerous and causes numerous health issues.

  175. Megan says

    I had cancer as a teenager and now have interstitial cystitis as an after effect of chemo. My doctors have always insisted I avoid meats with nitrates and nitrites because of the interstitial cystitis. From what you’re saying, though, that sounds like complete bunk…

  176. Colleen says

    If you google Nitrosamine, cooking, and bacon, there are a number of references to a study that indicate cooking at 210 or 275 did not generate significant levels of nitrosamines, while cooking at 350 or 400, even for short periods, caused higher levels of nitrosamines. It appears these nitrosamines are the potential problem . . . . I guess I will try cooking my bacon at 275 (had been cooking much higher before in the oven 400).

  177. Maria says

    Great! Now I can eat bacon without fear!

    What about sulphites? Are those okay to consume? I avoid mustard with sulphites for the same reason I avoided bacon.

  178. Cindy says

    Hey Chris,how about doing an article on the benefits of Pickled-pork. WAPF supports only eating cured or pickled pork. What is your take on this?

  179. shammond33 says

    Well… you guys go on and eat your nitrates… for me? I get MIGRAINES… serious migraines that last for two days. Take the nitrates out of my diet.. no migraines…. so… I guess you can’t convince me that nitrates are good for you, and that naturally occurring nitrates act exactly the same in the blood stream… (no… I don’t get headaches from any of the “natural nitrates” mentioned above) I have had this allergy for over thirty years, and personally applaud the choice to buy nitrate-free meats.

    • Robyn says

      Affects me the same way – especially the plastic vacuum sealed packages of sliced meat from the deli section of the supermarket.

  180. Jim says

    Chris, what about smoked meats and fish. Are these ok?

    Also, how to detect in the label the presence of the carcinogenic nitrosamine?

  181. DD says

    I never avoided bacon for fear of cancer, but I do avoid it during pregnancy (celery cured versions included) because I understand the nitrates/nitrites interfere with oxygen transport to the baby. Is this out of the scope of your article? Since I’m expecting, I would love to get clarity — because I would love to have bacon!

    • Me too says

      I’m looking for an answer to this question too – though I only read about the apparent harmful affects of nitrate consumption (in my case bacon twice a week) on a foetus. Am I missing the response here?

  182. says

    Bacon has long been vilified because of stigma and association with gluttony and self indulgence. Because of this, we’ve grasped at every conceivable straw to try to explain why it must be bad for us…and now it’s turning out that much of our fear was unfounded or based on a flawed understanding.

    I’m glad people are starting to reexamine not just bacon, but our entire food chain. Your post is a much needed example of how we can and should reassess all conventional wisdom we take for granted in regards to food choices. May when more comes out about Mat Lalonde’s nutrient density approach we’ll reach a tipping point.


  183. Greig says

    The nitrates might not be an issue in packaged bacon, but WILL they become an issue with high temperature cooking (frying), thats the question?

  184. says

    Interesting… I keep reading about eating nitrate free bacon and now this. Guess now I don’t have to worry about it when I’m shopping. Must pass this on to a few people.

  185. DavidM says

    It is good to know this information about nitrites and nitrates, thanks – very good information. However, eating bacon still has several issues and really should be avoided by everyone, especially if not organic and pasture raised. Here are some reasons no one should eat bacon:
    1. frying bacon causes a charring to occur. And depending on how long you cook it, it may be severely charred. All charred food is carcinogenic. Charring causes acrylamides and other carcinogens (Heterocyclic Amines, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons) to be produced.
    2. the extreme temperatures almost certainly denature the protein as they do in overcooking any type of meat at high temperatures. The high temperatures may also seriously damage the fat, oxidizing it, producing free radicals, and possibly even introducing trans fats, which can happen when cooking foods high in polyunsaturated fats (such as egg yolks) at very high temperatures.
    3. if the bacon is not organic and not pasture raised, it is probably loaded with pesticides/herbicides that the pig has consumed from its grain diet. As we know, in general, toxins gather in fat (of all mammals) and bacon is very high in fat. Not that fat is bad (it is not), but this is why buying organic animal products is more important than buying organic produce. For example, inorganic butter can have up to 20 times the pesticides as inorganic produce.
    4. My guess is that if the pig is not pasture raised, the omega 3 / omega 6 fat ratio is way off in favor of omega 6, just like non grass fed beef. Again, we all know this is highly inflammatory.
    5. Parasites. Cooking and curing will not destroy all of them and pork can be especially laden with parasites and other unwanted micro organisms.
    6. Your own reference in this article shows a strong correlation between pork consumption and liver cirrhosis mortality, liver cancer, and multiple sclerosis. Im surprised you did not mention this? Do you believe this is not true?
    7. I tend to trust what the Bible says about diet. God specifically told Israel to completely avoid all pork.

    • Tyler Healey says

      Half the things you mentioned can be avoided cooking the bacon at low temperature. Something that Chris usually advocates and I’m surprised he didn’t mention here. Robb Wolf cooks his bacon for two hours at low temperature.

      My main concern is that pig will be high in n-6 compared to beef. You can buy higher quality bacon than the very basic store level crap. Try buying from local farmers.

      The parasites things is just boloney. And as for the Bible you’re free to your superstitions. I don’t think the ‘God’ character in that book liked shellfish either.

      • Chris Kresser says

        Re: danger of nitrosamine formation. This quote is also from the review paper I cited in the article:

        The results of prospective epidemiologic studies, in particular those of cohort studies reported since 2006, do not consistently suggest an increased risk of stomach cancer from ingested nitrate, nitrite or N-nitrosamines. Future epidemiologic studies should ac- count for the likely confounding or effect modifying impact of H. pylori infection, Vitamin C and salt intake. In addition, associations between nitrate and nitrite and stomach cancer should be strati- fied by cardia and non-cardia tumors. Overall, the hypothesis of a risk of cancer in humans from ingested nitrate, nitrite and N- nitrosamines, which was proposed on the basis of low-quality studies conducted several decades ago, has not been confirmed in more recent, better-designed animal and epidemiological studies.

        • Tyler Healey says

          Interesting. Sorry if I misattributed something to you earlier, but I thought I remembered hearing from Robb Wolf that you were in favour of low and slow cooking of meat, especially bacon, due to formation of carcinogens that result from high heat cooking. ‘

          Has that position been relaxed a bit now? If that’s the case you should tell Robb. It’ll probably save him from waiting patiently for two hours while his bacon cooks!

    • says

      1. Then don’t fry it, put the whole package on a cookie sheet & put it in the oven restaurant style, and remember to save the bacon grease in a clean jar & keep it in the fridge.

      2a. Anyone that cooks anything at extreme temperatures is a moron, for bacon light brown is good enough, and the proteins & cholesterols in eggs aren’t overcooked & don’t become carcinogenic when cooked low & slow. Eat lightly cooked whole foods, not carbonized foods.

