Why is Uncured Bacon Better? The Benefits of Nitrate-Free Bacon

Walk through any grocery store meat aisle and you’ll likely see labels for “uncured” or “no nitrates added” bacon. This uncured bacon is quickly gaining popularity as a potentially healthier alternative to conventional cured bacon packed with nitrites. But does simply removing added nitrates make bacon better for you? Let’s analyze the science behind uncured bacon and if it truly offers health advantages.

What Makes Bacon Uncured?

Traditional cured bacon relies on sodium nitrite or nitrate along with salt during processing to preserve the meat and add flavor. However there have been concerns about negative health impacts of these nitrate and nitrite preservatives.

Uncured bacon offers an alternative by using natural nitrate sources like celery juice or celery powder rather than artificial sodium nitrite. The plant-based nitrates convert to nitrites through natural fermentation during curing to provide preservation while allowing the “no nitrates added” label.

So in essence uncured bacon differs by utilizing nitrates derived from vegetables rather than synthetic nitrite additives. But it still undergoes a curing process and forms nitrites to achieve the same preservation and color effects.

Potential Benefits of Uncured Bacon

The main touted benefit of uncured bacon is reduced nitrosamine formation in the body. Nitrosamines are carcinogenic compounds that form when nitrites react during digestion. Consuming high amounts of nitrosamines may increase cancer risk.

Some research indicates vegetable-derived nitrites form fewer nitrosamines than artificial nitrites, possibly making uncured bacon safer. But the science is still unclear if uncured bacon is definitively less harmful.

Other possible upsides of uncured bacon include:

  • No synthetic preservative additives
  • Perception of “healthier” or more natural
  • Aligns with consumer demand for no nitrates
  • Allows bacon in restrictive diets like paleo

However, uncured bacon still contains plenty of fat and sodium. Don’t consider it a free pass for eating large amounts. Moderation is key, even when choosing uncured.

Potential Downsides of Uncured Bacon

While the idea of bacon without artificial preservatives may sound appealing, some potential downsides exist:

Less Preservative Power

Nitrites are very effective at preventing bacterial growth. Swapping to vegetable nitrates can mean less preservative potency in uncured meats. Proper handling and cooking is especially important with more perishable uncured bacon.

No Difference in Cancer Risk

Reviews show no conclusive evidence that lower nitrosamine formation in uncured meats actually lowers cancer rates. Any smoked, processed meat may potentially increase cancer risk regardless of curing method.

Higher Price

Specialty uncured bacon costs more than conventional varieties, sometimes significantly more. You’ll have to determine if the potential benefits warrant the added cost for you.

Still High in Sodium

Don’t assume uncured equates to healthy overall. Uncured bacon typically still contains similar levels of fat and sodium as cured options. It’s not a free pass to consume frequent or large portions.

May Contain Allergens

Celery juice or celery powder are common nitrate sources in uncured bacon. This may be problematic for people with allergies to celery. Check labels carefully for potential allergen contents.

Healthier Nitrate-Free Bacon Options

If you love bacon but want to limit nitrate content from either synthetic or natural sources, a few better-for-you bacon options exist:

Turkey or Chicken Bacon

Turkey and chicken bacon contain significantly less fat and sodium compared to pork. Watch labels to verify uncured and no nitrates added. This allows you to get the bacon flavor while limiting downsides.

Prosciutto or Beef Jerky

While not exactly bacon, dry-cured sliced meats like prosciutto or beef jerky provide similar savory, salty flavor. Jerky offers protein benefits without the processed meat downsides.

Mushroom “Bacon”

For plant-based eaters, sautéed mushrooms like king oyster or shiitake can provide a crispy, umami bacon alternative without any nitrates or health risks. Add smoked paprika and liquid smoke for a “bacon” vibe.

Limited Ingredient Bacon

Some bacon contains only pork, salt, and vinegar without any curing agents. This can allow bacon flavor without nitrates/nitrites. However, limited ingredient bacon costs more and doesn’t keep as long.

The Bottom Line on Uncured Bacon

The verdict is still out on whether uncured bacon is definitively healthier than traditionally cured options. But uncured provides an alternative closer to “clean” bacon for those trying to avoid artificial additives.

Any processed meat consumption ideally should be occasional and in moderation. Prioritize whole, minimally processed foods in your diet overall. Consider uncured bacon as a small upgrade rather than a health food.

If opting for uncured, verify ingredients as some contain celery. And enhance the nutrition of any bacon by pairing it with antioxidant-rich foods like berries and tea. Focus on unprocessed lifestyle factors like exercise and sleep as well for optimal health.

In reasonable amounts as part of an mostly whole foods diet, uncured bacon can be an acceptable choice that satisfies bacon cravings. But cured or uncured, bacon is still a high-fat, high-sodium processed meat. Make it a flavorful treat instead of a daily habit.

Does uncured bacon taste good?


Is uncured bacon healthier than cured?

Uncured bacon really isn’t a better alternative. It’s still bacon. Little practical difference exists between cured and uncured bacon in terms of health. Both are cured in the true sense of the word, meaning they are preserved.

Why does uncured bacon taste different?

As established above, cured bacon traditionally uses sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite. Uncured bacon still goes through the curing process, but it does not use either of these chemicals. Instead, producers use naturally occurring nitrates that are found in things like celery seed, beets, and other vegetables.

What is the healthiest 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.

Why are nitrates in bacon bad for you?

So why are they a good thing in beets but not bacon? In processed-meat products, nitrates can combine with the proteins’ amino acids and form nitrosamines, which have been associated with an increased risk of certain cancers.

Is uncured bacon healthy?

Uncured bacon is still cured with salt but not with nitrites, so it’s somewhat healthier — but it’s still full of sodium and saturated fat. Any type of bacon, cured or uncured, has no health benefits. Manufacturers have a lot of ways of trying to make consumers think unhealthy foods are healthier. Labeling bacon as “uncured” is one of them.

Can one eat bacon with diverticulosis?

You can eat bacon with diverticulosis, but it is not the most recommended. In a person with diverticulosis, it is recommended to consume foods with soluble fiber such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes.

Is uncured bacon cured?

Labeling bacon as “uncured” is one of them. The truth is, uncured bacon is still cured, it’s just not cured with nitrites. That’s a good thing. Nitrites are a chemical substance used by manufacturers to cure processed foods. They prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and extend the shelf life of processed foods.

Does uncured bacon taste saltier than cured bacon?

Because uncured bacon has to sit in its brine for longer, in other instances it can taste saltier than some cured bacon, but the difference is negligible. It is more likely that you’ll taste the difference in flavor based on what seasonings were added and how it was smoked.

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