Does All Bacon Have Nitrates? A Detailed Look at One of America’s Favorite Foods

Crispy salty smoky bacon is a beloved food for many Americans. The aroma of sizzling bacon in the morning can instantly awaken your senses and appetite. However, with growing concerns around processed meats and cancer risk, many are questioning if their favorite pork product is still safe to enjoy. Specifically, does all bacon contain nitrates, a controversial preservative and color enhancer?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore what exactly nitrates are, their health implications, how they are used in processed meats like bacon, and if there are any nitrate-free bacon options on the market today. Let’s dive in!

What Are Nitrates?

Nitrates and nitrites are chemical compounds containing nitrogen that occur naturally in the environment They form when nitrogen combines with oxygen or water,

In the food world, nitrates have been used for centuries to cure and preserve meats. They help inhibit the growth of botulism-causing bacteria, maintain the appealing pink color, and give cured meats like bacon their distinctive tangy flavor

While nitrates occur naturally in soil, water, and some vegetables, today they are also artificially produced and added to certain foods. These man-made nitrates are at the center of health concerns regarding processed meat.

The Controversy Around Nitrates

So what exactly is concerning about nitrates in our food?

When we digest nitrates, they get converted by the body into nitrites. These nitrites can then react with amino acids to form compounds called nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens or cancer-causing agents.

Studies have linked regular consumption of processed meats preserved with nitrates/nitrites to increased risk for colorectal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and other adverse health effects. These concerns have led regulatory agencies like the WHO and FDA to recommend limiting intake of processed red meats.

However, the issue is complicated. Nitrates and nitrites by themselves may not be as harmful as the nitrosamines formed after digestion. And certain compounds in vegetables may inhibit this dangerous conversion process. More research is still needed to fully understand these nitrate-cancer links.

Do All Bacon Products Contain Nitrates?

Now that we’ve covered the potential risks, back to our original question: do all types of bacon contain nitrates?

The short answer is no, not all bacon contains added nitrates or nitrites. However, most conventionally produced, inexpensive commercial bacon found in supermarkets does.

To produce bacon quickly and on a large scale, most manufacturers rely on sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate curing to preserve the meat and enhance taste and appearance. According to the USDA, these added nitrates can make up 10-15% of the product weight in cured pork bacon.

So if you’re buying regular packaged bacon from a big brand like Oscar Mayer or Hormel at your local grocery store, it almost certainly contains nitrates or nitrites.

Nitrate-Free Bacon Options

Luckily, there are a few ways to find nitrate-free, or “uncured” bacon alternatives:

1. Look for “No Nitrates or Nitrites Added” labels

Some bacon packaged with this language still contains nitrates occurring naturally in ingredients like celery powder. But they should not contain any synthetic sodium nitrite.

2. Check for “uncured” or “no nitrates” labels

This typically means no artificial nitrates/nitrites were used. Vinegar and sea salt help preserve these products instead.

3. Buy from specialty meat shops or butchers

Smaller-scale processors are more likely to cure meats in traditional nitrate-free ways. But it costs more.

4. Consider veggie-based bacons

Made from eggplant, coconut, mushrooms, etc. No nitrates involved!

Should You Avoid Nitrated Bacon Completely?

While uncured bacon options are out there, most mainstream bacon does contain nitrates. So should you cut out this processed meat entirely?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Look at your overall diet – Do you otherwise eat plenty of fruits and vegetables? Avoid charred meats? Minimize processed foods? An occasional nitrated bacon treat may pose little risk.

  • Read product labels – Look for reduced sodium options with no sugar additives. This can help mitigate other risks beyond nitrates.

  • Watch portion sizes – Even if enjoying regular bacon, stick to 2-3 strips max, a few times per week at most. Moderation is key.

  • Consider nitrate-free substitutes – Explore beef or turkey bacon, veggie-based bacon, or other whole food options. Provides the bacon flavor you crave without the nitrates.

  • Talk to your doctor – They can help assess your personal cancer risk factors and if bacon consumption should be limited.

While bacon is certainly not a health food, for most people, the occasional strip may not be cause for alarm, especially when following an overall healthy diet. But limiting processed and charred meats, including bacon, is advised to reduce cancer risk.

Quick Guide to Bacon Types

Here’s a quick guide to understand today’s most common bacon types and their nitrate content:

  • Regular packaged bacon – Contains sodium nitrite. Cheap, convenient, but highest nitrate risks.

  • “Uncured” or “No nitrate” bacon – No artificial nitrates added, but may have nitrates from natural ingredients like celery powder.

  • Turkey or beef bacon – Often uncured with no nitrates, but check labels to confirm.

  • Artisanal dry cured bacon – Cured using traditional nitrate-free methods but expensive.

  • Veggie-based bacon – Made from eggplant, coconut, mushrooms, etc. No nitrates used.

Healthier Ways to Enjoy Bacon

If you don’t want to fully kick the bacon habit, here are some tips for reducing the risks:

  • Opt for nitrate-free or “uncured” varieties

  • Choose turkey, beef, or veggie-based bacon

  • Eat just 1-2 slices, 2-3 times per week max

  • Avoid burnt or charred bacon

  • Pair with antioxidants like leafy greens or avocado

  • Select lower-sodium options with no added sugars

  • Incorporate only as part of an otherwise clean, whole foods diet

The Bottom Line

While recent studies raise concerns around nitrates in processed meats, occasional, mindful consumption of bacon may be unlikely to significantly impact health for most people. Look for nitrate-free options, moderation is key, and talk to your doctor about diet-related cancer risks.

But yes, the majority of conventional, cheap commercial bacon does contain sodium nitrite for curing. So if you are strictly looking to avoid nitrates, verified uncured bacon or veggie-based alternatives are your safest bet and worth the splurge here and there.

At the end of the day, your overall dietary pattern matters most. Focus on incorporating plenty of natural, minimally processed foods in a balanced, nutritious diet. Then enjoying the occasional strip of bacon may not be so bad after all. Moderation and smart choices are key when indulging in this salty, crispy treat!

Enjoy Your BACON! The Nitrate/Nitrite Cancer Scare Destroyed!


What bacon does not have nitrates?

All bacon is nitrate free bacon. Most bacon contains nitrites, not nitrates. Due to USDA labeling requirements, nitrite free bacon has been labeled as “uncured bacon.”

Can I buy bacon without nitrates?

Our bacon is cured without Nitrites. Instead we use Himalayan Salt for our cure, giving the bacon a beautiful taste without the addition of nitrites to your meal. If you have any specific requirements, please let us know in the space provided. The weights are an average, and may vary.

Are nitrates in bacon bad for you?

Nitrates and Cancer Early concerns centered on synthetic nitrates in processed meats — bacon, sausage, deli meat, vacuum-sealed meats — because there is overwhelming evidence linking their consumption with an increased cancer risk. Alcohol is the only other food so strongly correlated with cancer.

Is there such a thing as healthy bacon?

Uncured bacon (bacon that hasn’t been cured with synthetically sourced nitrates) claims to be healthier than regular bacon, as the nitrates come from vegetables.

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