      2b. Bacon fat is heat rendered pork lard which has a smoke point around 250°F which is why you keep it in the fridge and use LOW heat when cooking with it, wet rendered lard (water boiled) smokes at 424 °F and can be used for deep frying. They BOTH are extremely stable molecules saturated with hydrogen, have NO fragile double carbon bonds or open spaces for oxygen to bind to and thus do NOT break down, oxidize or form radicals or trans molecules when heated, and remain soft, pliable and water & soap soluble with easy clean up even after heated. You can wipe it off of a pan or skillet with your finger even after it sits for several weeks. Try that with ANY liquid polyunsaturated vegetable oil, put a bit in a pan, heat it till it just barely smokes, remove from heat & let it sit in the oven for a week, heated veg oils become organic polymers (plastic) due to cross linking & co-valent bonding that CAN’T be washed with soap & water, which is why veg oils have been used for paint, shellac & varnishes for hundreds of years. See Wikipedia articles re Drying Oils, Semi Drying Oils & Non Drying Oils and then read the Wiki article about athersclerosis, I guarantee you’ll NEVER again use poly oils for cooking after reading that.

      2c. Eggs are 70% unsaturated fat but only 18-20% polyunsaturated, bacon grease & lard is only 10 to 15 percent polyunsaturated, and is why you cook them low & slow.

      3. Organic is always better, but since Fukushima all foods contain Cesium from atmospheric fallout, you can avoid pesticides by buying organic but how do you avoid radioisotopes?

      4. Only TRANS omega-6 is inflammatory and a direct cause of cancer by replacing CIS phospholipids in cell membranes and blocking oxygen flow which causes chronic cellular hypoxia & thus inflammation. The CIS (double carbon bend) molecule form of omega-6 is an essential fatty acid since the body can’t make it. CIS omega-6 linoleic acid and CIS omega-3 alpha linolenic and even arachadonic acid are critical local acting cell signalling eicosanoids made ONLY on demand, only when required and only in the amounts required. Omega-6 linoleic acid is the precursor for production of PGE1 prostaglandin which is the body’s most powerful anti inflammatory and is around 6 to 10 stronger than omega-3, which is why bacon is so good for you.

      Near as I can tell from the sources I checked bacon fat & pork lard is 6 to 10 percent omega-6 linoleic acid and has no omega-3 ALA, depending on how they’re fed. Pigs fed fish meats and fish oil do have omega-3 but it’s not common pig feed. Interestingly, butter fat is 65% saturated fat and 33% unsaturated of which is 3% linoleic and 1% linolenic acid for a total 3 to 1 O-6 to O-3 ratio, which is why butter is so good for the body.

      5. Parasites survive being cooked in hot bacon grease? Meh, not likely, that’s why we cook food. I eat way more bacon than raw sushi for that exact reason and rarely eat any other pork product, but when I do I cook them thoroughly but not overcook.

      6. Correlation does not prove causation yada, yada, blah blah, you know the rest. And I don’t believe 95% of studies at all as ‘studies’ are not experimentation and can be contrived to show anything, so yeah, I don’t believe that reference either.

      7. Me too, but the Israelites of that time didn’t have refrigeration or know anything about bacterial, viral & germ disease transmission, and God specifically told Israel to completely avoid all women while they were ‘unclean’, to stone people to death under certain circumstances and about 599 other codes, covenants & restrictions, do you do all of those too or just the ones you choose to enforce? Yeah thought so, just like the Israelites, which is why the old law code went away. Mazel tov.

      • DavidM says

        thanks cancerclasses for your comments, though felt your response to #7 was a little harsh. You are preaching to the choir :)…I think you must be a chemist with your “covalent bond” talk and all?
        1. No response, we agree. Its just important for people to realize this since chris didnt mention it.
        2. a. we agree. And this is obvious to you and me, however may not be to the average person. Again, just trying to be helpful.
        b. we agree and im glad to know the bacon saturated fats are stable, but what about the polyunsaturated fats? Point is that many people overcook bacon and dont realize the damage they are doing – just wanted to make sure people knew. Im a huge fan of saturated fat, it has changed my life! However, I would prefer clean raw saturated fat, such as coconut oil, to potentially contaminated cooked bacon grease. But I do eat bacon once in a while and love it.
        c. Not sure the point you are making here? When eggs are overcooked we know transfats can be formed – I have seen studies that prove this and this is at temperatures of around 350 to 400 degrees – not really “extreme”. Also most people do over cook eggs and dont realize it. This damages the protein, the fat, and other nutrients, such as B12. I doubt people cook eggs enough to produce transfats, however, it is good to understand the damage heat can inflict. Like I said this is obvious to you and me, but probably not to the average person. Many people dont realize the damage heat causes.
        3. Again, not sure how your point pertains to the topic. However, I’ll respond by saying radioisotopes have been a problem for a lot longer than just fukushima, with all of the nuclear bombs we have ignited throughout the 20th century, etc. And certainly Fukushima did make things worse, sadly. To answer your question: I guess you cannot avoid them. Which means you need to consume substances that will remove them from your body and take them on a regular basis. Such as zeolite, chlorella, ginseng, etc. And also consume protective foods such as fermented foods and aloe vera. And of course make sure you are sufficient in iodine – Dr. David Brownsteins book is an excellent reference. Most people are deficient.
        4. Again, I am not sure the point you are making here. You wax quite eloquent about trans fats, but you are just stating basic biochemical facts, all of which I knew and most of which will sound like gibberish to other people. Except I did not actually realize that butter was 3:1 O-6:O-3, that is really good to know, thanks for the info! I love my butter!
        5. If the bacon is cooked at high temps it probably will kill all of the parasites. I know I have heard of studies that show trichinosis survives frying, however, I must admit I have not read them personally and I am certainly not an expert. However, I wonder if is there a fine line between overcooking and killing the trichinosis? I would rather not take the risk. Though dont get me wrong, I do eat bacon once in a while and love it.
        6. I agree but chris pointed out himself the potential trichinosis problem, and gave the link to the research supposedly showing these things implying causal not correlation, that was my only point and what I really wanted was to get chris to comment on it so I understood his position. He must think it is only “correlation” and not causal. About the validity of studies, I know many studies are flawed and many are manipulated, but they are still useful, in my opinion more than 5% of the time.
        7. Its interesting that they knew nothing about disease transmission, yet they practiced quarantine – because God told them to, literally thousands of years before disease transmission was understood. Moreover who cares about refrigeration, they had fire. They could have killed it and cooked it and eaten it. However God still told them to avoid it. Why? I believe because there is something inherently wrong with pork meat for human beings. I know of no science that proves this, but I still suspect it is true. Not sure the rest of your points except you seem angry about something? Remember, I eat pork, I love pork – not “enforcing” anything actually – not really sure where you are trying to go with that? Im just trying to be helpful to other folks and make this article more complete. Your “Yeah thought so” comment is really kind of mean spirited, lets try to stay respectful please. And just because the old law went away does not mean we cannot glean relevant information from it.

