Nitrate-Free Bacon: The Nitrate and Nitrite Myth | Chris Kresser

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

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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.

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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.

Find out why you shouldn’t be concerned about nitrates & nitrites in bacon. Tweet This

Where Does Nitrate/Nitrite Exposure Come From?

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.

What Happens When You Eat Nitrates and Nitrites

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.

891 Comments

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  1. 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!

    • 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?

  2. 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.

    -Michael

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

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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!

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

            • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

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

  7. 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.

    • 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!

    • 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?

      • 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.

  8. 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?

  9. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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).

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22889895)

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

  14. 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…

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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.

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