What’s the Deal with Bacon?

by Jackie Wicks

Now, the Bad News…

So if bacon is primarily ‘healthy’ fats, why does it get so much flak? There are three reasons:

  1. It’s a potential source of nitrosamines
  2. It’s high in sodium
  3. It’s basically eating pure fat


Let’s look at the least worrisome reason first: nitrosamines.

Nitrosamines, Nitrates, & Nitrites (Oh My)

Bacon is cured using nitrate and nitrite containing products, which can be worrisome to some. In reality, it’s not the nitrates or nitrites we should be worried about—in fact, approximately 80% of the nitrates in our diet come from vegetables and are potentially good for our health!

What is more worrisome is that some of these nitrates and nitrites, through the process of curing and/or cooking, can be converted into nitrosamines, a byproduct which is toxic. Despite this known toxicity, though, very few studies have ever shown a positive correlation between nitrosamine intake and cancer. The cancer most associated with nitrosamine risk is rectal cancer, and in all events, it seems that a high intake of fruits and vegetables will mitigate the risk.

Are nitrosamines something we should be aware of in our diet, and work to minimize? Of course! Yet most research indicates that they are at worst only a minor concern, and at best unlikely to cause any harm in an individual with a great diet rich in antioxidant-loaded fruits and veggies.

What’s Worse Than Nitrosamines?

Despite the visceral fear most people experience when thinking about cancer, the number one killer disease in the US is heart disease, which claims around 25% of all deaths in US. Compare this to colorectal cancer, which claims roughly 4.5%.

For this reason, and the fact that sodium has more direct links to disease than nitrosamines, sodium is more than likely a greater worry than nitrosamines. Sodium is directly linked to hypertension (low sodium diets have been reduce hypertension significantly), and hypertension is a large risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The average slice of bacon has about 160 mg of sodium, approximately 1/10th the recommended upper intake of 1,500 mg and 1/14th the upper limit of 2,300 mg. Consuming bacon will usually mean that you’re also eating through a significant portion of your daily sodium allowance (something that is easy to do with all forms of processed foods).

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