        Bottom line is that you can get all of the benefits of bacon from other better safer sources. And that EVERYONE should avoid overcooked, charred, contaminated bacon. If the bacon is clean and prepared right, it is probably a very healthful food . So, more people need to be educated or they should just avoid it and get the nutrition from a better source. My hope is that this discussion has provided useful information to other people.

        • juliebgood says

          Ehh, the Bible is a piss-poor guide to anything, whether dietary or morality-wise. It’s interesting as a cultural document with some occasional, slight historical basis – but otherwise, when somebody decides to bring their religious beliefs into the public sphere and specifically into reason-based discussions, I should hope that somebody presents a dissenting view, with all the ‘seriousness’ (ie lack thereof) that the subject deserves. It’s really not necessary to bend over backwards to be slavishly polite and respectful when it comes to the superstitions of Bronze-Age desert goat herders. We wouldn’t bend over that way in any other sphere of discourse, but somehow religion is above criticism, lest we “hurt people’s feelings”. Religious priviledge and entitlement is bollocks. It’s gotta stop.

    • William Porter says

      So, do not FRY your bacon. MICROWAVE it, thus insuring that the maximum temperature remains around the boiling point of water, far below that needed to produce the PAHs, etc. You end up with what is essentially ‘steamed’ meat. Sure, you can overnuke it, and all the water will boil out, and the hot dog or the bacon will shrink up and get harder, but it will be very hard to overheat it even so.
      We do our bacon this way, and would never go back to the messy frying pan or griddle method.

      • Lp johnson says

        You have the microwaving idea wrong. Micriwaving actually heats water above the boiling point without forming the usual bubbles, so if you put a teabag in water that has been microwaved it will instantly begin boiling and boil over your cup. Try it out, you just need something smooth inside like Pyrex.

        • Bill says

          The superheating of water that you are refering to only happens under water conditions of purity or homogeneity, and in special containers. A far cry from the water that is in meat, essentially in cells and mixed with all sorts of physical and biochemical impurities, and not in smooth glass containers. Microwaving is the best way to cook a lot of things, as long as the correct internal temperatures are reached for the usual safety-in-cooking practices.

          • DavidM says

            What studies or science make you say a statement like: “Microwaving is the best way to cook a lot of things”? I am very wary of cooking anything in the microwave, here is why: .

            – A 2003 study published in the “Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture” reported that broccoli lost 97% of its antioxidants when microwaved as opposed to only losing 11% when steamed. Microwaves were once banned in Russia and probably for good reason. Even the conventional medical industry advises to not microwave breast milk. Wonder why?
            – Swiss food scientist Dr. Hans Hertel found that microwaved food increased cholesterol levels, decreased both red and white blood cell counts, decreased hemoglobin, and produced radiolytic compounds.
            – A 1999 Scandinavian study of the cooking of asparagus spears found that microwaving caused a reduction in vitamin C.
            – In a study of garlic, as little as 60 seconds of microwave heating was enough to inactivate its allinase, garlic’s principle active ingredient against cancer.
            – A Japanese study by Watanabe showed that just 6 minutes of microwave heating turned 30-40 percent of the B12 in milk into an inert (dead) form. This study has been cited by Dr. Andrew Weil as evidence supporting his concerns about the effects of microwaving. Dr. Weil wrote:
            “There may be dangers associated with microwaving food… there is a question as to whether microwaving alters protein chemistry in ways that might be harmful.”
            – A recent Australian study showed that microwaves cause a higher degree of “protein unfolding” than conventional heating.
            – Microwaving can destroy the essential disease-fighting agents in breast milk that offer protection for your baby. In 1992, Quan found that microwaved breast milk lost lysozyme activity, antibodies, and fostered the growth of more potentially pathogenic bacteria. Even conventional medical doctors (notoriously ignorant about these kinds of things) advise to never heat breast milk in the microwave.

            And I could go on and cite many other studies including a significant amount of Russian medical studies on microwaves that show they are highly questionable and potentially much more dangerous than conventional cooking….Microwaving may be ok, but in my opinion it is highly questionable and should probably be avoided.

            If you have further insight about this issue, I would appreciate the information. Thanks.

            • Liane says

              I just apply common sense to bacon nuking vs bacon frying. I have a fairly decent newer microwave convection combo over my stove which I bought for the convenience of convection and the ability to heat water fast via microwaving. I find nuking bacon results in strips that are over cooked in some places and still wobbly in others. Even on a rotating platform in the oven. The very protein intensive parts of the bacon rapidly over cook once the water has boiled off, and the thickest fat parts do not get cooked well at all. So I use a frying pan for a small quantity or I bake a pound at a time in the oven for at least an hour at a low enough temp to avoid smoking and splattering. Using the broiler pan works well, and allows me to easily collect the bacon fat that drips through. The top of the broiler pan pretty much seals the fat in the pan, allowing it to drip down through the slots. So, unlike an open roaster with a regular rack, which always almost requires cleaning the oven after baking or roasting most anything, I get a smoke free kitchen, a clean oven, unburnt bacon and drippings, and a wonderful aroma to boot.

              My feeling is, and I know how Chris feels about nuking in general, is that a microwave is not the best tool for all cooking. But it is unsurpassed for softening butter, coconut oil, cream cheese, steaming cauliflower, reheating bowls of soup.

              I would never ever reheat breast milk in my microwave. But I may heat a big Pyrex measure of water and then place the milk, in a bottle, in the water to thaw rapidly. When my babies were little, and I had to on rare occasion give them pumped milk, there were no microwaves. Bottles were glass, and heated either on a stove in boiling water or by placing in running water. Wasteful, I know. Clearly one cannot give a baby frozen milk, but in today’s world it may be necessary for a mom to pump and freeze. I believe there are electric warmers made for this purpose.

    • Honora says

      I read in a text book on cultural anthropology that the anti-pork injunction came from the desire to supplant raising pigs with raising sheep and goats because the Middle East became deforested and pigs were then vulnerable to the sun and dehydration so the ruminants were a better choice of stock.

    • gh says

      Agree about the parasites. A largely ignored factor in a lot of illness.
      Something also rarely mentioned is that pig meat is immunosuppressive. Your white blood cells take a break after eating pork.

  186. David Le Sauvage says

    The substance that combines with the nitrate/nitrite to form nitrosamine is coffee. Breakfast with bacon and coffee therefore may not be wise.

  187. says

    How much is too much of a carcinogen? Sodium nitrite reacts with proteins in the stomach or during cooking especially during high heat, such as frying bacon to form carcinogenic N-nitrosamines. If you had the choice between taking just a little of a carcinogen or none at all, what would you choose? A carcinogen is a carcinogen is a carcinogen. The chemical pathways are there to form free radicals and there is nothing in bacon to counter-act free radical formation like anti-oxidants in celery and beets. Just because their is no associated risk, just that make it ok? This is a tough one to swallow.

