Bacon & Nitrates

by 352 · March 16, 2011 at 04:38 PM

A few questions about bacon:

How much bacon is too much bacon? Nitrates have been linked to a number of things including stomach cancer LINK. Should we avoid too much bacon?

Is the 'naturally cured' bacon that uses nitrates created during a fermentation process any better or lower in nitrates? Some bacon says something like 'only contains naturally occurring nitrates from sea salt and fermentation'. Are these lower in nitrates? This site seems to think that they are sometimes even worse. LINK

Bacon seems the perfect food, and if I thought it was safe I would probably eat a pound a day, but I worry about the nitrates.

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4524 · February 19, 2010 at 06:12 PM

She's not necessarily a paleo guru, but Sandy Szwarc has a pretty thorough post on her Junkfood Science blog about why the fear of nitrates/nitrites is overblown. Dr. Eades (Protein Power) recommended this explanation as "something [he] would have written."


18236 · March 16, 2011 at 04:26 PM

I am more comfortable with a tad bit of sugar than I am with nitrates. 0g sugar on the label means less than .5g threshold per serving. I'm pretty sure there's not much to worry about there.

Stephan Guyenet did a great write up on Nitrates last yeat. His conclusion was that nitrates may actually be beneficial, which I believe could be true.


But with regard to processed meats and particularly bacon, the devil is in the details. Nitrates combined with protein become nitrosamines when heated to high temperatures, especially in the absense of VitC. This is problematic because nitrosamines are linked to high rates of cancer in animals and meats cured with sodium nitrate has been found to have more than 10x the safe limit of nitrosamines, which is stored in the fat by the way.

Back in the day, meat was preserved with salt, and potassium nitrate was a common ingredient, but not anymore with the current nitrate and nitrite solutions being used to cure meat. K and Na in body can therefore be thrown out of balance. But veggies are low in protein and usually contain VitC. This is why frying bacon is not the same as eating raw or even cooked vegetables.

Cooking bacon and avoiding the conversion of nitrates to nitrosamines simultaneously is probably not a very easy or even likely goal to attain. So you want to cook bacon on low-med heat, never cook bacon 'to a crisp' even though people love it this way because it 'glazes'. Also, the other reason (which is just a bonus side note) is that bacon does actually contain some pufa (about one sixth of baconfat is pufa).

So to bring this full circle, at this point, I'm more comfortable with .5g of sugar than nitrosamines.

*Forgot to mention one last thing... some brands intentionally add a form of VitC to the curing solution. This may inhibit the formation of nitrosamines, but I still am a little wary of whether the effectiveness of the added ascorbic acid is sufficient. Seems a bit like a physics experiment to me.

1025 · February 19, 2011 at 04:28 PM

I posted this on another question but it's useful here

"It has been reported that people normally consume more nitrates from their vegetable intake than from the cured meat products they eat. Spinach, beets, radishes, celery, and cabbages are among the vegetables that generally contain very high concentrations of nitrates (J. Food Sci., 52:1632). The nitrate content of vegetables is affected by maturity, soil conditions, fertilizer, variety, etc. It has been estimated that 10 percent of the human exposure to nitrite in the digestive tract comes from cured meats and 90 percent comes from vegetables and other sources. Nitrates can be reduced to nitrites by certain microorganisms present in foods and in the gastrointestinal tract. This has resulted in nitrite toxicity in infants fed vegetables with a high nitrate level. No evidence currently exists implicating nitrite itself as a carcinogen.

To obtain 22 milligrams of sodium nitrite per kilogram of body weight (a lethal dose), a 154-pound adult would have to consume, at once, 18.57 pounds of cured meat product containing 200 ppm sodium nitrite (because nitrite is rapidly converted to nitric oxide during the curing process, the 18.57 pound figure should be tripled at least). Even if a person could eat that amount of cured meat, salt, not nitrite, probably would be the toxic factor."

* http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/nutrition/DJ0974.html

1745 · February 19, 2010 at 07:32 AM

I would question the assumption that nitrates, particularly naturally occurring nitrates that people have been eating before cancer was common promote cancer.

The concern according to these articles is that frying bacon (with nitrates) can create nitrosamines which promote cancer. This seems plausible since frying strips of bacon is a more modern concept. The obvious solution would be to avoid frying bacon. I cook mine in a turbo oven at a low heat setting for a long time. Raw bacon is good, but much tougher. You should at least not cook bacon as much as is normally done- to the point that it is crispy meat with all the fat melted away.

Personally I would be more concerned about how the pig was raised. I am lucky to buy from a farmer whose pigs get out in pasture. The bacon is soaked in a brine for a week.

5916 · February 19, 2010 at 02:02 PM

In one of Robb Wolf's Paleolithic Solution podcasts, he said he didn't think nitrates were a huge problem.

I remember reading somewhere that the nitrate content in meats is a lot lower now than it was in the past, also.

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