    • says

      This is a really interesting perspective. I think many of us, although not as many Paleo Path People as I thought, are eating the maximum anti-oxidants possible, and yes, I do think eating organic pork on occasion, and always with lots of anti-oxidants, makes a lot of sense. The longest living people in the world in Campodimele, Italy and other Longevity Hot Spots, eat a LITTLE naturally raised pork on Sundays, like a condiment rather than a main dish. Moderation, even with a tiny amount of carcinogenic by-product in a food that provides us lots of benefit (social/nutritive, etc), serves us well. There are 5 elements to Longevity, and while Nutrition is the largest factor, it does not replace the other 4: Movement, Relaxation, Connection, and Purpose. If a little bit of Pig helps you a good bit with the other four, GO FOR IT!

    • says

      Hey doc, when you have found a totally carcinogen free life on this planet let me know how you do it. I bet these days it is totally impossible.

      Choosing or eliminating a single food from your diet for one minor possibility would eliminate even most organically grown produce. I can find a small fault with just about any food if I look at it in a vacuum ignoring the other health benefits of that food.

      I would rather eat a diet with bacon than without, even with that little bit of nasty in there. Because without people are turning to turkey bacon, tofu bacon, and a bunch of other even more highly processed crap with even worse nutrition profiles with even more phytonutrients and down sides.

      At some point we have to eat for overall health and trust our bodies to be able to handle a minimal amount of toxins of all kinds, because in our poisoned world you are exposed to carcinogens every single day. Starting your car likely exposes you to more carcinogens and cancer risk than eating 2 peices of bacon. Walking along a busy road way, smelling all that wonderful exhaust, etc…

      We are forced to pick our battles, but lets not make some up.

      Exposure is one side of the coin, your bodies resistance to exposure is the other side. I prefer to have a strong healthy body that includes a wide variety of meat that can withstand the little exposures in life as opposed to a frail, puffy whole grain diet body of 400 pounds that i used to have that makes me look like walking death.

      Acceptable risk decisions are something we all make every day. I’ve looked at this and the risk is miniscule. I am far more concerned about carcinogens exposure from owning a vehicle.

      As for the anti-oxidants in food, coffee has way more antioxidants than any vegetable, and we have really yet to see any sort of proof that dietary anti-oxidants actually make a difference.

      You state “Just because there is no associated risk, that makes it OK?” I say YES THAT IS PRECISELY what makes it OK!!! If you cannot even show a casual relationship to risk how can you base a conclusion on it?

      • Chris Kresser says

        I agree. We’re constantly exposed to toxins in food, air & water. The good news is that we have built-in detoxification mechanisms designed to deal with this. Presuming those are working properly, we should be able to handle some exposure to toxins and there’s even an argument to be made that such exposure has a beneficial, hormetic effect. This is more true of some toxins than others, of course.

        In the end, we all have to ask ourselves what our goals and priorities are. Robb Wolf talks about a triangle of performance, health and longevity. Perhaps we could add a fourth point, pleasure (which includes not only the pleasure that comes from eating you enjoy, but also social contact, travel, new experiences, etc.). Too much of a focus on one point will detract from the others; for example, following a caloric restricted diet to optimize longevity will likely decrease performance, health and pleasure. (Not to mention the fact that recent studies suggest that caloric restriction doesn’t extend lifespan in mammals, but that’s another story for another day.)

        This is why I’m a believer in the 80/20 rule. Most people value each of these four points and don’t want to sacrifice one for another.

  188. Trina says

    What about AGE formation from cured meat? I believe Dr. Davis discusses this in Wheat Belly. I’ve read Dr. Attia’s comments that it is likely from the dextrose and to find meats with the lowest sugar/serving. What are our thoughts?

  189. jocelyn357 says

    I still *feel* like it’s better to buy a brand that uses natural sources of nitrates/trites, like from celery. I know….that’s hardly scientific. ;-) Anyways, I buy homemade from my local farm which pastures their piggies and treats them well while they’re alive. Can’t beat that, no matter how your meats are cured!

  190. says

    Great article! I’ve heard this before but never really looked into it. My preference is definitely for bacon cured with sea salt (BTW US Wellness Meats makes a bacon that is not only cured with sea salt, but is refined sugar free! And it rocks!) over nitrates, but at least I know I don’t have to worry about it if I eat nitrate bacon. And if nitrates do indeed have health benefits, and things cured with sea salt and celery juice are higher in nitrates than regular cured meats, it stands to reason that the natural versions would be slightly healthier.m

    One very unfortunate result of the fear of nitrates is that some pastured meat farmers are using other chemicals to cure their meats so they can call them “nitrate free”. I can’t remember what the exact chemicals were, but it sounds like nitrates would be a safer bet. Awhile back I stupidly bought some pastured bacon from a local farmer without reading the label. Only when I got home did I realize that it contained several unknown chemicals and a form of MSG. As though bacon needs MSG to taste good. Not cool!

  191. Lilian Hagenaars says

    Hmm..this sure is interesting. I’m a fan of traditional cooking and while watching an episode of Jacque Pepin’s cooking, I noticed he used nitrates in a pate (or sausage, I don’t remember exactly) recipe. I figured if he used it, it might be okay (but then again, he also uses a microwave on occasion).

  192. Kim says

    My problem with nitrate/nitrite cured bacon is that it’s usually from commercial, feedlot pork. If I could find an organic, pastured source of cured bacon, I’d save money & buy it!

  193. michelle noe says

    My understanding is that while nitrates are harmless, when high heat is applied they are turned into nitrosomenes… which are carcinogenic. Your article triggers my caution button because this is not mentioned here.

    • MikeP says

      You are correct. This is a major omission in the article and a failing of the author to grasp the science or even conduct a cursory bit of research.

      Nitrosamines can and will be caused during high temperature cooking with sodium nitrite. All they need is a compatible amine, which are naturally present throughout all foods and in particular meats. Almost all nitrosamines are carcinogenic.

      We’re exposed to cancer causing chemicals every day, so its not the end of the world. I happily eat cured bacon. But, I make sure I very gently cook it. You should never, ever, ever, char cured meats, or cook to the smoke point of the fat. I prefer microwaving bacon as it provides minimal heat exposure. Stove top on low-med heat is secondary, but it takes too long.
      Don’t ever bacon-wrap fish or seafood and put on the grill. Cook the bacon separately (gently) and wrap afterwards.

      And lastly, uncured meats are not necessarily any safer. I would happily take the cancer risk over botulism. We use sodium nitrite for a very very good reason. I saw a pack of ‘organic’ uncured salami in the grocery store that had badly turned….looks like it had a pin-hole in the shrink wrap…and it had developed a white haze over the surface. Didn’t necessary look ‘bad’, but goodness knows what sort of bugs were growing in that pack.

      Better living through chemistry.

      • Chris Kresser says

        The point of the article is twofold:

        – Intake of nitrates, nitrites and N-nitrosamines aren’t associated with cancer in epidemiological studies performed since 2006: “The results of prospective epidemiologic studies, in particular those of cohort studies reported since 2006, do not consistently suggest an increased risk of stomach cancer from ingested nitrate, nitrite or N-nitrosamines.” (

        – There’s no compelling reason to choose uncured bacon over cured bacon.

  194. Lori says

    Okay – I’m still not convinced. One of the arguments regarding pesticides is that plants produce their own toxic pesticides, so we shouldn’t worry about man made. Isn’t that kind of the same thing here? BTW – I buy a non-cured bacon from a local store and it’s the best I’ve ever had. It’s my #1 cooking stuff as well…

    • Chris Kresser says

      No, it’s not the same thing at all. I recommend you re-read the article. There is no proof whatsoever that nitrates and nitrites in food cause harm, and even if they did, bacon is a negligible source compared to other foods.

      • Lori says

        My intent is not to argue, but to clarify. (I love your posts always, highly respect your expertise, and appreciate your sharing knowledge and information.) According to the reference 8 above, the conclusion I read was that higher levels of nitrites with lower vitamin C intake did increase the risk of stomach cancer. And with all due respect, I think the FDA and USDA have approved other food additives that aren’t safe, saying they are. I guess I’m just thinking that when chemical companies generate their own safety data, and giant profits are at stake, there’s a risk. Just a little nagging in my mind that chemical additives can’t fully replicate those found in nature.

        • greg says

          I agree…man always thinks he is so clever,messing with Nature,until future studies discover something wrong;eg,asbestos was a wonder product,until people started dying.

  195. Denise says

    I think I heard from the Weston Price Foundation that supermarket bacon is done with a quick curing process which makes it less healthy that traditional cures. Is that true?

      • the father of ZEN says

        So, just to clarify, as long as I don’t burn the bacon, it will not form the known cancer causing nitrosamines?

        I cook my bacon low & slow, as it, imo, results in a much more tastier bacon (fat is soft and yummy!). I do prefer to buy the uncured “natural” bacon, but it isn’t always economically practical for me unfortunately. So knowing that buying the cheaper “cured” bacon can be just as safe if cooked properly would be a great relief & one less stress on my mind.

  196. Linda says

    Well like the egg getting a bad rap now we are hearing nitrates not so bad, for me good for all those people that eat alot of bacon, personally I am coming from the thoughts of just paying attention to what my body is telling me, If i eat it how do I feel, I getting
    a little frustrated and over whelmed with it all, not that I will not be going forward, with learning, who do you trust , I am finding
    trust your self and how you feel with each bite , your body and skin tell you right away if it likes it or dosent, :) this is the first step.
    than pray for and seek out a good functional Medicine practice (if you can afford it) hopefully one day that will be main stream,

    • Chris Kresser says

      Yes, nitrates can trigger migraines. But that of course doesn’t make bacon an unhealthy food for people that don’t experience migraines, as Dana pointed out.

      • Nancy says

        I wrote above that I was wondering if there weren’t hidden MSG in bacons that cause the migraines. I sure would love to eat (turkey) bacon. What is in the smoky flavor of commercial bacon — I doubt they actually smoke it, do they? Could it be the MSG causing the migraines? For instance, I have found the Applegate farms brand of hot dogs does not cause migraines in me so no MSG there, but they probably do have the beet nitrates in there, right? Couldn’t the migraines be from some form of MSG?

      • Chris A says

        how does this work?…surely that would mean that all the nitrates/nitrites from veges or produced endogenously would cause these people to have a permanent migraine.

        cheers chris

        • Amy says

          People have all kinds of migraine triggers, including non-food ones (lack of sleep, drops in barometric pressure like when a storm comes, sudden changes in blood pressure like when they’re angry), so it’s going to be different for everyone. MSG doesn’t bother me on the symptomatic level, and nitrites give me a migraine for 3 days straight. My grandmother was the reverse.

          In my case, the sodium nitrite acts as a vasodilator, and I’m guessing I’m overly sensitive to that, so that gives me the migraine. There’s really no way of knowing for sure.

          • Travis says

            That doesn’t really make any sense.

            I’m not an expert, but most migraines/headaches are as a result of vascular restriction, but the vasodilation should alleviate that.

            Nitrous oxide is a common chemical used in pre-work out supplements and its pretty good at getting rid of head aches.

            • Mirrim Blackfox says

              Travis –

              You are falling into the trap of thinking that Migraines and headaches are the same thing. There not. Regular headaches are often cause by vasoconstriction (though not always).

              Migraines are caused by a different mechanism, I am not sure of the details.

              • Amy says

                The migraines I get are usually the result of dilation (which is why taking an aspirin will make it worse).

                Occasionally they will be caused when my body senses too much blood vessel restriction (which is why I will get dizzy first every once in a while, but not often) which my brain counters by dilating my blood vessels, and that’s the part that causes me pain.

                I very rarely get headaches. Maybe once a year or so. You’re right, they’re very different.

        • TC says

          Your assumption is that all nitrates/nitrites are the same. Also, naturally occurring nitrates and nitrites in vegetables etc. do not occur on their own. They will be accompanied by many, many other compounds which may prevent the reactions people get when eating foods with nitrates/nitrites added artificially. This, I believe is the issue. Food manufacturing uses processes that isolate compounds which are found in nature and presume them to be safe. But what they fail to understand is that it has taken millions of years of evolution for the earth’s ecosystem to find a balance. Human’s are continually upsetting that balance, and messing with what we eat is one of the most dangerous things we can do.

          • Kris says

            Great point! Just as the vitamin C study showed drinking a glass of OJ with your bacon helped to reduce negative impacts from the meat.

          • Jacque says

            Yes, I was surprised there wasn’t more inquiry into that difference when this article was written. What’s up with that Chris? Do you think an isolated single chemical being added to something it doesn’t naturally belong with and then is heated… is processed by our bodies in the same way as that chem in it’s natural state would be? I’m wondering if you researched this… and what you found.

    • Elaine says

      Me too. I still haven’t tried “nitrate free” bacon since I know is still technically has nitrates in it (as this article proves). Not sure if the bacon cured with celery would give me just as bad a headache as regular bacon does….I know everyone’s different, but does anyone know if it would? One time I got a migraine just from the smell of bacon!

  197. says

    I have definitely feared the nitrates forever… Thanks for this article.

    Question: When “nitrate” is listed in the ingredients list, and it doesn’t specify that it’s from a natural source such as celery, where does it come from?

  198. Tom Dolan says

    Nitrites and nitrates aside, there are other things in bacon that make it inappropriate for hypoglycemics, most likely the sugar. Most bacons make me feel terrible. Only sugar-free bacon sits well with me, and it’s very hard to find. Our supermarket had uncured bacon in its frozen foods deparatment but discontinued it because it was too expensive and didn’t sell.

    • Dana says

      This is not an absolute thing. I’m pretty sure I suffered from reactive hypoglycemia in my high-carb days. I do fine with bacon now, and I don’t make any special effort to find the sugar-free. Really, there isn’t enough sugar to make it a huge dose even if I eat several pieces.

      Best that each person try it for themselves to see how they personally react. Some people get migraines from nitrites/nitrates, but not everyone. Some people can’t digest pork well for some reason, apparently. I dunno.

      • Frank says

        The topic of sugar, in all things, let alone bacon, interests me greatly. I’m one of the most sensitive sugar barometers that has ever existed in human form. Eat some product with sugar in it and within a matter of days I break out with some acne. Not nice. Bacon does it to me too, even with the “minimal” amount it has per serving. Breaking out like this tells me, in my experiment of one, that any substance with sugar added to it for human consumption is suspect. In fact, despite many sources that claim it not so, I believe sugar to be the primary culprit in most people’s acne problems but they just haven’t made the connection between the two, yet. I hadn’t yet looked for sugar-free bacon yet, but I will be doing so. It’s just too good!

        • says

          Sugar is one of the most inflammatory foods, and acne is an inflammatory condition. Keep in touch with me, Frank. Inflammation has its place, but we don’t need our skin to “come to the rescue” with inflammation at the littlest insult to our digestive system, and shout out through our skin. The best way to chill this inflammatory process out? Water in the a.m., alkalinizing foods, like salad, and fermented vegetables, like the ones in Akea Essentials.

        • Lili says

          You could also do AAT testing, if you can find a practitioner in your area, to see if you’re simply sensitive to sugar due to a mechanism other than insulin production etc.

          I’d also like to mention that my strong hypoglycemic reactions, that would occur wether I ate carbohydrates or not, disappeared within a few days of following the guidelines in the book Mastering Leptin.

        • Tony Mach says

          I have clearly traced my acne to dairy from pasteurized milk – you should try to eliminate dairy from your diet (at least for a couple of weeks), see what it does to your acne. Then reintroduce dairy, see what it does.

          • Lisa says

            Tony – The Dairy Industry wants to change the labeling of milk so that added sweeteners (natural or chemical) do not need to be listed. That the definition of “milk” will be assumed to include sweeteners in definition.

            The idea of pasteurized milk obviously has many problems, lactose-intolerance, no live bacteria or enzymes. What is not commonly known is that the amount of bacteria allowed to proliferate in the milk before pasteurization that is not filtered out, adding a large amount of killed bacteria being homogenized into the milk substrate (suspension). There are no scientific studies to my knowledge as to if the body can process such a foreign body in such large concentrations, or if it has to be detoxed or stored into fat to protect the body.

            Raw dairy has very strict requirements for very low live bacterial levels allowed. In a healthy, cleanly milked animal, there are naturally very low bacterial levels. In the Big-Agricultural fed and contained animals, fed growth hormones, antibiotics to counter the growth hormones and to counter the standing in feces, even with disinfected milking equipment, the bacteria levels in these unhealthy cows comes out of the udder many times fold the levels of a healthy cow. If the standard dairy industry had to adhere to the levels of bacteria as the raw dairy producers, not one drop of milk could be sold, it would be considered contaminated right out of the cow.

            Also, the proliferation of bacteria is allowed to multiply, I have no scientific evidence of this, but my gut tells me, the bacteria reproduce and take up space, resulting in a larger mass (size) that when pasteurized and included in the milk adds volume that is not actually “milk” but produces a new product of “dead bacteria suspended and homogenized into milk”.

            Personally, my gut instinct again, the pull to change the industry “definition” of milk to include sweeteners is a direct result of either a) the industry allowing the bacteria to proliferate to the highest levels allowed before being pasteurized – many hundreds of thousand times what occurs in healthy animals’ milk – or – b) the animals diets, those that live two years, which is long for industrial milk cows – lives have somehow been extended through modern pharmaceuticals – and the resulting milk has become so noxious that sweeteners Must be added to disguise the taste.

            Cows love grass and sunshine, being propped up on a wooden block because their legs have given out and may be broken from disuse and rampant disease and hormonal-induced growth – again – if you care about animal welfare or not, and as referred to in my statements – does not produce healthy milk from the get-go. Unhealthy farm animals create an unhealthy food supply. Farm animals are by design, domesticated creatures who by definition are to be raised on a farm ( grass, sunshine, shelter and a care-giver). Milk by natural design is not proliferated with excess numbers of bacteria and certainly does not include sweeteners in the definition!

            (excuse writing style vs. grammatical style please) :)

  199. Clars says

    The main thing to be looking for when buying bacon or any type of pig meat is that it comes from a local farm where it was allowed to pasture all day. What you buy at the store is factory farmed and those animals have been abused. No need to support that type of industry!

  200. says

    Thanks so much for this article! I’ve been avoiding non nitrate free bacon due to fear of cancer for the last few years! This post has been as enlightening for me as Robb Wolf’s post on the meat/cancer study…I can’t believe how much the media takes these ‘sound bites’ from so called medical research and runs with them. The even scarier thing is that grains are being promoted as a healthy alternative! Thanks again – I’m off to enjoy a bunless double bacon cheeseburger…

  201. Heather says

    Just curious….would it still be more ideal to buy bacon cured from natural sources such as celery root versus traditional cures. Thanks

    • Chris Kresser says

      I asked Mat LaLonde, a Harvard biochemist, about this and his answer was “no”. It’s the same chemical.

      • Zara says

        Chemically speaking he might say that honey is the same as highly processed table sugar? If his answer is yes, than I personally would draw different assumptions about the assertion that all nitrites are chemically the same ie the body reacts the same to it?

        • Chris Kresser says

          The difference between honey and sugar is that honey has other beneficial nutrients, whereas table sugar does not. Honey is not better than sugar because the glucose and fructose in it is different than the glucose and fructose in sugar.

      • Lp johnson says

        Could you (or Mat) address the fact that in America curing salt is dyed pink? I can only assume this FD&C Red #whatever, but could problems associated with nitrites/nitrates be a food coloring issue? I do not know what year the pink salt mandate took place, I’ve been curing my own bacon/sausage for only 2 years.

  202. vacexempt says

    Wow. That could save some money. So it’s not so important to buy uncured pork, but what I’ve been reading lately seems to favor animal fats from ruminants (beef, lamb, goat, deer, bison) over other animal fat sources (pork, poultry, etc.). I still eat pork once or twice a week because, well, pork rules. It seems to be harder to find pork that’s fed it’s natural diet than it is to find grass fed beef. Shouldn’t pigs be rooting around for acorns and such (do they eat grass?) instead of eating GM corn and soy? Even if you pay dearly for organic pork, it still seems to be primarily grain fed. I’m getting off the subject; it’s good to know that cured meats of all kinds are not as bad as we’ve been told. Thanks, Chris.

    • says

      good questions! Don’t know the answers either. Do pigs eat grass? As far as I have learnt they don’t at all. So pastured pigs? I really don’t think so. Pigs are fed grains nowadays I believe. In the good old days they used to be fed food left overs. Acorns would be best!

      • maggie says

        VERY GOOD reminder…nitrates not so bad per Chris, but GMO soy and corn…not on my list of things I want to ingest!

      • says

        Actually some pigs do eat grass. :) They also love to root and eat grubs and things under the dirt… Acorns are great for finishing of course. Yes I know many are fed grains, but we have a local farmer who feeds his pigs, sweet potatoes, leftover veggies from the market and organic grains. And they run around on grass too…

      • Honora says

        I think kuni kuni pigs (Polynesian) eat grass. They are vegetarian. We feed one entirely from the food scraps at my work. It’s mainly fruit waste. People here in New Zealand seldom eat kuni kunis. They are regarded as pets but aren’t permitted within the house as far as I know, though there is no reason why not – just convention. Can’t help thinking that pig (Doris) would be delicious…

      • jacqueline gibson says

        Pigs do eat grass, but I think NZ kuni kuni are the only ones that can achieve good condition just from grass….and they would much rather have apples :)

  203. Monet M. says

    I still buy nitrate free and uncured bacon because it actually tastes less salty to me. Is there a difference in the amount of salt in cured and uncured bacon? And the brands I buy that are nitrate free use higher quality pork, don’t necessarily buy it because it’s nitrate free, just good quality meat.

    • Dana says

      I don’t worry about salt. I find I actually have to *eat* salt every day because, thanks to keeping my insulin reasonable most of the time, I don’t retain sodium like I did on high carb. My blood pressure is completely normal and I’m still sixty pounds overweight.

      • says

        You’re not sixty pounds overweight, you’re 60 pounds more lovable, adorable, and 60 pounds happier than a bony-assed vegan chick. Take good but not obsessive care of your wrapper, but remember to take extra special care of your soul & spirit because they are who you really are.

        • Fonzirelli says

          Well said. That’s a nice reminder especially when we’re reading articles about eating more of this and less of that.

      • Liane says

        Dana, I think what Monet was referring to was the perceived taste of salt in the nitrate free. I have high blood pressure but it ain’t from salt. I don’t pay much attention to sodium content, but rather salt to taste with either pink himalayan or grey salt, but I don’t care for the over salty aspect of nitrate free. It just tastes too salty to me. Back in my pre Paleo days I used to enjoy popcorn at home with salted Kerrygold butter. I never added extra salt. People think that’s wierd, but that is my personal taste preference. I think some people just like less salt on certain things.

    • Dana says

      Migraine triggers are in a class all their own. If you don’t get migraines or nitrates aren’t your trigger then don’t worry about it. I mean, chocolate triggers them for some people, but most people don’t get migraines regularly.

      • Val says

        Amen. MSG, sodium nitrates, red wine, etc are all migraine triggers for me. I have no problem with celery and other foods that have naturally occurring nitrates.

        I love bacon, ham, hot dogs, but must abstain if they contain sodium nitrates or I pay dearly.

      • Amanda says

        Migraine triggers vary person to person. So it’s quite possible that for your family members it is a trigger. But for someone else its not a trigger.

        • maggie says


          On another note, I am concerned about factory farmed pork. Chris…at the risk of making you sound like you are plugging a brand, what brands do you purchase? Will you divulge? Or perhaps recommend some “recommended” brands (plural)?

    • Nancy says

      Bacon (I only would eat turkey bacon if I could eat it, due to my religion) always gives me a migraine. In foods, what gives me a migraine is MSG containing foods. I have tried all the “natural” kinds of turkey bacon at Whole Foods and elsewhere and even though they don’t list MSG on the ingredients, I know it’s in there somewhere. As it is in all store rotisserie (and fast food rotisserie) chickens. Perhaps they do the same thing and inject the raw meat with “water” that happens to contain flavorings. Or perhaps it is in the fake smoke effect. I don’t think it is the nitrates or nitrites giving the migraine but some form of MSG.

      • Liane says

        Had to jump in here on the turkey bacon. Bacon is the fat back of a pig. Turkey bacon is not bacon. It is chipped, chopped, flavored and dyed turkey meat.

        Trader Joes sells a beef bacon that is made from real cuts of meat, it tends to cook up crisp and yummy, but is too salty for me.

        I don’t care if you want to eat turkey fake-on, but please remember, first, it’s just a fancy processed product made to resemble the real thing.

      • Carol says

        There are many other words that mean the same thing as MSG – anything “autolyzed” or “hydrolyzed” is the same thing, like yeast extract and autolyzed yeast extracts – but there are many more things I can’t think of now but know when I see them. I too get migraines from MSG. Once I learned to cut out all of these things, I’ve been in much better shape.

      • Bill says

        Do you eat mushrooms, and if so, are they a migraine trigger? I ask because mushrooms contain quite a it of naturally occurring MSG.

        I am very sorry for your migraines, I get them too… wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy!

          • J. says

            Boy, holisticmama, I think you really misinterpreted “a class all their own.” I bet no one else besides you took that as meaning anything remotely like “migraine triggers must not be an issue.” I’m a migraine survivor and I didn’t take it that way. I read it as “AAANNND yet another important thing to think about! — for those who need to worry about it.” Saying migraine triggers are only an issue for people with migraines makes absolutely perfect sense, and does NOT equate to saying they aren’t an issue. People who don’t get migraines, or for whom particular ingredients aren’t triggers, don’t need to avoid those triggers. Your response came across to me as singularly self-absorbed and defensive.

      • Mr. Reasonable says

        You do understand that MSG is natural and found in high amounts in mushrooms. You are experiencing what is called a placebo effect due to what you have been told and read to feel after eating chinese food.

    • holisticmama says

      Well according to Dana, because nitrates or MSG or whatever doesn’t trigger HER migraines they must not be an issue so let’s just ignore it for the rest of us no matter how small the margin. MSG and Nitrates can and do cause migraines for people who are unaware. Until I cut out processed foods, which yep I ate lots of nitrate and MSG laden foods, my yes very FREQUENT migraines pretty much stopped. MILLIONS of people suffer from migraines for a host of reasons they are NOT in a “class all their own”. They are very real and very part of the need to eat REAL, unprocessed foods as much as possible. Until I switched to eating real, whole foods, I as well as my husband suffered debilitating, chronic, migraines. Almost at the same time, so I know it was very much food related and when we ingested any foods with these substances we became ill again. So they are out for good. I’ve not had any issues eating Organic Bacon so I will remain to do so.

      If nitrates are “ok” then I’d say it’s likely just as ok to eat the nitrates in the celery salt. At least that doesn’t turn our bacon, neon pink. Also I don’t get the ultra crispy bacon like you get with conventional bacon, which I believe is likely related to the nitrates/nitrites used and as someone else mentioned is probably more likely to have more nitrosamines when cooked ultra high and crispy. When I cook my bacon it still tastes like meat, not like another food product entirely like many conventional bacons do.

      “Have I changed your mind about the safety of eating bacon? ”

      Nope, I’d rather continue to eat ORGANIC bacon from healthy fed pork even with celery salt than conventional bacon with nitrates. I’m not convinced of a reason to not eat organic or pastured pork…and those of which all are nitrate free that I have found in my market or co-ops or local processors.

      • maggie says

        Persuasive…and indeed been my bent. But, if there is a brand of pastured or humanely treated pork with nitrates – will someone please divulge the name?

        • Liane says

          Dave, thanks for this link and list. For those in the SF bay area, Sprouts carries Applegate farms. Also, Full of Life Farm is bringing back their bacon. Available at Farm in Oregon, plus sold in Concord and at Mt. View Farmers Market. Check their website.

          I have bought Niman Ranch bacon at TJs in the past, and when it disappeared I was sad, only to find it in the freezer at Costco. It’s not pastured as is the Full of Life, but a reasonably priced alternative to chain store brands.

          Finally, Prather Meats sold at the Ferry Building Farmers Market has some amazing meat.

          After Chris posted his lard making post, I bought a Prather apron that says PRAISE THE LARD on it. I bought and rendered a couple lbs of Full of Life Farms leaf lard, ans stopped saving and using bacon renderings in cooking, except as flavoring on veggies or in salad dressings. I too was concerned about nitrosamines from cooking with bacon fat, as it tends to have a fairly low smoke point. I think bacon is fantastic food.

          Love your site, insight etc, Dave.

          • KM says

            I believe the distinction you need to recognize is grass-fed vs. pastured.

            For non-ruminants, the pasture would not be limited to grass :)

            • Fiona Weir says

              Here in the UK we talk about ‘free-range’ and there’s no way I would knowingly eat meat that was not so labelled. Same applies to eggs.

              • TC says

                Unfortunately, ‘free-range’ in the UK does not mean ‘free-roaming’ as some animals are only allowed to roam outside for a restricted period during the day. The term ‘free-range’ has become very misleading.

          • Jen says

            Yes, there is. I have actually seen them with my own eyes on farms in our area. They work the ground and eat the grubs/roots/grass and keep the invasive weeds under control. Farmers around here rotate them with movable fences. Once the pics are done with the area it’s just dirt. They do a GREAT job turning over the top soil. The farmers then use the opportunity to plant beneficial grasses. Around here the pigs are the best defense we have against bind weed. They do get supplemented with whey soaked organic oats, etc but they are definately out on pasture soaking up the sun all day long.

        • Honora says

          Kuni kuni pigs are very popular here in New Zealand. They are a polynesian pig a bit like the pot-bellied ones. They are generally pets and not eaten. From what I’ve heard they are known as grass eaters and I’m not sure if they root for grubs. My sister had kuni kunis but she got in ordinary big white pigs to break in a paddock for her. Our workplace has a kuni kuni pig that lives in a paddock and is fed exclusively on what she finds there plus the meat-free (it’s illegal to feed pigs meat in NZ unless it’s autoclaved) mainly fruit scraps. Doris doesn’t like tea bags or onions apparently.

      • Brittany Porter says

        This might be the one Chris Kresser reco I have to (almost) outright disagree with.

        Fascinating physiology re: nitrates in saliva, but yes, I’m another person who gets NASTY MIGRAINES (starting with stomach and sense of smell saying “no”–if I listen to it) after eating bacon/hot dogs or anything conventionally cured. After years tinkering with it, it is a reliable cause and effect that if I eat anything cured (sometimes even a bite) I WILL get a migraine. As a consequence I will not feed that dreck to anyone.

        I do not have that problem with “nitrate free” Trader Joe’s or Applegate products.

        This article does, however, make me wonder what the actual culprit is…is it necessarily the nitrate/ites per se or some other byproduct or metabolite thereof which is produced (or destroyed?) in the usual manufacturing process?

    • Carol says

      Nitrates cause mine. Switching to “nitrate free” meat products eliminate my food-triggered migraines (as well as eliminating all other food triggers). I think there is a difference – and not just a psychological one. If I unknowingly eat regular bacon, I immediately get a migraine, no matter how little. Even if it’s in a gravy or sauce. There is a need for these nitrate-free products, even if the cancer thing is a myth.

      • says

        For all the migraine sufferers commenting, this article is not talking about the food sensitivity aspect of eating nitrates/nitrites. He is simply stating that in general and they may not be as worrisome as we have been led to believe. If get migraines every time you eat bacon, you clearly have a problem that could be related to the nitrates/nitrites or possibly tyramine as Jennifer mentioned so, by all means, stay away from them. And, if you follow Chris, you can be assured when he says bacon is okay to eat he is talking about quality humanely-raised and not your typical grocery store stocked.

  204. Jermaine says

    The article you linked to about trichinosis seems to suggest that pork overall included the cured variety can pass on bad pathogens… Did I read it incorrectly?

    I retired from eating turkey bacon and have returned to the real deal. But I always questioned the health benefits…

  205. John says

    Isn’t uncured bacon still created with nitrates but just using the nitrates that occur naturally in celery juice? That’s the only kind of bacon Whole Foods carries now and I don’t have much confidence in the typical grocery store brands so I’m not sure where I would get a cured bacon that is still high quality.

    • says

      While those nitrates occur naturally, they are still extracted and concentrated in a not so natural process. The term natural has no real meaning any more. However and having said that, I just do not see the difference and am more concerned with the quality of the pig than the quality of the nitrate.

      • Don S says

        Agreed..I believe it’s more in the quality of the pig and how it is initially handled and further processed prior to being cured.

    • Chris Kresser says

      I mentioned that absent co-administration of a carcinogenic nitrosamine precursor, nitrates and nitrites aren’t a problem.

      Here’s a quote from the conclusion of the full-text review I linked to in the article:

      New information has clearly established that nitrite and nitrate per se are important biological compounds and that nitrosation is an important feature of NO metabolism in human physiology including many nitrosation reactions. S-nitrosation may be partic- ularly important to the physiological effects of NO and nitrite. Car- cinogenic N-nitrosation requires conditions beyond those usually found in normal metabolism. These extraordinary conditions were the focus of concern for exposure of populations to nitrate and ni- trite before their role in overall nitrogen oxide metabolism became better understood.